With Beyoncé making her bid to introduce house music to the young pop masses this summer (via a sound similar to ’90s diva Robin S, who just performed here on Pride Sunday), it’s a good time to rewind and share the work of important artists who put in the floors, beams, and struts. Listen to a 60-minute mix of house music classics via the embedded player to bring some joy to your heart, and keep reading for more background on the song selections.
Rhythm Controll — “My House (Acapella)” (1987)
“My House” is not the first house record, but its sermon-esque monologue by Chuck Roberts and production by Tony Lewis has been sampled hundreds of times on house and rave tracks, most notably by Chicago trio Fingers Inc. on “Can You Feel It” as well as unexpectedly in songs by Aphex Twin and Revolting Cocks. His name isn’t widely known, but he is a definitive voice in house music. Roberts teamed up with producer Terry Hunter to release an updated version of “My House” in 2018.
“It speaks about everyone being included — it speaks about love — just open yourself to the vibe and it will take you anywhere you need to go,” Roberts told Mixmag in 2018. There’s no one larger than anyone else — house music is for anyone in the world who wants to listen.”
Frankie Knuckles featuring Jamie Principle — “Your Love” (1986)
Knuckles, who was born in the Bronx and built his career to international heights in Chicago, is considered the godfather of house music, a term coined to describe the soul, R&B, and dance records that he played at Chicago club Warehouse. Beyond his own output as a DJ and producer of original music, Knuckles set a high bar and won a GRAMMY for his work as a remixer who created new arrangements and instrumentation for artists like Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Diana Ross, Luther Vandross, Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton, and Womack and Womack.
Chicago singer Jamie Principle wrote and recorded a demo for “Your Love” before meeting and connecting with Knuckles, who became the producer of the official release.
“The original version of ‘Your Love’ is three minutes,” Principle told Vice in 2016. “He heard the song and added all this stuff to it. I feel like the Creator put everything together and made this song work. He played it in the club and the people’s response kind of validated me. Even though I felt I should be doing music, it was like God told me, ‘This is what you’re supposed to be doing.’”
I was fortunate enough to know and interview the brilliant Knuckles, who passed in 2014, and am dedicating this mix to his memory. FK Always.
Queen Latifah — “Come Into My House” (1989)
DJ Mark The 45 King produced this song for Queen Latifah’s debut album, All Hail the Queen. It was marketed to club DJs, but not pushed as an official single. As hip-hop abandoned its brief flirtation with house by the start of the Nineties, Latifah likewise stopped making house records after this one. But “Come Into My House” still holds up with the strong classics.
Aly-Us — “Follow Me” (1992)
A hopeful and disarmingly approachable song in a minor key, “Follow Me” remains a humble highlight in the large catalog of New York record label Strictly Rhythm. Though it’s not the company’s biggest hit, it’s been revisited for remixes and sampled several times since its release in 1992. The vocals are courtesy of New Jersey singers William Jennings and Eddie Lewis.
CeCe Peniston — “Finally” (1992)
Though “Finally” was a mainstream and unavoidable pop hit in the US and UK in 1992, it also rang on more underground dance floors around the world. It’s the only house classic with roots in the Grand Canyon State, where Peniston was a two-time Miss Black Arizona winner.
Crystal Waters — “100% Pure Love (Culture Shock Remix)” (1994)
After her 1991 hit “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)” blew up (and was parodied on the sketch comedy series In Living Color), New Jersey recording artist Crystal Waters returned with another top 20 pop and number one club hit in “100% Pure Love.”
The first time I handed the song in, [producers] the Basement Boys hated the hook,” Waters told Billboard in 2021. “They laughed me out of the studio and said, try again. Then I came back with what you hear now.” The accompanying music video features choreography and dancing from the late actor Michael K. Williams, who played Omar on The Wire.
Inner City — “Big Fun” (1988)
And now, some crucial house scripture from legendary Detroit producers Kevin Saunderson and James Pennington and singer Paris Grey. “Big Fun” was a dance and R&B hit in the US and a top 10 pop smash in the UK. Both Saunderson and Pennington tend to be regarded more as techno pioneers than house ones, but Inner City deserves more recognition for its influence on house music.
Liberty City — “Some Lovin’” (1992)
Miami producers Ralph Falcón and Oscar Gaetan are better known as Murk and have a label of the same name. Recorded under their Liberty City alias (which is one of many guises they’ve used), “Some Lovin’” showcases the intensity and clarity of sound that is their calling card and forever stands as a flawless example of house music.
Kevin Irving — “Children of the Night” (1987)
Produced by Frankie Knuckles, “Children of the Night” is a shining solo song from Kevin Irving, who was also in The Dance Kings and Jack N. House in the late Eighties and early Nineties. Unfortunately, like Knuckles, Irving also passed away in 2014.
