Future shock? If you’d been told before the fact that a Chicago house record was going to hit number one in the UK, you might well have put your money on the showy, song-driven side of house providing it. A record like Marshall Jefferson’s “Move Your Body (The House Music Anthem)”, maybe, with a big vocal hook to grab on to. But no: Steve “Silk” Hurley throws us in at the tracky deep end: repetition, repetition, repetition, the sweeping hiss of the hi-hat, the crack of the snare, that flexing and bucking keyboard line, and from out of the mix those snarls, cries and commands – “Jackitupoutthere!”
More than anything, early house music makes me think of darkness. Not in the sense of negativity or of terror and malice deep within the human heart – though it could provide those when needed – but the darkness of the club, where flickering patterns of light briefly let the bodies around you shine red or blue before they vanish back into the murk. It’s that darkness which seems to fill the space in “Jack Your Body”, emphasising the pure physicality of this dance. The word “jack” – mechanical, sudden, carrying the idea of uplift, a wave of energy passing through you – does an awful lot of work in an apparently meaningless record. This isn’t one of my very favourite Chicago house tracks – I tend to like the music with a little more incident – but there’s a heat and purity to it which is still tremendously exciting and shows how glorious it must have sounded in clubs.
It’s tempting to see “Jack Your Body” as the wavefront of a revolution, but as several people have pointed out you can’t quite draw a straight line between this early Chicago sound and the dance music explosion to come. Obviously house was big – to get to #1 even at this point you still had to shift a good few singles – but other club music styles had been big before. To me at the time – by now at boarding school and applying myself to learning the ways of classic rock, so about as poorly placed to comprehend house music as you could possibly be! – this didn’t register as minimal un-music: I thought it was basically along the lines of hits like Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F”, only a bit less colourful. So a little bit of the excitement I feel listening to it is the false anticipation of hindsight: “Jack Your Body” sounds more important because I know what’s coming after. Early house was vital raw material for ‘dance culture’ and its reshaping of British pop, but it wasn’t a revolutionary force by itself. Which, of course, doesn’t stop “Jack Your Body” from being an enduringly fine record.