In 2020’s challenging times, Glitterbox is a life-affirming celebration of music and dancing, inclusivity and positivity. Spreading the vibe are both the label and the weekly radio show, and it is here that over the coming weeks and months, Melvo will be saluting many of the pioneers and originators (DJs, singers, dancers, producers, labels and more) who have helped shape the Glitterbox philosophy in a brand new feature, we’re calling ‘House Of…’ Here on glitterboxibiza.com, we’ll be digging, delving and disco storytelling too, startingwith this month’s featured trio of heavyweights: Nile Rodgers (show 155, available Tues 17th); Loleatta Holloway (156, available Tues 24th); and Frankie Knuckles (157, available Tues 31st).
Nile Rodgers – Greatest Riffs
“That guitar riff every time just gets me, I don’t know what it is, it’s just perfect. It’s so soulful, it’s so jazzy, but so poppy at the same time – it’s something that we always try and emulate with our work – can it be technically and harmonically advanced, and still catchy at the same time?”
This is Guy Lawrence from Disclosure talking to Glitterbox Radio about Sister Sledge’s ‘Thinking Of You’, and capturing the magic of Nile Rodgers, a virtuoso performer steeped in jazz who has perfected the art of making dancefloor demolishing tracks with a unique pop sensibility. Taking our lead from Guy’s ringing endorsement, here we look at a selection of Nile’s finest riffs, while pausing to reflect on his late, great partner in the CHIC organisation, Bernard Edwards, who frequently delivered bass lines that doubled as hooks, the ideal counterpoint to Nile – the one for ‘Good Times’ helping to launch a musical revolution
Spoilt for choice with the unmatchable run of classics with which Rodgers & Edwards dominated clubs in the late 1970s via both CHIC and Sister Sledge, we have opted to kick off our selection with the unmistakable opening guitar salvo from ‘Le Freak’ . We highlight the finely crafted Dimitri From Paris remix from his 2018 Glitterbox box set, where the riff is given additional breathing space and can be enjoyed in all its glory – here’s Guy again on Dimitri’s editing expertise: “If you’re a big fan of the original song, it’s nice to hear it laid out and stretched out over a period of time.”
At the height of their chart domination in 1979, CHIC were offered numerous production projects. Intriguingly, one of those they chose to accept was Sheila & B Devotion, a disco act little known outside their native France. The single from the project, ‘Spacer’, remains an enduring dancefloor anthem. Nile’s choppy guitar riff juxtaposes with an airy keyboard motif to underpin Sheila’s vocal, and even when the strings join the party, much of the track’s beauty lies in the fact that by disco standards, it is a restrained number.
By contrast, 1980 saw CHIC masterminding a comeback album for one of the biggest acts in the world at the time, Diana Ross. The Diana album was to prove the best seller of Ross’s career, and spawned several giant hits, including the evergreen ‘I’m Coming Out’. In an unforgettable intro, Nile’s trademark guitar intertwines with an insanely catchy horn riff, staccato drums and Diana’s fearless vocal.
As the disco backlash kicked in big time in the early 1980s, Nile was able to ride out the storm as he was now arguably the planet’s most in-demand producer regardless of musical genres. Madonna and Duran Duran were just two of the superstar acts to benefit from his midas touch in this period. Arguably both these projects wear their ‘80s hearts on their sleeve, but we have selected two cuts that are utterly timeless. Singer-songwriter Carly Simon’s ‘Why’ (1982) is an abiding favourite on the more Balearic-tinged dancefloors. The opening synth riff, soon replicated by Simon’s vocal, is one of the most memorable in Nile’s stellar body of work. ‘Why’ features on the CHIC-produced soundtrack for the Soup For One movie – the soundtrack out-performed the film, with CHIC’s title track famously providing the sample hook for Modjo’s ‘Lady’.
Ever the chameleon, in 1983 David Bowie chose to take a more dance-orientated pop direction for his next album. Nile was the man charged with masterminding the project, and despite backgrounds that on the surface appeared radically different, the two bonded over a mutual love of jazz and a determination to create a career-defining album. ‘Let’s Dance’, album and single, were subsequently released in 1983. In the early days of MTV, the accompanying video was deemed an early classic of the genre, and Nile’s guitar riff launched a multi-million seller.
