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Revisionist History: 5 Crucial Frankie Knuckles Remixes

Frankie Knuckles was a master remixer. i i
YouTube
Frankie Knuckles was a master remixer.
YouTube

Over the past week, dance music lovers around the world published several "beginner's guides" to Frankie Knuckes' catalog of house hits. Slate's Nicholas Fonseca tackled the godfather's top singles with an illuminating essay, and The Guardian's music blog ran down five of his essential songs. The Red Bull Music Academy created a YouTube playlist of some of the DJ's staple selections during his years at Chicago's Warehouse dance club. All are worth checking out.

We wanted to shine a light on another corner of Knuckle's legacy — the remix. As his profile began to rise in the mid-1980s, stars from other genres enlisted his talents to turn their own radio singles into club anthems. Here are a handful of our favorite revisions by a true visionary.

Revisionist History: 5 Crucial Frankie Knuckles Remixes

  • Inner City, 'Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin' (Def Mix)'

    YouTube

    One of Frankie Knuckles' most frequent collaborators was David Morales, a longtime friend who teamed up with Knuckles to form the Def Mix production company. Together, they helped popularize the "remix" during the late 1980s and early 1990s, reshaping pop songs for Elton John, Lisa Stansfield and INXS for the club scene. In 1989, the pioneering duo teamed up with techno's first crossover act – Kevin Saunderson's Inner City – to make "Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin' (Def Mix)," a smooth reimagining of Stephanie Mills' disco hit 10 years prior. And an interesting tidbit about the song's 12": the b-side featured the first remix by a young Marc Kinchen, a.k.a. MK, who would go on to become one of house's leading lights during the next decade. --Otis Hart

  • Womack & Womack, 'M.P.B. (Folk Version)'

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    In critic Barry Walters' recent assessment of the dearly departed Godfather of House Music, he describes the man's touch as lighter than most of his ilk, comparing him to "Debussy or Satie for the dance floor." In remixing the 1980s husband and wife R&B duo Womack & Womack, he and Morales highlight the nylon string guitar on their "folk version" remix (and their nine-minute "Paradise Ballroom remix" is as heavenly as it gets). Adding worlds of echo and the subtlest keyboard throb, Knuckles & Morales give this plaint about a lost love the feel of a ghost story. --Andy Beta

  • Rufus & Chaka Khan, 'Ain't Nobody (Hallucinogenic Version)'

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    By the time Knuckles and Morales remixed Rufus & Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody" in 1989, the song was already secure in the pop culture firmament: spun at David Mancuso's Loft parties; ascending to the #1 slot on the Billboard charts; even infiltrating the Cineplex courtesy of appearing on the soundtrack to the film Breakin'. Six years on, the duo had their work cut out for them, but they revealed another masterpiece, pushing the Linn drums higher and helixing the keys of Rufus member David "Hawk" Wolinski so as to build a staircase to the heavens for when Chaka Khan's blessed-out chorus bursts forth nearly four minutes in. A masterclass of build, restraint and ecstatic release. --Andy Beta

  • Fingers Inc., 'Distant Planet (Club Mix)'

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    The two fathers of Chicago house music collaborate on this epic early track from Larry Heard, as realized with the production acumen from Knuckles. Across skittering, pulse-quickening 808s and hi-hats brought to the fore by Knuckles, a minor-key synth figure rises up from the fingers of Heard, birthing "deep house" as something conceived in the darkest reaches of space. The lyrics – delivered at an alien whisper by Robert Owens and Harry Dennis — envision a new Eden where you will "hunger never more" and everyone feels peace love and happiness, yet the track itself remains deep, dark, melancholic. --Andy Beta

  • Hercules & Love Affair, 'Blind (Frankie Knuckles Remix)'

    YouTube

    Knuckles started DJing at the Warehouse in Chicago over a decade before I was born. By the time I discovered Knuckles, house music was a well established international phenomenon. I knew the sound he helped create without knowing his name, but it didn't take much digging before "Your Love" and "Tears" hit my radar. I was into those classics, but his remix of Hercules & Love Affair's "Blind" is what got me hooked. Knuckles gave "Blind" the proper remix treatment, emphasizing elements of the original best fit for the floor that Frankie built. The bass line is placed front and center, hand percussion's panned around the sound spectrum, and smooth chords and keys frame the horn's groove. He took an indie pop song that I thought was great and turned it into a dance cut I couldn't stop playing. It was in my playlist the first time I DJed a nightclub, and to this day makes me crazy. --Sami Yenigun

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