At the start of this year Joe Muggs penned a Mixmag column titled Forgetting about vocal house anthems is a betrayal of club music's roots, celebrating songs that raise spirits on the dancefloor with glorious choral turns and simultaneously hitting out at the detractors.
It got us thinking about all the massive vocal house bangers out there and we quickly concluded that vocal house is one of the most powerful energies in the universe. There’s few experiences quite like getting swept up in the collective ecstasy of belting out lyrics that ascend with supernatural force above a backdrop of spine-tingling production. And so we decided to compile a selection of the greatest vocal house songs ever and inject a fat measure of joy into the life of anyone who comes across it.
Vocal house isn't a defined genre as such so when making our picks we set out some boundaries. All tracks must feature an original vocal or be an official remix of a house track with an original vocal. House tracks with only vocal samples don't count (although we'd like to extend an honourable mention here to First Choice's seminal disco cut 'Let No Man Put Asunder’ for providing the vocal for about a million house tracks over the years). And we’re looking for proper, strapping vocals with verses and choruses rather than short refrains, ruling out the likes of Marshall Jefferson’s ‘Move Your Body’.
So now you're up to speed, enjoy the list below.
Aly-Us ‘Follow Me’
An anthemic vocal hit from 1992 with a message that’s sadly as important and relevant today as it was 26 years ago. Featuring delicately affecting production from Kyle "Small" Smith, vocalists Supa and Kaylin-X sing heartfelt lyrics calling for “peace” and “an end to racial hatred”. The world is a better place when listening to this record, and would be a far better place if everyone followed the example of its message.
Armand Van Helden ‘You Don’t Know Me’
Armand Van Helden was the undisputed king of the late 90s and early 00s. Armed with that unmistakable NYC swagger and an ear for a chart crossover, Van Helden released an unbelievable amount of bangers around that time. There's loads to choose from but ‘You Don’t Know Me’ is the ultimate sing-along classic. It's the one that gets the cheers time after time in the rave and one that oozes fun. A vocal for the ages. F
Baby D ‘Let Me Be Your Fantasy’
It took over two years for the true crossover success of ‘Let Me Be Your Fantasy’ to infiltrate the mainstream, but it deservedly got there in the end. Peaking at Number 76 upon its first release on Production House Records in 1992, a reissue of the hardcore-informed house anthem in November 1994 saw its popularity grow exponentially. It entered the chart at Number 3, before securing and holding the Number 1 spot for the following fortnight. It’s the kind of track that’s tailor-made for life-affirming moments like the shutters opening in Panorama Bar. Naturally it landed a coveted place on our '100 Greatest Dance Singles Of All Time' list in 1996, and the accompanying description said it all: A sneaky paen to ecstasy's "warm embrace" disguised as a love song - perhaps the most commercial tune that the hardcore scene ever produced. Massive pianos, crunching breaks and a rave-along chorus meant its appeal spread wider than white gloved Vicks sniffers. TW
Barbara Tucker ‘Beautiful People’
Co-written with India and Lem Springsteen and produced by Louie Vega and Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez, ‘Beautiful People’ is a wonderfully crafted track. The fleet-fingered organ line and snares that hit like hand claps give it a rapturous gospel feel, packing the production full of soul. And Barabara Tucker takes this feeling to another level with her peerless vocal turn. She’s one of the most deified voices in house music and ‘Beautiful People’ is a shining example as to why. Despite two legends on production, Tucker’s triumphant vocal is the star of the show. “When will we stop hurting and learn to love one another?” she belts out with moving emotional energy. Preach it, Barbs.
Bizarre Inc feat Angie Brown ‘I'm Gonna Get You’
English electronic music group Bizarre Inc reached the top spot in the US Dance charts and number 3 in the UK Singles Chart back in 1992 with Angie Brown-collaboration 'I'm Gonna Get You'. With its call and response lyrics, electrifying piano line and shining rave sensibilities, this one's still a certified banger! It hits like a shot of liquid serotonin in the dance, with the assertive tone of Brown’s vocals grabbing dancefloors by the scruff of the neck and thrusting them into overdrive.TW
Chuck Roberts ‘My House’ (Acapella)
“IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS JACK!”. This evocative speech describing the origins of house music is one of the most recognisable vocals in all of house music, channelling the game-changing energy of the genre’s birth into stirring verse. It’s powerful on its own, but endless samples have proliferated through house music and secured its iconic status. The likes of Larry Heard, DJ Sprinkles, Todd Terry and more have all incorporated the vocal into stone cold anthems. Quite the legacy.