Fast forward thirty years. Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers – the very definition of dancefloor dream team. Arguably no other song has ever dominated a summer worldwide as the ubiquitous ‘Get Lucky’ did in 2013. One of the best-selling singles of all time is driven by one of Nile’s most legendary guitar riffs.
CHIC productions are amongst the most-sampled in the dance music canon, testament to their timeless brilliance and ability to fill a floor. So, our final selection comes from 2017, Mella Dee’s ‘Techno Disco Tool’ in effect being a contemporary update of Sister Sledge’s ‘Pretty Baby’.
Loleatta Holloway – A Legacy To Sample
“I never thought of myself as a good singer,” Loleatta Holloway once said.Legions of disco addicts and house heads would beg to differ. Holloway’s voice is one of the most powerful and distinctive in dance music history – but it was only through being sampled by a canny Italian production team that she belatedly began to receive the recognition she deserved, and it was through ongoing mass sampling and remixing that her legacy was cemented. Here we highlight some of Loleatta’s most memorable performances, linking them to a trulydiverse selection of sample-based tracks that helped expose her to new audiences, many of whom were subsequently drawn to her stellar catalogue.
‘Relight My Fire’ comes from one of disco’s defining years, 1979. The inimitable full length version we feature here is in effect two tracks in one, with the instrumental cut ‘Vertigo’ seamlessly blending into ‘Relight My Fire’, where producer and vocalist Dan Hartman (producer/writer of Loleatta’s classic Salsoul track ‘Love Sensation’) is aided and abetted by Holloway’s lung-busting cameo.
No remix, sample track or cover version comes close to that incomparable original (yes Take That & Lulu, we’re talking to you), but ‘Relight My Fire’ did benefit from being selected by one of the most inventive sample-based acts of all time, Australia’s The Avalanches. Having released their memorable debut album Since I Left Youin 2000, fans were left waiting until 2016 for the follow up, Wildflower. However, during the hiatus, in 2013 they contributed to an album of remixes / re-works of tracks by Australian band Hunters & Collectors. They renamed their interpretation of the band’s 1982 track ‘Talking To A Stanger’ as ‘Stalking To A Stranger’, and ‘Relight My Fire’ features prominently. While Loleatta herself may not be to the fore, this inspired mash up and brilliant video undoubtedly led many a curious customer to her work.
‘Love Sensation’– the song that launched a thousand sample tracks (actually close to 200 on the last official count). First, let us enjoy rarely seen footage of Loleatta performing the song live in 1982.
“Got me burning up”, “such a good vibration”, “sweet sensation”, “you just walk right in”, “take me away”, “time won’t take my love away”, “you get down” – while it may have been Black Box who struck the jackpot with ‘Ride On Time' , the iconic ‘Love Sensation’ lyrics have been plundered time and again by producers across myriad musical genres. However, it is noteworthy that many samplers have opted to select a single word or cry from Loleatta as a hook, as Bicep chose to do with ‘Lyk Lyk’ in 2015
Much like James Brown’s heavily sampled grunts, for many, only Loleatta will do when it comes to adding authenticity to a track – other examples of ‘one word / cry Loleatta sampling’ from ‘Love Sensation’ are Nitro Deluxe’s proto house classic ‘Let’s Get Brutal’ ; and house master Romanthony’s ‘Ministry of Love’
Once the furore over ‘Ride On Time’ died down, Loleatta managed to cut deals with both Black Box and her label Salsoul, who opened up their vaults to remixers and samplers alike, in so doing helping to seal the mutually beneficial love affair between disco and house. The sheer number of remixed Salsoul tracks on the market means that the quality control varies, but there are some truly sublime interpretations out there, including this Jazz’n’Groove re-work of Holloway’s ‘Dreamin’’ released by Defected in 2000.
Loleatta’s ad libs adorn many a track in addition to her vocals and screams, in particular on a host of 1990s tracks from the more mainstream end of the house spectrum. Yosh presents Lovedeejay Akemi’s ‘Dreamin’’- sampling ‘It’s What’s Upfront That Counts’ (released by Glaswegian label Limbo in 1995) certainly falls into that category, but despite the cheese factor is undoubtedly catchy, while its drag queen-featuring video was groundbreaking for the time.
