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'Show Me Love' and the Harper Lee of House Music [March 28, 1993]
Plus: Madonna, Sonic Youth and Depeche Mode
Greetings, Time Travellers! 👋
It’s March 28, 1993 again
📰 The Oscars happen, with Clint Eastwood winning Best Picture for Unforgiven.📽️ Night of the Living Dead gets a 90s remake directed by Tom Savini, who did the special effects on Dawn of the Dead. 📺 ITV broadcasts Aussie soap opera Shortland Street for the first time.
🎶 Number One song in the UK Top 40 is ‘Young At Heart’ by The Bluebells. And further down the charts, we have…
This week’s Number 10: ‘Show Me Love’—Robin S
One of my favourite stand-up shows is Randy Writes A Novel, in which a foul-mouthed Australian puppet gets surprisingly profound about life and art.
Randy does a great bit about Harper Lee, who famously never (voluntarily) published anything after To Kill A Mockingbird. In it, Randy imagines this conversation with the author:
RANDY [heavy Australian accent]: Hey Harper, you going to write another book?
HARPER LEE [also with a heavy Australian accent]: Nah. Did you read the first one? Fuckin’ NAILED it!
We’ve talked before about one-hit wonders, a term usually associated with failure and squandered potential. But what about someone like Harper Lee? She fits the technical definition of one-hit wonder, sure. But To Kill A Mockingbird has become such a vital part of our culture that it feels like she wrote 80 books.
The same is true of American soul singer Robin Stone, known commercially as Robin S. While she only has one major hit to her name, it is a song that keeps reshaping music, even here in the 2020s. I heard two different versions of the song today. Before breakfast. It is everywhere.
It also defined a whole genre. ‘Show Me Love’ isn’t just house music. House music is ‘Show Me Love’.
Heartbreaks and promises
A brief history of house music:
House emerged from that blisteringly creative post-disco moment at the end of the 70s. DJs started experimenting with loops, sequencers and synths to create whole new genres like dancehall and hip-hop.
New York was home to the Paradise Garage, a beacon of post-Stonewall queer defiance. The Garage played an innovative mix of soul, funk, disco, and prog rock that was perfect if you wanted to get high and dance for 48 hours.
One Garage DJ, Frankie Knuckles, took that sound to a Chicago venue called The Warehouse, which was also queer but more racially diverse. Knuckles evolved rapidly here, becoming a local legend, and record stores were thronged with people wanting to buy “Warehouse music”. Eventually, this simply became “house music”.
At this point, a very unlikely group of protagonists enter the story. Nihilist indie icons Joy Division had lost their lead singer to suicide in 1980, right before their first American tour. The remaining member were now touring the U.S. as New Order, and they dropped by The Warehouse to check out this new sound.
New Order were instant converts. They rushed back to England and founded Manchester’s infamous Hacienda, which became Ground Zero for European dance music. They also recorded house-infused ‘Blue Monday’ in 1983, still the best-selling 12” of all time.
House music kept growing as an underground genre until 1987, when Steve “Silk” Hurley scored a surprise Number One with ‘Jack Your Body’. The song technically shouldn’t have been Number One, as it’s over 25 minutes, making it ineligible for the singles charts.
But the chart compilers didn’t check the runtime, so it slipped through. House music was now mainstream.
And then, the supernova of late-80s rave culture. A billion new genres emerge, with hardcore ravers generally preferring the more hard-edged sound of techno.
House music, meanwhile, begins to evolve into a very commercial form of pop music. House is softer and funkier than techno, with smooth grooves and catchy hooks. It’s good with ecstasy, but it’s also good at old-fashioned discos. House DJs also love putting big-voiced divas on their records, which results in very radio-friendly tracks.
Unfortunately, DJs aren’t so keen on crediting these divas.
I've had more than my share
Late-80s DJs developed a winning formula, which went like this:
Find an amazing soul vocal
Hire a pretty model
Get the pretty model to lip-sync and pretend she’s the vocalist
Refuse to acknowledge the original sample
The pop charts saw a new Milli Vanilli every week, yet nobody seemed to care. In 1988, S’Express used a model to lip-sync to a bunch of different samples, including a vocal line by Toni Smith. It went to Number One:
The practice became an unofficial industry standard until 1990, when Loleatta Holloway sicced her lawyers on Black Box after they used an uncredited sample on ‘Ride On Time’.
