Chicago House Roots: Last Days of Disco

This is the second part of a series examining the roots of house music.

Everyone knows house music is a direct descendent of disco, but to most, disco is still a dirty word. After pop-culture co-opted inner city dance music, there was the inevitable back-lash. Still, the best DJs were able to find deep cuts sneaking out amongst all the cheese. Frankie Knuckles, Ron Hardy, and other Chicago jocks undoubtedly bought the records below when they were new, yet they were still playing them five years later when the house sound started to gel.

Stephanie Mills: “You Can Get Over”

You Can Get Over label

20th Century Fox Records, 1979

This one’s a slow-building electronic groove. The break at the end, with its call to “get up, get down” is excellent as well, so make sure to find the 9-minute version.

Persia: “Inch by Inch”

Persia cover

Casablanca Records, 1979

Even though this tune was never released as a single, it was still big in Chicago. Bizarre distorted guitar resembles a back-up singer, while Zell Black sultrily purrs double entendres.

Tempest Trio: “Do You Like the Way That It Feels”

Do You Like the Way That It Feels label

Marlin, 1979

A gorgeous production through and through, the single was only available to DJs, and the best cut was on the B-side. The prominent synths and catchy chorus are still capable of pleasing a crowd.

Debbie Jacobs: “Don’t You Want My Love”

Don't You Want My Love label

MCA Records, 1979

This is another promo B-side, showing big labels were losing their faith in disco. You couldn’t ask for a nicer cut, though, with strings and horns aplenty.

Phreek: “I’m A Big Freak (R•U•1•2)”

Patrick Adams Presents Phreek cover

Atlantic, 1978

This album track is probably the trippiest and most pornographic production by Patrick Adams, the man behind Bumblebee Unlimited, Cloud One, The Universal Robot Band, and many other indie label aliases. I can’t get enough of his signature synthesizer swirls.

Bonnie Oliver: “Come Inside My Love” (Instrumental)

Bonnie Oliver label

Lejoint, 1979

The instrumental version is where it’s at. Piano caresses a thick, roving bassline. Horns and strings thrust. Midway through spacey synths descend.

Billy Frazier & Friends: “Billy Who?”

Billy Who? label

Biljuma Records, 1980

Also a Paradise Garage favorite, this rare, self-promotional arrangement sounds like a completely different song at its break (featured here). You really have to hear the whole thing, though.

Machine: “There But For The Grace Of God Go I”

There But For The Grace Of God Go I label

RCA Victor, 1979

I almost didn’t include this one since I’ve played it into the ground. August Darnell’s tale of a girl trying to escape her bigoted family features sumptuous production and a wonderfully synthesizer-heavy break.

Caroline Crawford: Coming on Strong

Coming on Strong label

Mercury, 1978

Legendary producer Bohannon filtered Crawford’s vocals and spread them out over his trademark grunting rhythm guitar. The result is a fiery, bluesy number that clocks in at a mere five minutes but packs plenty of punch. Plus you’ve got to love the Chicago skyscrapers on Mercury’s label from that time.

First Choice: “Let No Man Put Asunder” (Walter Gibbons Mix)

Disco Madness cover

Salsoul Records, 1978

No list of Chicago disco favorites would be complete without this track. It seems that every major DJ had his own edit. Most were based on the Walter Gibbons mix from the collection Disco Madness. Gibbons stripped out all but piano, vocals, and a simple beat, predicting the essence of house.

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  1. Thanks for the ultra rare “Billy who?”!

  2. It’s time that people got over the punk vs disco thing, it’s been 30 years, OK?
    There is plenty of deep gritty disco music, that is just funk/soul with a 4 on the floor beat, after all.

  3. IM very into the deep house disco era but dont know the name of the songs or artist this is great. I love Persia inch by inch.

  4. I just love this music. Persia: “Inch by Inch” and Caroline Crawford: Coming on Strong are wonderful. Where can I find this music? Anyone interested in selling or swapping some of these tunes? Thanks

  5. I’m hoping these pieces will inspire some label to put a compilation together.
    Those two cuts are only available on out-of-print vinyl, but check eBay, Discogs, and of course your local record dealers!

  6. One of the est web pages ive ever come across, thank you, i try to understand the process from disco to 80’s italio house, this explained it, legends, great selection

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