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Sep 14

ARMAND VAN HELDEN – “You Don’t Know Me”

Popular20 comments • 2,291 views

#814, 6th February 1999

armand The micropolitics of “featuring” credits on dance records is a fascinating world. Duane Harden – who wrote and sang the words to “You Don’t Know Me” – gets no sleeve credit on the UK release, but did on the US. Rightly so – his angry, wounded performance gives the record most of its flavour. “You don’t even know me / You say that I’m not living right / You don’t understand me / So why do you judge my life?” – even though Van Helden was on the ascendant globally, house and garage music in New York had strong roots as a music by and for the city’s minorities, and Harden’s defiant lyrics speak to that. If the sentiment resonated with house’s black, gay and Hispanic fanbase in 1998, its appeal since has hardly narrowed: constant, public judgement is the condition of online life, and it’s a burden as unequally distributed as ever.

Harden was a songwriter turned club dancer, recruited by Helden for his habit of “screaming” when a passion for the music took hold – for most of “You Don’t Know Me” he keeps that side leashed, letting it out at the record’s climax in a long, falsetto cry of release after his vow to just live his life despite the hate. Helden had handed him the track and left Harden to it – it was an excellent decision, as Harden’s part is a strong fit to the track’s mix of aggression and escape. Garage music traced its line back to disco, and Helden was happy to make that obvious – this is the blissful, string-soaked sound of late 70s disco chopped and filtered to fit a more hustling world. Its rhythms jerk and bump back and forth like shunting freight trucks, creating as wonderfully solid, chunky bottom end. There’s just enough of discio’s blissful release to leave “You Don’t Know Me” a positive record, though – to make it sound like Harden’s battle for recognition as a human being is a winnable one, sleeve credit or no.

7

Comments

  1. 1
    Tom on 11 Sep 2014 #

    The video for this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FnEz6-4xKyE seems incredibly low budget for a globally successful hit – and also kind of undersells the song, or at least makes a mockery of my earnest reading of it. Worth it for the marvellously bad fake fighting around 2/3 in – great choreography, lads.

  2. 2
    Kat but logged out innit on 11 Sep 2014 #

    Awesome tune! At least an 8 from me (Byron Stingily’s Get Up Everybody is a 9 though). This is probably peak Ibiza Classix in terms of #1s although 1998 was probably peak overall – I love this bosh subgenre so much that I made a lovely Spotify playlist of all my favourite 90s balearic chart bangers (with the usual caveat that not all of them are in the 90s and ‘balearic’ in the ‘was played at Cream at some point’ sense). Enjoy, everyone!

  3. 3
    punctum on 11 Sep 2014 #

    House music never really went away, of course; it laid low for awhile, quietly took notice of the world spinning around it, refreshed itself and came back. Two years after his stellar remix of “Professional Widow,” Armand returned to the top with a dance record which gave an early signal of an extremely popular trend in 21st-century number ones; a pounding but elastic beat, still recognisably Deep House, but bearing a palpably major influence from the French beatmasters – see not only “Music Sounds Better With You” but also things like Alan Braxe and Fred Falke’s “Intro,” whose lynchpin is the midsong acapella break from the Jets’ eighties hit “Crush On You” – producing a panoramic dance tableau which morphs in and out of recognisability but always bears a suitably soulful lead vocal on top.

    This time the break was provided by Cheryl Lynn (“Dance With U” – not an answer record to Reginald Bosanquet’s “Dance With Me”), and Harden’s vocal seems to have been more or less entirely improvised on the spur of the moment in reaction to van Helden’s backing track. Certainly his words are anything but friendly; his is an exquisitely painful and righteously angry denunciation of those who seek to “judge my life” and “pulling me down” every time he tries to “move on up.” It’s rather like a rougher variant on Alexander O’Neal’s “Criticize” – “No happiness in their own lives/So they act out all their jealousies” – and Harden proffers some fiery growls on the “gotta” of “I gotta be strong” and the final, exasperated “Anything I try to do!” One could extrapolate a cry on behalf of House itself, suddenly reminding everyone of its continued existence (Harden’s carefully modulated tenor is similar to Robert Owens’), and indeed “You Don’t Know Me” lays the public foundations for some of my favourite number ones of recent times. Stand up for your right to jack! 8(08)

  4. 4
    Chelovek na lune on 11 Sep 2014 #

    It does hark back to Ten City, rather, does it not?: both in the use of the string sounds, and in the vocal style. Not a patch – or even close to half a patch – on their “Devotion” (especially), mind. Curiously retro, other than for the beat. More than just tolerable, but not quite essential or all-time-loveable, but the cutting chorus gains it points. 7

  5. 5
    Rory on 11 Sep 2014 #

    Oh, it’s this one! Yeah, this is great – a 7 or 8 for me. Seems wrong that Harden didn’t find his “feat.” here, though.

  6. 6
    Izzy on 11 Sep 2014 #

    How I love this record. It has everything – soul, propulsion, aggression, hurt. It’s also a universe of dance music in one; if house never went away, nor did disco. But for all that I’ve not got so much to say – it’s a monolith, I’d only be ivy failing to scale its surface.

