Way back in the day there were no house albums. House Music I mean. This is obvious I guess – way back in the day there were no hip-hop albums either, more or less because there was no hip-hop.
It has to start somewhere (and please don’t tell me that hip-hop began in the cotton fields/with Cassius/Last Poets/chain-gangs/Africa-ca-ca-ca all of which were raised – plus more – in a forum discussion of recent: you know what I mean).
From 1986 there were singles galore – by mid 1988 you could almost say the planet was awash in jack. Next came compilations and there were hundreds. Jack This, Jack That, Jack’s Greatest Hits, Jack Went To London, Jack to the Underground, Jack on 45 and so on. The Germans were particularly ruthless in compiling every sonic fart recorded with an Roland 808 or 303 machine in Chicago or New York onto a shoddily pressed and overly compressed LP complete with the obligatory ”House Megamix” from some DMC hack remixer (Sanny X where are you?) on side four.
The first artist albums were slow to come and the earliest were just collections of singles with a few extra tracks added to fill it out – in the honoured industry tradition that played a big part in killing the album as a dominant format.
One of those was Fingers Inc.’s Another Side, a monumental long player despite its knocked together origins – but I’ll get to that in weeks or months to come as I find time.
Then came the DJ International albums – the long players built around the line of big club hits released by Tyree Cooper, Fast Eddie and – this one was actually very good but it’s forgotten – Joe Smooth. In New York Todd Terry‘s mutant slicing of hip-hop and house produced an album under each of his pseudonyms, but mostly they were still just singles padded out.
Then there was Ten City. And really they were the first. Produced by one of the new house wunderkids, Marshall Jefferson, the first Ten City singles arrived in 1988 from out of nowhere and they immediately added another dimension – almost a rupture if you will – to the raffish rawness that had defined house to that time, by adding house rhythms and production techniques to classic hamonised rhythm and blues that could draw a comfortable line back via groups like The Bluenotes, The Temptations and The Miracles to street corner doowop and gospel vocal ensembles like the Soul Stirrers and The Ravens. Their debut album, Foundation, in 1989 was the very first soul album to evolve from the House revolution.
And without being obvious in its on-the-sleeve it also seemed to draw from the classic garage and early pre-garage recordings that had exploded in the New York club scene in the 1970s and 1980s on labels like Prelude, Salsoul and West End (once again: read Jahsonic kids).
Which takes us to Blaze and the parallel sound of urban New Jersey.
As Ten City were restating the vocal group Chicago, Blaze, formed in 1984, were doing the same on the US East Coast.
The early Blaze were a trio, releasing a quartet of singles for back-room indies in mid to late 1980s, and it’s this trio, Kevin Hedge, Josh Milan and Chris Herbert that we’re concerning ourselves with here (Herbert left after this album).
Of those early singles I absolutely loved – and still do – this one:
And then came 25 Years Later. On Motown – this at the tail end of the time when being signed to the soul label really, really meant something. PolyGram/Universal had still to turn it into the watery conduit for anything with a dark skin regardless of the quality of the product – it was a huge thing. Atlantic with their street-grit soul history made sense for Ten City, but no other major label had taken the plunge into house music or anything close.
And thus, for arguably the most soulful of the soulful and exquisitely produced of the early house acts, Motown was both significant and absolutely appropriate.
And Blaze delivered.
25 Years Later was both a thematic protest album (especially on the compact disc which had more tracks and interludes) built around urban black activism, and a celebration of Black musical heritage and musical consciousness of the 1970s and early 198os. It articulately fused together Marvin, Curtis, Sly, Gil and more with the new music and as a result was critically acclaimed by both the UK & European media who understood house music, and by the US Black media who were still utterly confused by it.
Sadly it sold nothing at all and was swiftly deleted by a staggering Motown in the midst of a swarm of corporate realignments and takeovers as Berry Gordy tried to get out, and by the time the dust settled and PolyGram owned the company Blaze had been dumped and Chris Herbert had departed taking his voice with him.
The other two carried on with the name and became one of the biggest house acts of the mid 1990s, and 2000s, although they were never again able to create an album like the wonderful 25 years Later – a long player that had a brief Japanese (of course) reissue in the 2000s and a couple of bootleg pressings but otherwise has been unavailable since the early ’90s in it’s released form.
All That I Should Know:
Gonna Make It Work:
Miss My Love:
And finally the glorious Timmy Regisford skanking 12” mix of We All Must Live Together: