12/01/2021

1987's most unexpected hit single!

In 1987 a remarkable piece of music arrived in charts that were filled with epic chords, big drum sounds and power ballads. `Jack Your Body`by Steve `Silk` Hurley was a breath of fresh air like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers compared to a troupe of elephants. Sparse and spare it skated over the lumpen competition reaching number one while everyone was still wondering just what it was all about. How does one, erm, jack? “Ooo, Ethel that sounds a bit rude.” Those magazines that printed song lyrics probably hated it as the official lyrics go something like this: ”Jack, jack, jack, jack your body..”. Repeat many times. It wasn’t really something you could singalong to. Yet the further we travel from that year the more and more it seems like a pointer to the future.

 


For most of us this was our introduction to house music, a genre thus far confined to cool clubs. The sense that it had snuck unseen into the charts was because outside of the Top 40 show Radio One did not play it yet all over the UK clubs were pushing it so it became a word of mouth hit. The term House music originates either from a club called The Warehouse or because much of the early house music was created at home. It started mainly in Chicago in the Eighties where Djs and producers were altering disco songs to make them sound more mechanical. House is defined as electronic dance music with a tempo of 120 to 130 beats per minute and its signature style of `less is more` kicked against the prevailing high production of producers like Trevor Horn that had thus far dominated that decade.

What strikes you even now is just how minimal and light` `Jack Your Body` sounds. There is no verse or chorus which is why it sounded so odd at a time when most hits had huge anthemic chourses. All it comprises is the single phrase over a looped bassline taken from a song called `Let No Man Put Asunder` by soul group First Choice with lashings of percussive effects going on. Compressed and slight it seems to float on a persistent beat. Jack is a dance style that originated alongside the Chicago House scene and involves frenzied moves interspersed with outbreaks of pogoing (!) It has also been said to have a sexual element.

It was the newness of it that made such an impact – like all iconic singles you can hear the passing of a musical torch from one genre to another. The track was the first Uk house music number one and also the first to reach the summit with most of its sales from the 12 inch version. House experts of the day though claimed it was only an average example of the genre but it did break through in such a way that it would soon influence many subsequent releases. Some music critics suggest that along with other House music hits it was a big influence on the acid house movement that arrived a few years later. Certainly what it did do was draw a line opening up the UK charts to much more dance orientated music of various persuasions.


 

Too busy working on an album Steve Hurley himself was apparently unaware of the UK success of the song and did no promotion for it, not even a video at a time when nearly everyone did a video.  Instead a series of clips of slapstick dancing from the 1930s was used leading some to think the whole thing was a spoof.

Like many a musical trend it inspired both good and bad taking two years to travel from the sublime to the ridiculous courtesy of Stock, Aitken and Waterman proteges The Reynolds Girls. “I’d rather jack” they trilled, “than Fleetwood Mac”. Their song sounded nothing like House music and of course Mick Fleetwood and co have had the last laugh as their music remains extremely popular with all ages including people who weren’t born when such silly sentiments briefly hit the charts.

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