Frankie Knuckles – moods & moments
“In the beginning there was Frankie Knuckles. His legend transcends the movement that he helped create. His many incredible productions still bring house, soul and disco to dancefloors all over the world.” Simon Dunmore, 2015.
Frankie’s inimitable, pioneering career and his unrivalled discography have been much documented, in particular since his untimely passing in 2014 (our radio tribute will go out on the sixth anniversary of his death, March 31st). Our selection here can inevitably only offer a snapshot of his genius, but we aim to reflect some of the many moods of which Frankie was a master.
A 1983 remix of First Choice’s enduring Salsoul release ‘Let No Man Put Asunder’ was Frankie’s first foray into the world of production. The invitation came from the label, and much as Frankie later admitted he had no idea how to navigate his way round a recording studio at this time, he called on his trademark resilience and boldness to produce a much-loved revamp. By this time, while still in Chicago, he had moved from the Warehouse to the Power Plant, where he was still sowing the early seeds of the new sound we all came to love. In this mix, you can all but hear disco beginning to morph into house.
So many early house classics bear the Knuckles stamp. Here we feature one of the very finest from 1987, a shoo-in on any all-time greatest house tracks listing – “music takes control / music that's good for your soul”.
By 1989, Knuckles had returned to New York, and alongside studio partner and fellow DJ David Morales and long-time NYC dance scene influencer Judy Weinstein, had set up the Def Mix production company. As both a business model and a home to remix & production talent, Def Mix was to create a template that many others would follow. Frankie began to edge away from his more minimal Chicago productions, forging a sound steeped in soul and disco stylings while effortlessly on point for contemporary floors. However, he was never afraid to drop the BPMs, as evidenced on his soulful reworkings for the likes of Loose Ends and Inner City. He was also not afraid to experiment, as on these two stunning examples – his Folk mix of Womack & Womack’s ‘Missing Persons Bureau (MPB)’; and his ‘hallucinogenic’ take on Rufus & Chaka Khan’s ‘Ain’t Nobody’ (both from 1989).
His own productions if anything caused even more of a stir than his remixes, with the likes of ‘Tears’ (performed live here by vocalist Robert Owens) soon residing alongside early releases ‘Your Love’ and ‘Baby Wants To Ride’ in the file marked ‘instant classics’. Also in that file, ‘The Whistle Song’ was released as part of his album project for Virgin Records in 1991. DJ Junior Vasquez had walked out on his seminal residency at New York’s Sound Factory, arguably the hottest club in the world at that time. Only Frankie was deemed capable of taking of Junior’s slot, which he did so with great success. Desperate to have a new signature track to woo Junior’s crowd, working alongside Eric Kupper, the brilliantly simplistic flute-led number was born.
As the 21st century dawned, Frankie took a break from the studio to focus on DJing. As he told Simon Dunmore in 2011, “I stopped producing and remixing for a very long time… I had great difficulty finding things that really appealed to me. It’s not enough for me to throw out there whatever it is that’s available. Each song that I play has got to be just as great as the last one.” The project that was to entice him back to the studio in 2008 initially seemed an unlikely match, but was to see him deliver one of his most acclaimed pieces of work. Hercules & Love Affair was an act signed to era-defining NYC label DFA. Knuckles identified not only with the influences DFA clearly took from the early 1980s “disco not disco” New York club scene, but also the impassioned vocal performance and heartwrenching lyrics of singer Antony Hegarty, then best known as vocalist for Mercury Prize-winning Antony & the Johnsons, but later, as Anohni, to become only the second openly transgender artist to be nominated for an Academy award. DFA were so desperate for Knuckles to do the remix that they waited patiently for several months while he recovered from illness – however, both parties felt the commission was a risk. That it proved one worth taking is beyond doubt.
We conclude with one of the master’s last remixes. Candi Staton’s spiritually uplifting ‘Hallelujah Anyway’ is one of those tracks that lends itself equally to all manner of remix styles. Frankie’s Director’s Cut remix (once again in tandem with Eric Kupper), released in 2012 on Defected, played a crucial role in the song’s success, and is another example of his ageless brilliance.