Farley “Jackmaster” Funk featuring Darryl Pandy — “Love Can’t Turn Around” (1986)
A top 10 pop hit in the UK, you can hear and feel Chicago vocalist Darryl Pandy’s passion and his gospel background when he sings. Pandy passed away in 2011, but his 1986 collaboration with DJ/producer Farley “Jackmaster” Funk remains a robust house classic.
Eddie Amador — “House Music” (1997)
“Not everyone understands house music,” goes the familiar refrain of this song. “It’s a spiritual thing, a body thing, a soul thing.” “House Music” stays getting remixed, and Eddie Amador is a GRAMMY-nominated remixer in his own right.
Robert Owens — “Bring Down the Walls” (1987)
One-third of the classic Chicago house trio Fingers Inc. with DJ/producer Larry Heard (aka Mr. Fingers) and fellow singer Ron Wilson, the Ohio-born Robert Owens also contributed solo songs to international dancefloors. Among his highlights are “Bring Down the Walls” and the number one club hits “I’ll Be Your Friend” and later “Mine to Give” with drum & bass producer Photek.
Colonel Abrams — “Music Is the Answer” (1985)
Detroit-born Colonel Abrams (which is his birth name) released four albums, including two with the major label MCA Records, and appeared as a performer on Soul Train. His most recognizable songs like “Music Is the Answer,” “Trapped,” and “I’m Not Gonna Let” were recorded before house music had a name, but he’s remained one of the most revered voices in the culture among DJs and artists who know how early he tapped into the uptempo sound. He was highly sampled in the early Nineties rave era and was never afraid of a strong shoulder. Abrams passed away in 2016, and I’ll play his songs forever.
Jungle Brothers — “I’ll House You” (1988)
Before Queen Latifah dropped “Come Into My House,” her fellow Native Tongues crew members successfully tested the waters with “I’ll House You.” Mike Gee, Afrika Baby Bam, and DJ Sammy B represent the height of openness from the rap world to the house community.
Todd Terry — “Real House Music” (2013)
“Real House Music” is the newest selection in this set by far, but it has an old soul and fits well. Todd Terry, who’s from Brooklyn, has been producing since the Eighties and has worked with high caliber colleagues like Masters At Work, San Francisco’s own Martha Wash, and P.M. Dawn.
Masters At Work featuring Jocelyn Brown — “It’s Alright, I Feel It!” (1997)
New Yorkers “Little” Louie Vega and Kenny “Dope” Gonzales also remain central to the world of house music and an exemplifier of the heights that can be achieved when playing this style live. Digging into their solo and collective catalogs is a good way to make a beeline into the heart of what house means. Here, they work with the underappreciated singer Jocelyn Brown, who is one of house’s most prolific solo and collaborative vocalists of all time.
Ralphi Rosario featuring Xaviera Gold — “You Used to Hold Me (Masters At Work Main Pass)” (1987)
As part of the Hot Mix 5, Ralphi Rosario introduced a generation of Chicago radio listeners to house music in the Eighties. It seems like there are 50,000 remixes of this house staple with singer Xaviera Gold, but none are better than the Masters At Work Main Pass that’s included here.
Barbara Tucker — “Beautiful People” (1994)
Another masterful Masters At Work anthem, “Beautiful People” earned Brooklyn singer and songwriter Barbara Tucker a spot in the house hall of fame. Louie Vega later sampled Tucker’s song for another Strictly Rhythm release, “Deep Inside” by Hardrive. “Deep Inside” later became the basis of a number of subsequent songs, including “Fade” by Kanye West featuring Post Malone and Ty Dolla $ign.
“It’s got to be a spiritual thing [in clubs],” Tucker told music historian Frank Broughton in a 1995 interview. “I’ve heard people in clubs say, ‘Hallelujah! Amen!’ It’s the freedom, the spirit of dancing, because the music just takes you on a natural something. Definitely. A lot of artists have come out of the church, and they bring that right along with them into the club. And they’re not ashamed.”
Maurice — “This Is Acid (A New Dance Craze)” (1988)
A key song from Chicago in late ‘80s, when the Roland TB-303 Bass Line drum machine starred in a heavy spate of record releases of what came to be known as acid house, “This Is Acid” topped the Billboard dance chart. Producer Maurice Joshua actually won the 2003 GRAMMY Award for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical for his remix of — wait for it! — Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love,” and he was one of the first to open up the dance world for Destiny’s Child.
Blaze featuring Palmer Brown — “Do You Remember House?” (2002)
New Jersey’s influential act Blaze (Josh Milan and Kevin Hedge) offer a fitting and educational conclusion to this story and mix. Hedge’s Palmer Brown alias delivers an insightful look at the roots of the culture on “Do You Remember House?”
“I remember house when it was just one house,” says Brown on the song. “I remember house when house had artists, songwriters, and personalities.” Hopefully this mix will help illuminate some of the deep talent of that time and will brighten the spirits of all who listen to it.