20 tracks that prove 1997 was the best year ever for house
#10 Herbert & Dani Siciliano – ‘Going Round’
UK producer and mad genius Matthew Herbert became a club sensation in 1996 with his experimental tracks that were somehow funkier than most others despite being made with spoons banging on dishes and other sounds recorded in his kitchen. The following year saw the first of his collaborations with San Francisco chanteuse Dani Siciliano (also his life partner).
There hadn’t been a sound quite like this before: the combination of Siciliano’s smoky, evocative vocals and Herbert’s deep and deeply weird grooves was like a cool breeze in an industry riddled with clichés. Among other things it helped make the world safe for adventurous fusions of dance and indie in the next decade.
#9 Larry Heard – ‘Guidance (Calm)’
One of the best things about 1997 was Larry Heard’s comeback. The Chicago legend, who pioneered deep house in the mid-’80s as Mr. Fingers, had never really gone away, but in ’97 he returned to the vanguard with several important releases.
“One of the best things about 1997 was Larry Heard’s comeback”
This track was recorded for and named for upstart Chicago label Guidance Recordings, which was quite suddenly a major innovative force. It ties together everything brilliant about Heard’s latter-day output. Rather than relying on the classic sounds that made him an icon, it’s forward-thinking, with a subtle techno edge that’s a wonderful contrast to Heard’s lovely and distinctive keyboard work.
As the subtitle suggests it’s “Calm” enough to be soothing home listening; but in a club setting it’s powerfully bassy and propulsive.
#8 Byron Stingily – ‘Get Up (Everybody)’
This is such a terrific tune because it demonstrates that house in this era was not only chock-a- block with soul but also fun as hell.
With its infectious melodies, rolling pianos and former Ten City lead singer Byron Stingily’s soaring falsetto calling the dancefloor to arms while the backup singers are movin’ movin’ slidin’ slidin’, it’s a party anthem worthy of the best funk and disco from the ’70s.
#7 Global Communication – ‘The Way’ (Secret Ingredients Mix)
UK duo Mark Pritchard and Tom Middleton were amongst the most accomplished producers of the time. Under numerous monikers, also including the Jedi Knights and The Chameleon, they had highly regarded releases across genres from house to ambient to drum & bass.
Then they unleashed a series of uniquely expansive, game-changing deep-house tracks; ‘The Way’ in particular blew minds back then and still does. Beginning with a looping bassline and vocal snippet from Dexter Wansel’s 1979 classic ‘The Sweetest Pain‘ – the first two minutes alone have more going on than a dozen lesser tracks – it keeps building and building and building.
You wouldn’t mind if it went for another hour – it’s more like a DJ mix than a track.
#6 NuYorican Soul (featuring Jocelyn Brown) – ‘It’s Alright, I Feel It!’
“Little” Louie Vega and Kenny “Dope” Gonzales certainly lived up to being called Masters at Work. In 1997 they went into the studio under their NuYorican Soul alias with a slew of superstar collaborators including Roy Ayers, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Tito Puente and George Benson, and came out with a masterpiece, their self-titled debut album.
A tribute to decades of New York Latin jazz, soul and funk, the LP is filled with highlights, but this anthem featuring Jocelyn Brown became a standard on dancefloors throughout the era. With its live drumming, luscious piano and ecstatically cascading choruses, it straddles house, broken-beat, garage and soul in timeless fashion.
#5 Daft Punk – ‘Revolution 909’
Daft Punk’s deubt album, Homework, dropped in January of 1997 and we haven’t looked back. You could write a book about what this album has meant to electronic music in the 20 years since. ‘Around the World’ might have been a more obvious choice, and entirely worthy; but ‘Revolution 909’ is Daft Punk’s house manifesto.
“Daft Punk’s deubt album, Homework, dropped in January of 1997 and we haven’t looked back”
Only a few elements make it up: a rough techno-style kick, liquid disco bassline, crystalline high-hats, a subtle “Go! Go!” chant, DP’s expert use of the filters that were later a cliché in French house. It’s all exquisitely balanced and such an infectious dancefloor experience.
Even the title is perfect, with overlapping references to the Beatles, the classic drum machine and the social upheaval of rave and youth culture. Revolutionary indeed.
#4 Roy Davis Jr. featuring Peven Everett – ‘Gabriel’
Chicago veteran Roy Davis, Jr., who got his start with acid-house pioneers Phuture, was very busy in 1997 with a number of standout releases. But this collaboration with vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Peven Everett became an instant classic and a seminal work in a number of genres including deep house and two-step.
In a scene dominated by bottom-heavy, vocal-saturated garage, it was such a refreshingly light, sparse and jazzy sound with its broken- beat swing and hypnotic trumpet riffs. Everett’s lyrics draw a connection between biblical archangels and modern dance music, lending the tune an enduring mystical feel.
#3 Fresh & Low – ‘New Life’
Fresh & Low was a Scottish production trio made up of Julian Dembinski, David Robertson and Calum Walker who released quality tunes on many labels throughout the late ’90s.
Out of all their discography this one is widely considered the bomb. It has one of the best buildups of any house track ever, taking its sweet time as it only slowly layers different rhythmic elements, strings, synths and vocal stabs into a hypnotic brew.
More than halfway through, like the sun breaking through clouds, comes a chord change that’s exquisitely subtle and thrilling, as the track evolves from dubby and deep into something warmer and jazzier. The unique perfection of this track makes it just as sought after by DJs and just as incendiary on dancefloors today as it ever was.
#2 Voices – ‘Can U See the Light?’
Voices was an unusual project, a one-off collaboration between five vocalists, including house diva Sabrynaah Pope and well-known gospel and R&B singer Michelle Weeks. New York house masters Kings of Tomorrow – you know them from their 2001 hit ‘Finally’ – did an uncredited remix; it was released as a much-sought- after bootleg and became an instant classic.
It’s absolute fire, with an unstoppable groove and a loose structure, based on traditional gospel, in which the five take turns unleashing devastating improvised vocals about overcoming darkness and reaching for light. There was nothing like hearing it played by Francois K. or Danny Krivit on the massive sound system at Vinyl on Sunday evening at a packed, sweaty, ecstatic Body & Soul.
#1 Eddie Amador – ‘House Music’
It’s fitting that such an epochal year was highlighted by such a definitive house track – so definitive it’s simply called ‘House Music’. It deserves such quintessential billing; it’s the kind of track that’s only meant for a peaktime dancefloor and to explicitly remind the heads why they’re there – a call to arms as it were.
Over a fierce track that features bruising drums, scorching keyboards and eerie high-pitched strings, a spoken word intones, “Not everyone understands house music. It’s a spiritual thing, a body thing, a soul thing.” ’Nuff said.
Jim Poe is a writer, DJ, and editor based in Sydney. He tweets from @fivegrand1.