Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Steve "Silk" Hurley 'Jack Your Body'

Chart Peak: 1 [2 weeks]

Charted at No. 18 on 6th January, had sped to No.1 by 20th January where it stayed for 2 weeks.
A minimal note for a minimal track, but it hardly captures the impact this track must have had when it arrived at the top of the chart - the impact surely heightened by the fact that it knocked off 'Reet Petite' of all things. There can scarcely ever have been a greater contrast between consecutive Number One singles: The Prodigy deposing Robson & Jerome just under a year decade later maybe just about beats this. It was the first time house music had topped the UK chart and surely the most sample-based chart-topper to date. Mind you, if anything it looks even more impressive that the single entered the chart as high as the Top 20, since it can't have had much daytime radio play at first. I do remember hearing it on the radio, but that would have been on Capital, a relatively switched-on station in those days, and I'm sure it only forced its way onto the radio because it had been so popular. I wonder whether it's a coincidence that this is one of the tracks dropped from the CD version of the album, since it was obviously a bigger hit than many of the tracks that did cross over, or whether somebody thought the more upmarket potential buyers of a Compact Disc in 1987 wouldn't have been so keen on this one.

It must have been quite a culture shock when it first appeared on TotP - in video form of course, I don't think it really lends itself to live performance - because even this truncated radio edit is so basic and elemental. There's very little instrumentation, just the bubbling bassline (which I now know is the work of a Roland 303, not that I'd have any concept of that at the time), the lead line played on that higher keyboard that only distantly resembles a piano and the relentless beat. The vocal is similarly limited, consisting mostly of snippets from the three-word title phrase, repeated and looped in various ways. Admittedly, this would partly be the result of the limited capacity of samplers in those days, but there is something very bold about the single too, almost as if it's brazenly saying this is all you need to dance to, and anything else would be extraneous. Coincidentally, although I'd thought of that sentence some hours ago, just as I was typing it 'Teenage Kicks' by the Undertones came on, a very different record which John Peel famously said nothing need be subtracted from or added to. In another coincidence, my wife and I were discussing the early work of avant-garde composer Steve Reich, who was manipulating brief vocal clips into all sort of shapes twenty years earlier. It's unlikely that this was an influence on the Chicago House scene, or that any significant proportion of the people who bought this record in 1987 have ever heard of Steve Reich, but it's an interesting comparison and a lesson that different types of music have more in common than it might superficially appear.

Because I was only a child when this single charted, and have never had much understanding of club culture, I don't know much about how this plays out in the history of its subculture, and how original or distinctive it might have seemed when first heard in the clubs. But I do know it was important in taking the sound overground, and soon enough it was everywhere, variations of this becoming the standard sound of dance-pop for a few years at least. Even the former jazz band Matt Bianco were soon at it with the pastiche 'Wap Bam Boogie' in 1988, whilst Les Rhythmes Digitales made a much later explicit homage with 'Jacques Your Body (Make Me Sweat)'; Stuart Price went on to produce crowd-pleasing acts like Take That and the Killers, how mainstream can you get? You can hear traces of this in the early Stock Aitken Waterman sound too, and SAW staffers Harding and Curnow were responsible for remixing Chic's disco classic into 'Jack Le Freak'. Of course it also went on to pave the way for one of my favourite Number Ones of all time, 'Pump Up The Volume', so it'd deserve my gratitude even if I didn't enjoy it in itself. But the track's won me over as an adult, even though I tend to have a hard time with very repetitive music and songs that lack strong melodic content. Perhaps there's something in how elemental this is that cuts to the quick and impresses me - but I can tell you that the reason why I rated this deposing 'Reet Petite' as less dramatic than the Prodigy deposing Robson & Jerome in that first paragraph is because that was a much bigger variation in quality as well as style.

There is a funny little postscript to this story, though you may already know this. It later emerged that this single shouldn't have been a Number One at all, because the 12" version which accounted for a majority of the sales was actually slightly longer than chart rules permitted. It was recognised as a genuine mistake though and the published chart was allowed to stand. At least nobody missed out on topping the chart because of it; it would just have been an extra week each for 'Reet Petite' and for 'I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)', the latter of which officially took over the following week and fortunately doesn't show up here. If I can squeeze in one more coincidence, that was another song John Peel said something memorable about.

Available on: ONE

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