Crystal Waters ‘Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)’
She may be homeless but the protagonist of this track is a certified legend in house, inspiring one of the genre’s best loved vocals. The production by Neal Conway and Nathaniel S. Hardy Jr, was originally written with Ultra Naté in mind, but after Crystal Waters beat her to the punch by recording a demo, Mercury immediately offered Waters the record deal. It’s no surprise they jumped to secure her verses. Intersplicing observations about a homeless woman who busked outside the Mayflower hotel in Washington DC while looking presentable in full make-up with an infectious “la da dee la da da” refrain, the track is equally tender and banging. Despite the record’s success, Waters was upset that people loved to dance to it without listening to the lyrics about homelessness, which led to the parenthetical addition of “(She’s Homeless)” to the title. What a woman, what a song.
Davina ‘Don’t You Want It’
In his role as co-founder of Underground Resistance, Mad Mike Banks is famed as one of the most important figures in techno history. Alongside his raw and politically-charged Detroit techno militia work, he also knows his way around a exquisite house beat. On ‘Don’t You Want It’, his spacey production flickers with soul-warming depth, finely complemented by Davina’s mesmeric vocal.
De’Lacy ‘Hideaway’ (Deep Dish mix)
Dubfire and Sharam’s collaborative Deep Dish project has been the making of many hits over the years. In 1995 they made the definitive version of De’Lacy’s house anthem ‘Hideaway’. Its irresistible blend of floaty production and Rainie Lassiter’s soul-stirring vocal makes for an otherworldly, spiritual experience - with just the right amount of kick to ignite a club.
Dominica ‘Gotta Let You Go’
Way before Bicep turned Dominica’s ‘Gotta Let You Go’ into 2015’s most rinsed track of the year, 20 years earlier the original cut was a certified club smash. Its appeal is easy to see as well. It manages to blend slightly cheesy pop sensibility with a weighty kick and a dancefloor attitude. All this fire packed into one track is one thing but that’s before we’ve even go to the reason for the song’s inclusion in this list, the vocal. Dominica croons about having to break things off with her man. She doesn’t want anymore sleepless nights and she needs someone to treat her right. She just wants someone to show her love and to be there for her, she’s not going to have heart broken anymore. This is the ultimate empowerment anthem and it’s an absolute blinder. Dominica, we hope you found your man because this track has found its way into the hearts of millions. F
Fish Go Deep feat Tracey K ‘The Cure & The Cause’
This joint effort from Irish production duo Fish Go Deep and fellow Emerald Isle singer Tracey K goes off on every dancefloor, every time. Weaving together fruity production and a sultry vocal, the track found favour with fans from all over, including house music giants Defected Records who secured the rights to release it in Europe. Its mass appeal was highlighted upon Defected’s 2006 release, when it hit the top spot in both the dance and indie charts. Fun for everyone. TW
Herbert ‘I Hadn’t Known (I Only Heard)’
Matthew Herbert has made all manner of weird and wonderful music in his time. There was the ‘Bodily Functions’ album featuring an array of samples of noises from the body, the Brexit Big Band, and ‘One Pig’ which sampled the life of a pig, from birth to slaughter to consumption. ‘I Hadn’t Known (I Only Heard)’, a collaboration with American vocalist Dani Siciliano, is one of his more straightforward record, but also one of his best. It’s seductive like a light breeze on a midsummer’s evening, or tracing your finger’s along freshly shaven skin. Pleasant with subtle hints of exhilaration.
Inner City ‘Big Fun’
Years ahead of its time upon its release in 1988, and will remain timeless for evermore. The first of Inner City’s impressive five singles to hit the top spot in the US dance chart, it marries Paris Grey’s celebratory vocals with Kevin Saunderson’s vibrant production that’s packed full of fun flourishes. One of the most surefire party-starters in the crate of any DJ.