Black Box could have just credited Holloway, but instead they re-recorded ‘Ride On Time’ with a new session vocalist: a pre-M People Heather Small. And even Heather Small wasn’t photogenic enough, so the official “vocalist” was fashion model Katrin Quinol.
The biggest victim of this trend was Martha Wash, best known as one of The Weather Girls (of ‘It’s Raining Men’ fame). Wash appeared on multiple house records, including a Black Box track, ‘Everybody Everybody’
In 1990 C+C’s Music Factory had a global smash hit ‘Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)’, featuring the Wash’s unmistakable voice. And yet, the video shows her voice emerging from a someone else’s mouth: model Zelma Davis.
Thankfully, this practice soon began to die out, and the original vocalists became celebrities in their own right.
And then came Robin S, who became a celebrated house diva in a quite an ironic way.
Words are so easy to say
Stone spent much of the 80s trying to make it as an R’n’B singer, with little success.
One day in 1990, she got an offer from producers Allen George and Fred McFarlane to make an up-tempo dance number. Stone initially refused because the song wasn’t her normal style. Also, she had the flu.
George and McFarlane convinced her, and Stone wheezed and spluttered her way through the session. The illness actually worked in her favor, giving her vocal performance a strained emotional urgency.
‘Show Me Love’ appeared in 1990 and was a very minor hit. George, McFarlane and Stone forgot it and moved on.
During this era, up-and-coming DJs would sometimes approach record labels and ask if they do some remixes. This was kind of on-spec work—they weren’t trying to make a hit record; they were just trying to get noticed.
Swedish DJ Sten Hallstrom, aka StoneBridge, did a few of these remix projects for Champion Records. One of his mixes involved the new Korg M1 synthesiser, which produced a really rich bass tone. Hallstrom built up a track around this bassline, layered it with Robin Stone’s vocal, and…threw it in the bin, because he thought it sucked.
Fortunately, his girlfriends urged him to send it to Champion Records anyway. Just in case.
He didn’t hear anything back and eventually forgot about it, until he visited London a few months later and happened to catch the latest Top Of The Pops, where Robin S singing live—with his mix in the background.
StoneBridge didn’t get any credits or royalties for his work on ‘Show Me Love’. This definitely sucks—anyone who creates something deserves recognition.
It is a slightly amusing inversion of house music history. The diva getting all the glory; the DJ, exploited and anonymous. If only they’d hired a model and got them to pretend to play a Korg M1.
Actions speak louder than words
‘Show Me Love’ didn’t feel like musical revolution in 1993. It didn’t land like ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. And yet, it changed everything. House music has a clear “before Show Me Love” era and “after Show Me Love” era.
I think you can hear the change when you compare ‘Show Me Love’ to something like, say, CeCe Peniston’s ‘Finally’ from 1992. Two very similar songs, yet something really important has happened between their respective release dates. House music has evolved.
The pop charts contained many echoes of ‘Show Me Love’ throughout the 90s, and its influence carried on into the new century. In 2015, The Guardian published an article titled, “Dum, diddly-dum dum ... why everything in the charts sounds like Show Me Love”. That year saw dozens of songs with a ‘Show Me Love’ vibe, including a Number One that borrows the synth melody:
And it didn’t stop there. 2022 saw Craig “Don’t mention Bo Selecta” David release a single that samples ‘Show Me Love’ and namechecks it in the lyrics.
Then came the big one. Beyonce stepped down from her throne to release a house music album, featuring a lead single built around ‘Show Me Love’:
According to whosampled.com, ‘Show Me Love’ has been officially sampled 43 times, althought that doesn’t include the thousands of records it inspired. Earlier today, my daughter showed me a TikTok that used the ‘Show Me Love’ riff as background music. Shortly after, the radio played that Craig David track. Both of these things happened today, before breakfast, thirty years after the single came out.
