The now defunct UK magazine The Face used to end each issue with a one-liner, but when I read the words “Vocals Matter” there sometime in the mid 90s, it deeply afflicted me. Was there really a need to point this out? In fact there was. A vocalist and a song were basic elements of House Music since its early days in the Mid 80s. Which was not really surprising, after all House was a direct continuation of what started in the mid 70s with Soul and then Disco, and instrumentals where the exception, and not the rule. Then Garage House already displayed its origins in its name, the combination of the music played in both New York’s Paradise Garage and Chicago’s Warehouse. But after its heyday in the first half of the 90s, Garage House’s popularity was gradually declining. The clubs got bigger, and the sounds followed suit. The songs, however, seemed to get weaker in the process, and eventually a good tune became the exception. It might be a bit simplistic to argue that it is much easier to produce a good track than a good song, but comparatively there are not many artists left even trying. I am publishing an ongoing chronological series of mixes consisting of personal Vocal House favourites from the past until the present, and I picked a few overlooked gems for this guide.
Dance Advisory Commission – Free Your Mind (Yesterday’s Mix) (12th Avenue Records 1991)
The sole release on this imprint operated by Ben “Cozmo D” Cenac. Produced by David Anthony, who revived this track for a release on Emotive the following year. But the original record has the better versions. Eternal self-liberation on the floor imperatives, carried by a subtle Hip House aftermath breakbeat, which is just effortlessly swinging.
Swing Out Sister – Notgonnachange (Mix Of Drama) (Fontana 1992)
The Def Mix productions cannot be overestimated in Garage House history. 1992 was probably the year that saw more Vocal led House releases than any other year, as the Majors employed an increasing number of club DJs and producers to sprinkle some nocturnal stardust and dancefloor credentials on their chart bound artists. And so you have the most consistent remixer of the genre, Frankie Knuckles, turning UK Blue-Eyed Soulsters into a showstopping symphony of baroque proportions. His way of arranging pianos and strings into lush elegance is really distinct. It is also totally timeless.
Darryl D’Bonneau – Say You’re Gonna Stay (New Generation 1992)
The original masterpiece, hidden on a mini-compilation by a label supposedly affiliated with New Generation, the home of most of the weird and wonderful Larry P. Rauson productions. The track had a second life on Jellybean in 1995, albeit in way less intense versions. The interaction of main and background vocals here is pure perfection, the vocal performance is anyway. The song is an eight minute plea for forgiveness that is beyond par. I would not believe anybody telling me that she actually did not forgive him after hearing this.
K. London Posse Featuring Dawn Tallman – Caught In Luv (Rhythm Mix Vocal) (K4B Records 1994)
From 1993 on Garage House was played to increasingly bigger crowds, and the sweet melodies of former years were now often replaced by a Gospel led urgency, and heavier sounds. Producers like Masters At Work, Mood II Swing or Louie “Balo” Guzman showed the way, and many producers followed. Including Kingsley O., who released a string of high quality records on his K4B label that paired Diva plus team delivery with considerably twisted dubs. Buying double copies to combine both to best effect became mandatory.
Loveland – Hope (Never Give Up) (Junior’s Factory Vocal) (Eastern Bloc Records 1994)
NYC’s Sound Factory was the temple of the new booming Garage House sound, and Junior Vasquez was its adamant high priest. His rules and requirements for his floor are exemplified by this remix, one of many he did in those years. On this occasion riding on the ever reliable Robin S template developed by Sweden’s Finest remix team Swemix/Stonebridge, but adding those tribal rhythms, those rave stabbing chords and particularly introducing that rollercoaster structure that was diminished to one or two drops in recent years. The vocals do not serve not much more purpose than barely holding it all together, but they are still needed.
Brothers’ Vibe Featuring Teddy McClennan – Can U Feel It (Vocal) (Jersey Underground 1996)
The Rodriguez brothers paying their dues to Larry Heard’s eternal classic of a very similar name. It may lack its puzzling blissful emotionality, but it manages to catch up as deep, dark and dubbed out companion and it kicks you mesmerizingly, with your eyes closed, into realms you were probably not yet ready to enter. And you do not even care if you ever get out again.
Urban Soul – What Do I Gotta Do (Eric Kupper Club Mix) (King Street Sounds 1997)
Roland Clark was an early voice of the New Jersey sound back to the very early 90s, his shattered falsetto perfectly accompanied by the dramatic melancholia of his productions. Eric Kupper, man of many a thousand beautiful moments in House Music history, expectedly manages to add further bittersweet intensity to the equation, and a direct route to wailing with the best of them. If you think that House most songs are superficial and one-dimensional, you might just listen to the wrong ones.
The Klub Family – When I Fall In Love (Main Vocal Mix) (Funky People 1998)
There cannot be enough praise for the contributions of Blaze to the canon of songs in House music. Few were as committed to the tradition of Soul within the genre, and few could update said tradition with a sound so distinctively their own. Thus they were an exception when House came into being and they remained an exception for the years to come. Sometime inbetween, they helped to pave the way to the more spiritual and conscious sound celebrated at NYC clubs such as The Shelter and Body & Soul, and then they ruled it. Never ever write them off.
Loftis #V Featuring Lafe – Dreamin’ (Joe Smooth Vocal Mix) (Loft Records 2002)
After a productive but rather short period on DJ International in the early 90s, Craig S. Loftis reappeared with this stunning record (the Blaze inspired “You Are All I Need” from one year later is also well worth tracking down). At that time Joe Smooth had vanished from my radar as well, but even if they had only done this one tune, I would be forever grateful. The way this track maintains a floating excellence over such a monolithic funked up groove is just incredible. And then comes the dub version, and you better watch out.
Big Moses – Deep Inside (Vocal) (Big Moe Records 2004)
Moise Laporte is best known for his sublime “Brighter Days” from 1996, but I cannot recommend this record enough either. I really despise a lot of “Soulful Garage” for its bland Pseudo-Jazz drenched noodlings but here all wrong musicianship temptations are kept in check for a well-balanced sophisticated groover straight for the Modern Soul floor. May the girls and boys keep on swinging, and may the faith be kept.