Jamie Principle ‘Your Love’
Its fame may have been superseded by the Frankie Knuckles version that followed a year on from its release but Jamie Principle and Mark “Hot Rod” Trollan’s OG release is a classic in its own right. The way the vocal swells and reverberates as the chorus climaxes is like a rocket fuel-charged hit of emotion, perfectly accompanied by those sparkling arpeggios and the boldness of the bassline underneath.
Joe Smooth ‘Promised Land’
Take on a name like Joe Smooth and you better make sure you’ve got the chops to back up the title. Joseph Lorenzo Jr. Welbon certainly lives up to the billing of his alias on ‘Promised Land’, with his deluxe vocals the key ingredient. Like Aly-Us’ ‘Follow Me’, Joe Smooth wrote this track to spread a message of love and positivity. It’s an unwavering dose of unbridled optimism that will never not make us feel fantastic.
Kings Of Tomorrow feat Julie McKnight ‘Finally’
The funk of that bassline kicking in a few seconds into this Kings of Tomorrow classic has been a guaranteed route to instantly whip a dancefloor into raptures since its release at the turn of the millennium. Julie McKnight’s voice carries over the track with assured power, elevating it to another realm of brilliant. The rapid-fire kicks segueing into the chorus where she really lets loose with her range is enough to get a dancefloor of thousands all clutching their chests and miming a passionate Top Of The Pops-esque performance.
Lovebirds feat Stee Downes 'Want You In My Soul'
With its magical build up, skipping beat and stunning vocal, this one's perfect for closing a set or as a 'daylight hours at the afters' selection. It’s a track so beautiful and captivating that it often lulls us into a dreamlike daze- which is bliss, until it ends and you abruptly realise you’re five bus stops beyond the one you needed to get off at. Released in 2011, its massive crossover success means you're still as likely to hear it in a DJ set as you are in Urban Outfitters. TW
Modjo ‘Lady (Hear Me Tonight)’
Amazingly, ‘Lady (Hear Me Tonight)’ was only the “third or fourth” song young French duo Modjo wrote together in the early 00s. It’s the kind of gold many artists strive their whole career to try and achieve, and there’s even plenty of legends out there who haven’t made anything so infectiously upbeat. The video depicts three teenagers with a special bond. They’re friends, perhaps lovers, involved in a love-friendship triangle that appears devoid of any insecurity or jealousy. It’s a nice metaphor for this song’s ability to unify crowds into carefree collective bliss, with a chorus that rolls off the tongue sublimely.
Moloko ‘Sing It Back’ (Boris Dlugosch Musical Mix)
Róisín Murphy knew Moloko had the makings of a dance hit when writing ‘Sing It Back’, but her partner Mark Brydon chose to tone it down in a sparser, more experimental direction for its release on their second album to fit the record. She was disappointed, but knew the right remix would be a hit. Todd Terry was commissioned to rework the track, which Murphy wasn’t into. Then miraculously a German DJ called Boris Dlugosch got in touch with a demo that blew her mind. She fought and pleaded with the label to put it out, but having paid handsomely for Todd Terry the bosses initially refused. Then Terry’s version disappointed commercially, while Dlugosch’s became the talk of Miami Music conference, dubbed the “sound of the festival”. The label made a sharp U-turn and agreed to release the German’s version, which was an instant hit and has since featured on over 100 dance compilations.
Norma Jean Bell ‘I'm The Baddest Bitch (In The Room)’ (Moodymann Mix)
Moodymann’s DGAF attitude is well publicised. It got him in trouble with the Serious Music Fans when he made a habit of dropping Kings Of Leon singles in his sets last year. Others were into it. We’ll always respect his defiant streak. And naturally, when it came to remixing a track with a vocal explicitly stating “I’m the baddest bitch in this room”, it saw him right in making a grade A stunner. The baddest cut (in Kenny Dixon Jnr’s record bag).
Octave One feat. Ann Saunderson ‘Black Water’
A coming together of Detroit musical royalty as the Motor City’s star siblings the Burden brothers, aka Octave One, link up with British singer Ann Saunderson, member of beloved Detroit groups such as Kaos and Inner City alongside her husband Kevin. This track is epic but well grounded in making you dance, with sweeping orchestral swings giving way to a rolling beat and lyrics that get you lifted.
