Yesterday would have been the 62nd birthday of Chicago stalwart and house music legend Frankie Knuckles. It is difficult to find a piece of written history on house music that fails to mention Mr. Knuckles – affirmatively, he is known as “The Godfather of House Music”. From his early development alongside Larry Levan (of Paradise Garage fame) to his staple appearances at The Warehouse in Chicago, Frankie consistently championed the house music sound, and helped navigate its proliferation through the late ’80s and ’90s. Many consider him to be part of the 101 class on house and club culture history.
In the world of house music where mainstream applicability was immensely doubted for many years, Frankie Knuckles was able to show that house DJs and producers were skilled artists in their own right. A full studio album was – and in many ways still is – rare to see. Yet Knuckles was responsible for three of them, the second of which released on Virgin in 1995: Welcome to the Real World featuring Adeva.
I love this record. The artwork hung in my living room for a long time – Frankie and vocalist Adeva enticingly appear from the darkness, staring at you with their hands out. The blue aura that surrounds them feels like a beacon of light on the otherwise black frame. You’re drawn to it. They’re inviting you into their world – the house music world – that to many is the true real world.
The various influences in the record are numerous. There’s the crisp downtempo RnB drum licks on “Too Many Fish” and “Passion & Pain”. Or the soulful orchestral presence in ballad-style tracks like “You’re Number One (In My Book)” and “Tell Me Why”. Of course Frankie’s disco upbringing is noticeable in the driven 4×4 jam “Keep It Real” and the gospel is unmistakable in “Walkin’”.
The most important sound in the tracks, though, was the swung-out and somewhat jackin’ drum loops that came to define the term Chicago House. Along with the ubiquitous electric piano phrases, this drum arrangement crept into almost every track in one form or another. “Whadda U Want (From Me)” and the title track are floor movers in this regard.
The record is as brightly produced and genuine as the huge smile Knuckles was known for. The themes of love, acceptance, friendship, and an inability to understand the hatred that seems ever more commonplace are just as needed today as they’ve ever been. The final track on the B-side begins with a eulogy from Frankie about his dear friend Larry Levan. He mentions that Larry achieved success so early because he was took risks musically, and that it took him longer to understand that was a good thing. The entire house music community should remain grateful that Frankie Knuckles was here with us and took those risks, and shared that music with us all. To a great man – Frankie Knuckles – cheers. Love can change us.
Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Nick States, of Boston, bought his first vinyl record in 2010 and has been hooked ever since. The record shop tends to be his first stop in an any city he visits.