The house album that started it all.
Within the realm of Chicago house, blueprints existed, producers created, singers sang. The embrace of new technologies meant that formulas were created on a fairly consistent basis, fuelled by the raw disco, new wave and hi energy cuts played by Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy (most prominently). Deep house, acid house, house; a constant source of variations kept developing during the 1980s scene, evolving, diverging, as if everyone involved in it wanted their voice to be heard. And as a result, these producers became ones for the ages, as house music royality. Their exposures to captivating new sounds and raw energies created an environment of experimentation and exploration, that bore fruit in the most sublime and evocative ways possible.
For someone who famously had never heard of the Warehouse, Larry Heard sure did cement his place amongst the most revered of this generation of producers. In interviews Heard has disclosed that he had split with his band (where he played drums) because he had brought new ideas to the table in regards to musical direction; perhaps, for music in general sake, the best thing all round, as Heard went and brought a synthesiser, ‘Mystery of love’ was written, and the rest is history.
Fingers Inc, a group consisting of Heard, Robert Owens and Ron Wilson, were formed shortly after Heard’s breakthrough single in the summer of 1986. Feeling the song needed a singer, Heard recruited Robert Owens, a local DJ and extraordinary singer (Heard even proclaimed Owens to be in the same league as Luther Vandross, due to his dynamic vocal range). Ron Wilson joined the group during the completion of the album, that included all of Finger’s Incs musical outputs to date on local Chicago labels. The group combined the stylistic elements of house music at the time, such as the drumming programmes, the repetitive progressive chords, the driving forces that made house music so addictive and fresh at the time. But it was the additional touches that make this album stand head and shoulders above its contemporaries, not just in regards to its ambition, but its soul. In this instance, it is Heard and Owens who bring an extra level of class and dynamism to the music. The light touches of Heard’s chords, and Owen’s powerful vocal range, make this album easily the greatest Chicago House album ever released, and the most significant in its foretelling of musical developments to come.
The music veers from the sleazy, to the emotive, to the soulful, to the percussive, to the deep and back again. This blend helps to tell an interesting narrative from one song to the next, with Owen’s flowing vocals never failing to transfix with their meaning. He works like a meandering force, flowing over the backing tracks with absolute ease, moving the listener up, down and in and around. It all points to tracks that have such genuine chemistry, that display the talents of the bandmates to enormous heights.
“Our songs are about experiences and beliefs”
The opener, ‘Decision’, a sleazy groover, owes as much to the Chicago sound as it does to new wave and euro related genres that reverberated around at the time. The vocals of Owens swirl, in a track that draws the listener into a pint glass of dark nights in sweaty nightclubs. the sound of rainfall greets ‘Bye Bye’, a emotive feeler that brings the listener away from the club and onto the street corner, experiencing break ups, the ends of things, the depression of leaving. Yet, the feeling of hope reverberates, probably owing to the tone of the voices that bring forward a bag of mixed emotions. ‘Never no more lonely’ is the emphatic uplifting tune we were waiting for, a trimuphant display of joy for finding the one. Its no wonder this would become one of Finger’s Incs most enduring melodies, a track that sounds so damn fresh even to this day.
‘Shadows’ and ‘Another Side’ begin side B, and similar to the first two tracks, display the musicality of Heard, particularly on the former. An instrumental burner, its sublime chords could carry on forever (a signature of Heard’s later work), whilst the latter retains a sleazy yet charming feel, a message of being strong and finding your voice. ‘So Glad’ remains perhaps the deepest tune on the whole record, a emotive and delightful dip into a world of feeling and happiness. It’s perhaps the strongest tune on the whole record, save for the final side, but shows a tender side to house music. It really shows the connected mindsets of all three members of the group, and where they would all go from this point in their careers. ‘I’m Strong’ is a message of hope and courage, Owen’s powerful voice soaring above the delicate music. Its one of those tunes that weighs up against the more intricate and delicate tunes from the rest of the album, a anthem in some ways. ‘A love of my own’ then pounds in, displaying all of the groups talents, perhaps mostly Owen’s vocal range, that goes from a distorted baritone to a climatic high end vocal, to a gospel style chant that compliments the piano riff that kicks in, driving the song into overdrive. ‘Distant Planet’ finishes off the C side, with a cosmic vibe fully on display. Another one to add to the wide spectrum, it draws influence from the emerging vibes found on undergound disco and electronic releases, its hypnotic distorted verses complimented by soulful lines. Almost like a conversation between two people, a journey is indeed undertaken on this one.
Moving towards the business end of the record (the emphatic dance floor part), ‘Feelin’ Sleazy’ and ‘Music take me up’ are straight up jackin’ tunes. Again the focus draws towards Owen’s vocals, with Heard creating dynamic kicks that connect on such an energetic level. More reflective of house tunes being created by most other producers in Chicago at the time, in many ways these are just on another level, as if the three have absorbed the very essence of house music and musically applied it. A push forward. ‘Mystery Friend’ follows, a transition into the most well know and acclaimed part of the LP. A grooving journey, Heard pilots the ship here, chords a plenty kicking the song forward, with subtle drums piling on the layers of richness. Then, THE song. ‘Mystery of love’, need I say more? The origin of deep house. Compelling, hypnotic, spell binding. Its hard to believe this is over 30 years old, with everything that has come after this song. The amount of producers it inspired. The frenzy it caused in Chicago at the time of its release. Jesse Saunders, Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy built the house, but Larry Heard came in and decorated. He made the house a home. Timeless.
Finally, ‘A Path’ and ‘Bring down the walls’ display a final side to the group. Energetic, feverish, growing and pumping, both tracks showcase one final time the core of the groups musical interest: feeling, vibes, emotion. ‘Can you feel it?’ Remains a fitting end to a wonderful collection of dance music classics. A piece of history, enough has been said about this tune, but we can explore it one more time. Its boundless depths, its ability to say so much but nothing at the same time. Its repeating bass drum, floating along, with its emotive chords squeezing hearts and minds everywhere. Its no wonder this is considered one of Heard’s finest tracks, one that kickstarts a movement and lit a fire under house music’s belly, setting itself up nicely for the next generation of house heads. THE House anthem, nuff said.
This album represents many things. On one hand, it is perhaps the greatest collection of house tunes to come out of the old chiacago scene; one another, it displays an unparalleled exploration of dance music and its ability to evoke emotion, feeling and desire; and finally, it displays the god like talents of its members, which (except for Ron Wilson) would take them on the most exciting of musical careers. Fingers Inc wanted you to feel, experience and dance, things that are catered for enormously on this LP. An essential for any house head, or indeed for those wanting to listen to 80s music at its finest. A true classic, a legacy, and pinnacle. An album to look up to, to inspire, to cry to, to dance to. Immerse yourself, and feel the power of house music.