‘Show Me Love’ is not just a song. It is a vital strand of pop music’s DNA.
And that’s why Robin S doesn’t really count as a one-hit wonder. Sure, you could ask if she’ll ever produce another great house anthem. But she’d probably just turn to you and say, “Nah. Did you hear the first one? Fuckin’ NAILED it!”
Elsewhere in the charts
Number 6 (New Entry): ‘Fever’—Madonna
Last week’s issue told the unusual story of ‘Young At Heart’ by The Bluebells, which is technically a cover of a Banarama song, but is also kind of an original song. A chaotic situation that led to a big legal mess.
Something similar happens here (without the lawyers) on Madonna’s version of the Peggy Lee classic ‘Fever’, taken from the album Erotica. This track began life as a 100% original piece called ‘Goodbye To Innocence’, but Madonna wasn’t happy with the lyrics. And so, the queen of pop said: “What if I just sing ‘Fever’ instead?”
And so, we get an original track that is also a cover of ‘Fever’. The video is very cool.
Number 14 (New Entry): ‘Wrestlemania’—WWF Superstars
Functionally identical to the last WWE single, ‘Slam Jam’. Lots of rasslin’ superstars delivering some smack talk into the camera, accompanied by a watery Stock Aiken and Waterman backing track.
It’s a shame that Simon Cowell was too chickshit to release Bret The Hitman Hart’s Shatner-esque power pop ballad as a single instead. It would have been massive.
Number 18 (New Entry): ‘Tennessee’—Arrested Development
This is a great song. I’ve been very lukewarm about Arrested Development’s other work in previous issues, but ‘Tennessee’ is legitimately excellent. Good work, no notes.
Number 26 (New Entry): ‘Sugar Kane’—Sonic Youth
This video is the first on-screen appearance of Chloe Sevigny, apparently! Good song too.
Number 35 (New Entry): ‘Jamaican In New York’—Shinehead
1993 so far has mostly been about reggae, and we’ve got lots more upcoming singles that will co-opt Jamaican sounds (hello, Ace of Bass).
Sting is the OG reggae thief, and British-Jamaican artist Shinehead turns the tables on him with a cover/parody of ‘Englishman in New York’. It’s lots of fun.
Reggae versions of non-reggae songs are often a good time. For me, the best example of the genre is Dub Side Of The Moon, a full dub-reggae version of the classic Pink Floyd album. In places, it’s better than the original.
Album of the Week
Songs of Faith and Devotion—Depeche Mode
Depeche Mode and The Cure have had vaguely parallel careers: English weirdoes that skirt the boundaries of indie and pop, both of whom had massive success around 1990. The Cure broke America with their masterpiece Disintegration, then Depeche Mode one-upped them with Violator.
Both bands then started sinking into crisis. They managed one more early-90s record before almost breaking up.
For The Cure, that was 1992’s Wish, which emerged during legal woes and line-up changes. Meanwhile, Depeche Mode had relocated to California, where Dave Gahan could explore his two newest passions: grunge and heroin.
Like Wish, the album that emerged from this difficult period is very good, if not quite as good as its predecessor. Songs of Faith and Devotion comes out swinging with a big rock anthem that’s a million miles away from ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’.
And that’s a decent flavour of what’s to come. SoF&D is produced by Flood, who had just come off doing Achtung Baby, and there’s a definite overlap with 90s U2. This is a big, ballsy album written to shatter stadia around the world.
The difference though is that Achtung Baby felt like a bold step forward for U2. SoF&D maybe feels…slightly regressive? By turning their back on synths and leaning into rock, it almost feels like they’re apologising, trying to reassure us that they’re a Real Band.
Which they don’t have to do! Everyone loves Depeche Mode! Every rock band would sell their souls to write a song like ‘Enjoy The Silence’!
And so, it ends up being a lot like Wish. A truly great band who are a little distracted and perhaps a little unsure of what to do next. The result is an excellent album that only really fails in one respect—it’s not as good as the last one.
Recently enjoyed reading this look back on Nu-Metal evolving into emo on
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