House Legend Frankie Knuckles Receives Posthumous Top 40 Chart Spot
About a week ago, fans of dance music worldwide were devastated by the loss of noted house DJ and producer Frankie Knuckles (born Francis Nicholls) on March 31st. An intensely private man in his later years, he was known to have been suffering from Type II diabetes. Unfortunately, complications from illness took this great man from us too soon at the age of 59. Despite his popularity in the early years of club music, street knowledge of his name and legacy had waned in the festival EDM era, and re-issues of his music from labels such as Trax Records were predatory and accused of not giving Frankie fair compensation for his copyrights. In a bid to honor Frankie as well as financially help out his estate, the Facebook page Let’s Get Frankie Knuckles To Number One – Your Love was created. Earlier this week, it was confirmed by the UK singles charts that “Your Love” is Frankie’s first top 40 hit in nearly twenty years in that country, and a fitting final piece to his long list of accomplishments.
Born in the Bronx in 1955, Frankie Knuckles started his career playing soul, funk, and disco records at the Upper West Side sauna, Continental Baths. In the late 70s, Frankie moved to Chicago and took up a residency at The Warehouse nightclub. It was here that the style of music he played came to be known as “house,” so named by shortening the name of the club he had become synonymous with. The House was known for its R&B and disco, but it was here that Knuckles began to experiment with mixing disco and more experimental music from European clubs. This house music took the ideas of disco and replaced its live instruments with drum machines and synthesizers. First and foremost this reduced the recording and production cost for a decimated post-disco music industry, but it allowed for increasingly wild experimentation in the following years.
Later in his career, Frankie became one of the first superstars in a rising dance music industry. He was invited to play worldwide at clubs such as the Haçienda in Manchester and Delirium in London. He also took more residencies in New York City, with his run at the Sound Factory providing the soundtrack for one of the last truly hedonistic periods in recent New York City history. Over these years, Frankie began to produce his own music to please the crowds he knew so intimately. People responded overwhelmingly well to these tracks, giving Frankie five #1 hits on Billboard’s Dance Club chart, and 12 top 10 hits between 1989 and 2007.
While Frankie did well in the US Dance charts, in the UK, Frankie’s bestseller came from 1991’s “The Whistle Song,” where he charted at #17 on the general UK singles chart. “The Whistle Song” ear-wormed me and I’m still humming it after last week’s visit to Output. It is easy to see why it did so well the first time around. “Your Love,” however, is an acid house masterpiece, and it could easily chart higher if the Facebook page succeeded in its viral push. The question is, did it?
As of April 9th, “Your Love” is currently sitting at #29, and is Frankie Knuckle’s first top 40 hit in the United Kingdom in nearly 20 years. He is currently sitting ahead of artists such as Beyonce, Ellie Goulding, Avicii, and many other artists who were strongly influenced by the music that came from Frankie’s house. While it has not yet pushed past “The Whistle Song,” we are still honoring and remembering his legacy, and I hope that in the coming week we can work to push Frankie above and beyond his previous chart records.
Most importantly, this new-found push to support his estate brought to light the grievances Frankie had with label Trax Records, who Frankie claimed “I have no relationship with Trax Records. Anytime I got some new product coming out they try and piggyback on whatever it is that I’m doing to try and make whatever they can make off of it. They’re barnacles.”
Trax Records had been printing re-issues of classic house records, and due to greed, improper money management and debt, or both, had not been properly compensating artists for their intellectual property. When questioned, label president Screamin’ Rachael stated this week, “I have decided to give my share of all monies collected for the sale of “Your Love” To Frankie Knuckles’ estate, or to a proper charity.” Not only has this campaign brought Frankie’s lauded history as a pioneer of dance music to people’s attention once more, it has also helped fix the shady business dealings Trax Records has had with its re-issues. It should not take death for them to respect an artists’ intellectual property, and despite this change of pace, I propose a boycott of any Trax Records releases you see until it can be verified that the artists are getting properly compensated for their music.
Let me get personal with you for a minute. Back in December, I skipped the opportunity to see Frankie for the first time at Santos Party House. He had been around seemingly forever, and he was such a legend in the house music scene that I figured I would get a chance to see him at a time when it was more convenient for me. Because I didn’t take the time to see him, I will always regret missing my last opportunity to hear the godfather of house spinning tracks in the greatest city in the world. This is just a reminder to follow your heart and do things in the moment. If you have a chance to see that artist you’ve been dying to see, or meet that writer, or practice sports, music, or whatever with someone that you deeply respect, make sure that you do it when the opportunity presents itself. Life can be a series of missed opportunities, so don’t let chances to do what is important to you pass you by.
Rest in peace, Frankie.