Omar S And L’Renee ‘S.E.X’ (Conant Gardens Posse remix)
As smooth as silk sheets that have been caressed with fabric softener and left out to dry in morning sun. Omar S’ flawless production, a slinking bassline from FIT Siegel and L’Renee’s all-important honeyed vocal add up to one of the finest slices of house you or anyone else will ever hear. A sensual tune made by three natives of Detroit - ‘S.E.X’ puts The D in vocal house.
Peven Everett ‘Put Your Back Into It’
It’s impossible not to dance while this track is on rotation. Your shoulders start dipping, fingers click, head nods and hips swing to its irresistible beat. Jam packed full of soul, energy and funk, it shows house master Peven Everett at his stunning best. And then once you think you’re locked into its established groove, that change-up around the 3-minute mark is even more joyous.
Robin S ‘Show Me Love’
Originally released in 1990 by Champion Records, its success didn’t peak until '92 when it got the remix treatment from Swedish producers StoneBridge and Nick Nice. The re-release took the mainstream charts by storm reaching number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and 6 in the UK Singles Chart. Most importantly, in both 1996 and 2013 it made its way onto two of Mixmag's 'Greatest Tracks' lists. The combination of soaring vocals and a magnificent synth line creates non-stop euphoria across its full run-time. This track deserves to be shown all the love you can give.
Shaun Escoffery ‘Days Like This’ (DJ Spinna Remix)
A sumptuous cut of house music that captures the heavenly sensation of a perfect summer’s day. “I love days like this! I love the sun!” croons Shaun Escoffery with relatable fervour. On DJ Spinna’s unbeatable remix, Escoffery’s velvet vocals wrap themselves around dulcet trumpet tones, twinkling keyboards and shimmering synths to achieve aural paradise. It's a favourite of Kerri Chandler, which says it all.
Spiller ‘Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)’
Italian producer Spiller’s collaboration with Sophie Ellis-Bextor hit the number one spot in the UK charts, beating off competition from Victoria Beckham’s debut solo single post-Spice Girls breakup. Tabloids sold it as a personal battle between the two British singers involved - a Blur-Oasis style feud crossing the house-pop divide. The right woman won. Can anyone remember how Beckham’s ‘Out of Your Mind’ goes? Thought not. We’ll never forget ‘Groovejet’. Fun fact: it was also the first song ever played on the first iPod. Historic.
Video unable to load
Stardust ‘Music Sounds Better With You’
When it comes to sampling a Chaka Khan track, you’d expect most producers to plump for the Queen of Funk’s belting voice to enliven their track. But using just a 2 second loop from the intro of Chaka Khan’s 1981 album cut ‘Fate’, Thomas Bangalter and Alan Braxe made a serotonin-soaked foundation to combine with Benjamin Diamond’s original vocal and create one of the most euphoric tracks of all time, kickstarting the French touch movement in the process. “I feel so good” sings Diamond, and countless listens down the line this record is bliss every time.
The System ‘You're In My System’ (Kerri Chandler Remix)
King Kerri the house master at his absolute dazzling best here. The original by American electronic duo The System is a fine track, with crisp percussion and precise synth lines. Kerri makes it even better, deploying emotive synths that delicately scythe through the foundation like laser beams of elation sent from above. Heavenly.
Ten City ‘That’s The Way Love Is’
The kind of track that grabs you and can instantly send your mood shooting to the stratosphere. Hearing this one dropped while walking into a club has had us wanting to backflip before we’ve even reached the dancefloor. The 1989 single from Chicago-based trio Ten City reached number 1 in the US Dance Music Play Chart. Featuring Marshall Jefferson on production, it's full of all the elements any vocal house anthem needs to make you feel alive on the dancefloor. TW
Ultra Naté ‘Free’
A key draw of clubbing is to let loose and blow off some steam, and this Strictly Rhythm classic written by Ultra Naté and Lem Springsteen and produced by MIIS is tailor-made for doing precisely that. The opening bars are delicate, but soon enough the bumping production kicks in, underpinning a vocal that burns with the potency of the sun’s surface, encouraging dancers to live by Ultra Naté’s words and be free.
Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Digital Staff Writer, follow him on Twitter
Funster is Mixmag's Digital Editor, follow him on Twitter
Tillie Wood is Mixmag's Channel Manager, follow her on Twitter