Frankie Knuckles, one of the major founding forces of house music, passed away yesterday at the age of 59. In the late Seventies, the New York DJ moved to Chicago at the behest of Robert Williams, who had opened the late night club the Warehouse and needed a resident. Frankie didn’t just rise to the occasion, he created a way of playing music from disparate genres and making it seem cohesive — it became known as house music; and Knuckles became legendary through his edits, his grace and his style. Derrick May, who brought Frankie a 909 drum machine at the Power Plant to play with his edits, recalls, “Nothing comes close to those moments of magic, of fire, of power.” The songs on this list aren’t just highlights of a career, they are milestones in the development of house music on a global scale, and all electronic dance music that comes after it.
1. First Choice, “Let No Man Put Asunder (Frankie Knuckles Mix),” 1983
The original version of this ’77 Philly classic was one of the most important tracks in dance music’s development from disco to house. So what more iconic DJ could have been asked to turn this brief soul song in a pure dancefloor classic than the man who personifies that transformation? This was Frankie’s first big production, but it wasn’t all glory, as Warehouse founder Robert Williams recalls, “Frankie was heartbroken that it wasn’t the A-Side.”
2. Frankie Knuckles Presents Jamie Principle, “Your Love,” 1987
Tapes of producer Jamie Principle’s first songs start floating in Chicago in the early Eighties. Most people in Chicago presumed he was European due to the Euro dance influence and deep songwriting craft. Frankie realized the genius of the songs and took Jamie in the studio to get a professional production of his Italo-influenced number, so he could show his friends in NYC just how fresh Chicago can be. What is left from the partnership is a legacy of classics, including “Baby Wants to Ride”, and the legendary highlight of the Power Plant where Jamie Principle, wearing angel wings, descended from the ceiling singing a live version of “Waiting on my Angel”.
3. Frankie Knuckles Presents Satoshi Tomiie, “Tears,” 1989
As house music exploded, Frankie returned to NYC right before the waning disco culture evolved into the deep house that would dominate the Nineties, founding the Def Mix production team with Satoshi Tomiie, Hector Romero and David Morales. Def Mix went on to make numerous EDM classics like “Tears” and Robert Owens’ “I’ll Be Your Friend,” as well as remixing everybody from Michael Jackson to Chaka Khan.
4. Frankie Knuckles, “The Whistle Song,” 1991
With the “Whistle Song,” Frankie wrote and produced his own classic, introducing the flute into the lexicon of deep house. Showing influences from ambient music, he took the late night bacchanalian vibe of the club and turned into a dreamy tune you could whistle.
5. Hercules and Love Affair, “Blind (Frankie Knuckles Remix),” 2008
Unlike rock & roll, house music is not music about youth, it is about life — so the more a house artist knows about life, the greater their mastery. So it is no surprise that so late in his career, Frankie created a modern classic with New York nu-disco crew Hercules and Love Affair and the unlikely Antony Hegarty on lead vocals.