    The best no.1 of the decade. (10)

  7. 7
    James BC on 11 Sep 2014 #

    To be fair Van Helden has been on both sides of dance music’s strange crediting habits, since he was uncredited on the Tori Amos song the year before.

    I much prefer this to that. Immense chorus, and none of the seediness that permeates a lot of his music.

  8. 8
    mapman132 on 11 Sep 2014 #

    I was surprised to learn Van Helden is American – I assumed he was Dutch or something. I’ve never heard this before – apparently its only US chart action was #2 on the dance chart. Doesn’t do it for me – a little too repetitive and understated to my ears. Cheap-looking video doesn’t help.

  9. 9
    PurpleKylie on 11 Sep 2014 #

    I love this song! I don’t have much to say about this, it’s just a really good house track and it still holds up really well to this day.

  10. 10
    swanstep on 11 Sep 2014 #

    A boring, one pattern non-song with cruddy production and an indifferent vocal:
    3 (or 4 perhaps in a club setting)

  11. 11
    thefatgit on 11 Sep 2014 #

    If David Morales’ “Needin’ U” was representative of the pre-club excitement and anticipation of an epic night out with the possibility that one special person will be there and they will come back with you as the perfect sun rises perfectly over the White Isle; then “U Don’t Know Me” is the pounding wake up call of the comedown, or perhaps the harsher realities of the urban clubbing experience, far away from the Beautiful People of Ibiza, face to face with the hustlers and haters as the Downtown clubbers emerge from their dungeons. Polar opposites if you like.

    Disco samples are probably all that links the two records, but given the choice, I’d return to Morales. Van Helden suffers from some shonky production. Harden, too often is mixed down and only comes forward towards the end, when he’s allowed to let rip. It’s still an angry, oppressive record, perhaps justified if you’re part of a minority, but of course that’s none of my business. (6)

  12. 12
    daveworkman on 11 Sep 2014 #

    My weirdest memory of this is seeing in a subsequent edition of the Guinness British Hit Singles is that Ian Brown considered this the greatest song of all time. I have a lot of time for the song, it captures something melancholy which I think has allowed it to keep its edge, but I wonder if King Monkey feels the same now?

  13. 13
    DanH on 12 Sep 2014 #

    Wait…no mention yet of what is probably the only appearance of Maurice LaMarche on a #1 record??? :-)

    This one stood out big time when I was first perusing U.K #1’s…an intense as hell dance track with an amazing vocal performance.

  14. 14
    Andrew Farrell on 12 Sep 2014 #

    Maurice is only on the ‘Full Version’ rather than the radio edit, sadly.

  15. 15
    glue_factory on 12 Sep 2014 #

    I’d always thought that the NY house scene was all vogueing and glamourous fierceness, so the way that Armand Van Helden seemed to present himself always puzzled me; he looked like he was a member of a slightly stodgy, and resolutely hetero, hip-hop act. The video just compounds that with the awful pretend aggro, cliched females, etc.

    The song didn’t really did much for me until I played it at a party, and those swirling, filtered disco strings seemed to provide much release to both the crowd and the over-stressed DJ (I was never cut-out for the move from bedroom to party-filled living rooms). Punctum’s mention of France is apposite as my French Touch loving DJ-partner rated this as highly as anything on Superdiscount

    6

  16. 16
    lonepilgrim on 12 Sep 2014 #

    everything on this sounds claustrophobic and full of angst – at a stretch I can imagine this on a PiL album, albeit with more atonal vocals. There’s one moment of release near the end when the high pitched cry comes in and then the shutters come down again

  17. 17
    Ed on 13 Sep 2014 #

    I am with Izzy @6: this is a masterpiece. The point where the main riff kicks in is one of the greatest heart-skipping moments in all of dance music.

    Good spot by Kat and Chelovek on the Byron Stingily / Ten City parallels, too. I used to play ‘Foundation’ to death, and recently dug it out in a bit of “it was 25 years ago today” nostalgia. And it still sounds great.

  18. 18
    iconoclast on 14 Sep 2014 #

    Yet another example of production gimmicks failing to compensate for a perfunctory composition. Tedious away from the dancefloor, no doubt awesome on it. FOUR.

  19. 19
    hectorthebat on 5 Oct 2014 #

    Sample watch:

    Contains strings from “Dance with You” by Carrie Lucas – http://youtu.be/XJ0u3A4021o?t=2m3s

    and drums from “Plastic Dreams” by Jaydee – http://youtu.be/WRAxij_VrOE?t=15s

  20. 20
    ciaran on 20 Oct 2014 #

    What came first the Bada Bing club in the sopranos or this video?!

    A highly agreeable dancefloor hit from the time and a bit different from the one big party that makes up a lot of dance music which was no bad thing.I would revisit this more than any chart topper from the year. Marcello’s comparisons with criticize would never have stood out but he’s spot on.Not a million miles away from Gangsta’s Paradise bleakness either.

    Probably the Number 1 from the year that sounds unmistakably 1999. A 7 or an 8.

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