I wrote a bit about Chicago house duo Virgo 3 years ago when profiling School Hall. If you like their style, you'll really enjoy the entire LP. In A Vision represents the prototypical Virgo sound - outer space galactic vibe laced with haunting synth strings. It's hypnotically rhythmic and thought provoking at the same time, just very cool all around. Based on this interview, their tools of the trade are the Roland Juno 2 keyboard and the Roland 505 drum machine. The duo parted ways in 2011 according to this post.
We're close to 200 songs deep and there's still a few real classics left unmentioned. One of these would be Work It To The Bone, first released in 1987 by the Chicago duo of LNR (Larry Thompson and Rick Lenoir). Unmistakable would be the word that comes to mind when listening to this track. "C'mon let's work it to the bone" is the vocal that sets things off, with the signature analogue drum patterns kicking in by the third word. Those drums were tribal before tribal house was a thing (much like Ma Foom Bey) and the vocals are completely hypnotic in their relentless repetitiveness. Bare bones as it may be, Work It To The Bone is a flawless execution and none of the 500 remixes later has really surpassed the original as far as I'm concerned.
So I listened to about 40 different mixes on YouTube and Soundcloud and decided I like this one best if you're looking for a modern interpretation. It's courtesy of Toronto-based Joe De Simone (@sublevelmusic) of http://www.sublevelmusic.com/ Great stuff!
Someday is considered one of the early house classics and is notable for being ahead of its time as one of the first socially conscious house anthems. It also has the distinction of being the first house song signed by a major label, which helped it crossover to R&B fans. Almost three decades on and the track has aged extremely well compared to many other releases from that era. It's also been sampled often, so even if you haven't heard Someday, you might still recognize the piano chords or bassline.
The obvious reason this song became an instant classic is because it's just so beautifully composed. Marshall Jefferson arranged the entire production, including the unforgettable Korg M1 piano chords and the melodic walking bassline. Jefferson also wrote the uplifting lyrics that Ce Ce Rogers sung so well in a breakthrough debut. Rogers turned out to be the perfect voice for this track, showcasing impressive range and delivering the soaring vocals this track deserved. You'll want to read this perspective to gain a true appreciation for how powerful this track was on an international level.
The backstory of how Rogers and Jefferson teamed up for this track was retold here in a Q & A with Jefferson:
Someday, I wrote after watching the news one day. It sat around for a few months because I didn't know who I was going to get to sing it. Curtis McClain was usually my 1st choice for songs, but we were constantly at each other’s throats while touring for Move Your Body, and I didn't want to do him any favors.
A promoter named Billy Prest had taken really good care of us while touring the East Coast and asked me if could write a song for his singer, Ce Ce Rogers. He gave me a cassette of Ce Ce singing and I gave it a quick listen and told him I’d do it. I just “happened” to have Someday lying around and gave it to Billy. Made me look like a genius coming up with a song so fast instead of the screwup I actually was.
Billy immediately flew Ce Ce to Chicago to sing the leads. I had the music all recorded when he got into the studio. Billy had specifically instructed Ce Ce to not play keyboards around me, because he didn't want me to get intimidated. Ce Ce was a Berkley grad and an awesome keyboard player. Ce Ce is also a born showoff and absolutely the most competitive person I've ever met in my life, and of course within the 1st minute of him getting in the studio he found a grand piano and was playing so great he could have intimidated Rachmaninov.
Didn't phase me a bit and I told him when he was done to get in the vocal booth and sing.
I recorded Ce Ce’s warm up and told him to go back to his hotel. It was absolutely phenomenal. Ce Ce panicked and asked to re sing it. I said no at 1st, then finally gave in, but my mind was made up. I told Steve Frisk, the engineer to record him while I went to McDonalds. When I came back, Ce Ce seemed a bit more satisfied with the second vocal. I took it home and listened to it, but the second vocal seemed a bit contrived compared to the 1st.
My next trip to the east coast, I let Merlin Bobb at Atlantic hear it and he signed it immediately. He also played it on the radio the night he got it.
Ce Ce panicked again and asked Billy and Atlantic to send him to Chicago to sing it one more time. Ce Ce flew to Chicago and re sang it, but this time I had Merlin backing me up that the original vocal sounded better and that’s what went on the record.
Ce Ce Rogers is absolutely, positively the greatest live performer I've ever seen in my life, period. No artist should ever follow his performance, I've seen singers totally destroyed after watching him sing. I've seen him sing to an audience of 3 and had them all standing with their hands in the air and screaming at the top of their lungs.
Anyway, he greatly helped record sales and what went down on record was a performance in the studio, not a production. It was an honor just to be a part of that session and watching him let loose like he did.
He Not In doesn't actually meet my definition as "classic" since it was first produced in 2000, but it still deserves inclusion for being a seminal track that defined the dubhouse sound. Chicken Lips is a house production team from the UK founded by former Bizarre Inc. members Andy Meecham and Dean Meredith. He Not In features a mind-blowing bassline that carries the track to the finish line, no vocals necessary! The song didn't blow up initially, but became an international hit around 2002-2003. Meecham claims to have created the track in a single afternoon which is pretty impressive considering it kicked open the doors for similar artists like Booka Shade, Trentemøller, Matthias Tanzmann, Mark Romboy, and Boris Brejcha. There's a ton of remixes, but the original gets my vote.
Mission Control is one of the earliest aliases of Ralph Falcon (half of the legendary Miami house duo Murk) with the original release of Outta Limits dating to 1990. A few seconds into Outta Limits and vintage Murk comes through - spaced out sound, outrageous bass, and some dark stretched-out synth riffs to tie it all together. If Mars had a nightclub, Ralph Falcon and Oscar G would be on the decks. This track features spoken word samples of counterculture LSD guru Timothy Leary to complete the drugged out sound. It's remarkable how fresh their production sounds even though software and EDM have evolved so rapidly in the past two decades.
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 really warm up to acid house, overly ambient tracks, or anything that bumps >135bpm. Many have asked, but there's no consensus definition of classic house music...however Ishkur has an excellent guide to electronica music that can serve as a primer for anyone interested. Some of the videos get pulled due to copyright issues - just search on YouTube since most stuff gets re-upped anyway.