Merwyn Sanders and Eric Lewis might be the least known of the Chicago house legends, but ask any old school purist and they'll tell you that the duo known as Virgo created some of the best tracks from the era. Some of the confusion about the pair stems from the fact that a better known group was also called Virgo (consisting of Adonis, Marshall Jefferson, and Vince Lawrence) and also recorded on Trax Records. Sanders and Lewis preferred the name M.E. (Merwyn & Eric), but were overruled by executives at Trax Records who wanted to piggyback off the original Virgo's success. For this reason, only a few releases acknowledge the duo as M.E.
In any case, School Hall, is one of many classics from their self-titled LP and happens to be my favorite. The track features a deeply reflective, low-slung groove overlayed with masterful drum machine effects. You feel like you're walking through a smoke machine and once it's over, you'll want to walk through again.
One of my favorite old school rap artists was The D.O.C., whose vocal chords were irrecoverably damaged in a car accident shortly after the release of his debut album, the Dr. Dre-produced No One Can Do It Better. It's a helluva record and each time I listen to it I'm blown away by his lyrical style. If not for his tragic accident, D.O.C. would likely have gone down in history as one of the best rappers of all time - the West Coast's answer to Rakim. Though never receiving much airplay, the album contained a gem of a hip house track titled Portrait Of A Masterpiece. The song clocks in at just two and half minutes and features D.O.C. rapping at a feverish pace, taking the listener to dizzying heights with rapid-fire rhyme delivery over a fast breakbeat. Moreover, there's no hook - just nonstop lyrics from start to finish. If you're curious, the musical elements sampled are listed here.
Here's the 12" mix with some crazy bumping bass, it's awesome:
And since the crossover appeal to house was undeniable UK DJ's CJ Macintosh and Eddie Gordon produced a slick remix that got the attention of Sasha in the early 90s. I'm not having much luck tracking down the Funky FM Mix, but Eddie Gordon has made the CJ's Ed-Did-It Mix available on his website here.
Track: Let Me Love You Rebuilt (Evil Eddie Richards Unofficial Mix)
Let Me Love You For Tonight was a popular anthem in both freestyle and club circles in 1989. With an unforgettable organ intro, a downtempo but danceable groove and some screaming vocals about a one-night stand, the song had enough elements to satisfy both crowds, even charting in the UK. You could describe the original as a freestyle classic, a house classic, or a pop classic and you wouldn't be wrong. Although Junior Vasquez and The Sol Brothers produced well-received remixes in the last 90s, the best mix was an unofficial one courtesy of London DJ "Evil" Eddie Richards. As one of UK's pioneers of house music, Richards is considered Britian's godfather of house and techno and perhaps the most influential contributor to the tech house subgenre.
Richards' mix of Let Me Love You For Tonight draws out the gorgeous organ intro, drops a massive breakbeat, and throws in a devastating speaker-shattering tech house bassline while preserving Kariya's original vocals. Simply stated, this is an amazing mix. Major props to whoever uploaded it to YouTube and Discogs.
This track is a little bit nuts...Samples coming from all directions underscored by a catchy rolling bassline. I can't provide much historical information about the artist or song, but it's one of a kind and worth a listen. The girl vocals are great - she sings, raps, and throws in a few piercing "Aciiieeed" chants as a nod to D-Mob's tune. Of course, the "If there's a cure" lines are lifted from Diana Ross' oft-sampled Love Hangover (1976).
20+ years since its original release, French Kiss is remembered as a seminal track in house music history. The song is distinctive for two reasons:
1) It's based on a single note (F-natural) and gradually slows down to a complete stop, marked by the vocal climax, before gradually speeding up again. At the time, this was an innovative feature for dance music and has subsequently been incorporated into countless tracks.
2) The essence of the track is an erotic female vocal that climaxes (pun is unavoidable) with the tempo. While Donna Summer's Love to Love You Baby might be the first mainstream release to feature such sensual vocals, it's safe to say French Kiss set the modern precedent for screaming orgasms dropped over beats. It doesn't matter if you're 15 or 55, you will be embarrassed to listen to this song in the company of your parents:)
According to Lil Louis (real name Louis Sims), the song was inspired by a late night sexual conversation over the phone between Sims and his girlfriend at the time. As the story goes, Sims happened to be messing around with the tempo during an impromptu production session (while on this phone call), had a Eureka moment, and ended the conversation with his lady friend to work on the track.
Although a DJ since the 70s and one of the pioneers of house, French Kiss was the biggest hit of Sims' career - spending two weeks at #1 on the American dance chart and becoming a crossover pop hit in the US and Europe. Needless to say, a ton of remixes followed, but the The Original Underground Mix stays truest to the original 12":
For an updated (but now old enough to be a classic) twist on this song, Josh Wink released How's Your Evening So Far? in 2000, which heavily sampled French Kiss. Since Josh Wink does cool stuff and this track is a real floor-filler, I'll show it some love in this blog post:
Hailing from Gary Indiana, Kym Mazelle studied opera singing before teaming up with one of the godfathers of house music, Marshall Jefferson, in 1987. Jefferson produced much of her early work, including the original version of Was That All It Was, where Mazelle very capably demonstrates her range and diva credentials. David Morales is responsible for the excellent Def Mix Dub remix, one of the first 20 releases from Def Mix Productions.
This site profiles my favorite classic house tracks. Most selections are from the 80s and 90s with a strong - but not exclusive - deep house, progressive and old school Chicago influence. I could never fully warm up to acid house, overly ambient tracks, or anything that bumps >135bpm. Since many have asked, there's no single definition of classic house music, but Ishkur has an excellent guide to electronica music that can serve as a primer for anyone interested. I know some of the videos get pulled due to copyright issues - just search on YouTube since most stuff gets re-upped anyway.