10 Tracks That Defined 80s House Music

Dec 6, 2021

Alicia Baron

4 min read

In the 80s, as the ashes of disco smoldered, house began to envelop the underground scene. Producers of the era experimented with repetitive and jacking rhythms to build a foundation for a subculture that would carry forward for four decades. 

It was a particular time. Innovators like Frankie Knuckles, Farley Jackmaster, and Marshall Jefferson were having fun while revolutionizing the music industry. 

The early tracks of the 80s were trailblazers for their time, and select tracks stand out as setting the stage for global house music. The progression of house music during the 80s revealed a precise transition to a more rhythm-focused sound while still retaining a melodic nature. 

We compiled a collection of timeless tracks from the early days when house music was only commencing. Here are ten '80's house classics.   

Frankie Knuckles - Your Love (1987)

This track by the Godfather of House features the infamous vocals of Jamie Principle, and some consider it one of the best house tracks of all time. "Your Love" is a song of contrasts. Smooth washes of synth and bass topped off with the sultry vocal of Principle layered over uptempo beats to create its distinct sound, which still knocks today.  

Joe Smooth - Promised Land (1987)

"Promised Land," was written by Chicago native Joe Smooth. An essential of the 80's dancefloor, it hits with a melodic disco layer and infectious 808 percussions. The melody is heartwarming, and the vocals are eloquent and uplifting, pushing the deep end of house music forward to the masses.  

J.M Silk - Music is the Key (1985) 

"Music is the Key" was is the first release under the moniker J.M. Silk. This track is a quintessential dance in the '80s with disco cuts and fun nu-wave synth.  

A Guy Called Gerald - Voodoo Ray (1988) 

After leaving the group, one of the original members of 808 State, Gerald Simpson – aka A Guy Called Gerald – became a house innovator in the UK. His first solo project was this acid house track "Voodoo Ray" which came from those secret sessions, which became a staple anthem of the era which still carries today.

Mr. Fingers - Can You Feel It (1986) 

This track was produced by Larry Heard under the moniker Mr. Fingers this track was way ahead of his time and is considered the first deep house track. The production level of this classic is unmatched, especially for its time. It features raw percussion, layers of deep basslines, and classic vocals.  

Jesse Saunders - On and On (1984)

Jesse Saunders' 1984 jam is considered the first proper house record, full stop. This track blended, took disco loops and samples, and presented them with a futuristic flair courtesy of a Roland 808 drum machine and other production magic of the time.

Marshall Jefferson, 'Move Your Body' (1986)

This track is the first use of piano on a house record, a sound often imitated but never duplicated. The song's vocalists and intense lyrics helped foment the long trend of the self-referential track: house music about house music itself.

Farley Jackmaster Funk and Jesse Saunders - Love Can't Turn Around (1986)

This track is the result of musical evolution. It started with the Isaac Hayes 1975 original, "I Can't Turn Around." Steve "Silk" Hurley then re-recorded it as a house number with singer Keith Nunnally — this further transposed and reinterpreted version was the one that took off. And how could it not? The robust, silky vocals of the great Darryl Pandy here are instant sunshine.

Steve "Silk" Hurley - Jack Your Body (1987)

Arriving a few years into House's existence, Hurley's "Jack Your Body" was unapologetically experimental. Its Roland-centered electronic spine is a substantial contributing factor to the acid house revolution in the U.K., Eventually becoming the first house song to hit Number One.

DJ Pierre, 'Box Energy' (1988)

"Box Energy" has no vocals — just waves upon waves of Roland TB-303 acid basslines over a bass drum and the occasional snare. This track is a laser beam of energy that seems powerful enough to melt dancefloors and is an early foreshadowing of the mastermind DJ Pierre. 

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