Yesterday marked the passing of house music pioneer, Frankie Knuckles. Leaving our community at the young age of 59, his legacy as a DJ, musician, and cultivator of new sound has been written about and discussed in countless interviews since his death, but the one thing that seems everyone can agree on is nothing will ever compare to seeing the Godfather of House in the flesh – in the mix – as he masterfully transitions and makes every club his new home.
With respect to what he’s left behind, these are a few of the tracks that this staple of Chicago’s music culture has bequeathed to us during his career; tracks that undoubtedly help shape the dance music culture that we see today.
“You Can’t Hide,” Frankie Knuckles. DJ International Records, 1986.
In an era that survived with the invention of drum machines and the tool of sampling, Frankie Knuckles put together his first track with the help of legendary producer Chip E. and looked back to the high energy disco music that got him playing at the Warehouse to begin with. Featuring a variety of percussion that drew inspiration from Latin beat, vocals from Teddy Pendergrass, and a bassline style which would become a signature for Knuckles’ later works as a producer, “You Can’t Hide” is the kind of deep cut that oozes house music in its purest form.
“I Want a Dog,” Pet Shop Boys. EMI, 1988.
On this track, featured on Pet Shop Boys’ 1988 album Introspective, the Chicago sound is on full blast complete with choices of snares, hi-hats, and the bassline that bumps in the background of the track. Knuckles’ production choices on this track makes this edit on Introspective a stand out cut on the album and will serve as somewhat of a predecessor to his work on a track by Hercules & Love Affair later in his career.
Considered by many to be the first *true* house music track out of Chicago, this version of “Your Love” was actually an update of a track that had been playing in the underground dance music scene since the early 80’s. Eventually getting recorded in the DJ booth of the now defunct club, The Power Plant, using a drum machine borrowed from fellow house music legend Derrick May, this track skyrocketed Knuckles’ career and became a track that would define him as a musician and DJ. Elements of early acid house pepper the track while his signature envelops it in a well composed bear hug making for a song that not only transcends culture, but time as well.
“The Whistle Song,” Frankie Knuckles. Virgin, 1991.
A seminal track in the Frankie Knuckles catalog, “The Whistle Song” shows a maturity in Knuckles’ skills as a producer while also showcasing a new period of dance music. Off his 1991 album, Beyond the Mix, this track is built on the foundation of a very specific 4/4 drum pattern that would define dance music for an entire generation of 80’s and 90’s babies. In other words, this is one of the tracks that would inspire artists like Clean Bandit, Duke Dumont, and just about any other artist now looking to their past for inspiration. As such, this track is part and parcel to the time in which it was made making it a high point of early 90’s electronic music.
“Blind (Frankie Knuckles Remix),” Hercules & Love Affair. DFA, 2008.
Few could ever dream to produce a remix like this one and even less could actually pull it off. A crowning achievement, and arguably Knuckles’ most famous work outside of “Your Love,” the remix of “Blind” by Hercules & Love Affair released by DFA in 2008 presented a freshness by Knuckles or, rather, an updated sound for newer gaggles of kids going out to the club. He retains his undercover bassline and references to the music that he sampled in the warehouses in his past, but he allows the cleaner, more artificial sounds to make their presence known which allows for a nice blend of organic and inorganic soundscapes to canoodle with one another.