- J. M. Silk - Jack Your Body (Monty House Remix)
- Sampson "Butch" Moore - House Beat Box
- Risse - House Train (Chicago Mix)
- Steve "Silk" Hurley - Work It Out (Acid Mix)
- M. Doc - It's Percussion (House Mix)
- J. M. Silk - I Can't Turn Around (House Mix)
- Inner City - Good Life (Steve "Silk" Hurley Mix)
- Jomanda - Got a Love for You (Hurley's House Mix)
- Black Box - I Don't Know Anybody Else (Hurley's House Mix)
- Shay Jones - Are You Gonna Be There (Hurley's House Mix)
- Kym Sims - Too Blind To See It (Hurley's House Mix)
- CeCe Peniston - We Got a Love Thang (Hurley's Happy House)
- Donnell Rush - Symphony (Hurley's Symphonic Soul Mix)
- Roberta Flack - Uh-Uh Ooh-Ooh Look Out (Here It Comes) (Steve Hurley's House Mix)
- Clubland - Hold On (Tighter To Love) (To Die For Mix)
- Crystal Waters - Makin' Happy (Hurley's Happy House Mix)
- Steve "Silk" Hurley & the Voices of Life featuring Sharon Pass - The Word Is Love (Say the Word) (Silk's Anthem of Life)
- Ten City - That's the Way Love Is (Deep House Mix)
- Yolanda Adams - Open My Heart (Silk's Spiritual Workout)
- Bob Marley - Soul Shakedown (Silk's Downunder Mix)
- Sevynn - Free (Silk's Anthem)
- CeCe Peniston - My Boo (The Things You Do) (12" Version)
- Ann Nesby - Lovin' Is Really My Game (Silk's 12" Version)
- Vernessa Mitchell - Higher (Silk's Original 12" Mix)
This mix represents two-and-a-half years of musical dreaming, basement hopping and eBay overpaying. More importantly, it's the product of 14 years of love and appreciation for the work of Chicago house producer Steve "Silk" Hurley. Silk was my gateway into music geekdom -- because of him, at age 12 I became an active music consumer, going beyond passive vocalist/band appreciation to seek the work of a producer (the only other behind-the-boards guy I remember paying attention to at that point was Marley Marl). With tracks like Jomanda's "Got a Love for You" (brimming with hooks so that it sounds crocheted, not assembled, this is one of Silk remixes that trumps the song's original mix for the "definitive" label) and CeCe Peniston's "We Got a Love Thang" (not so much an anthem as a torrent of exuberance), Silk introduced me to the world of house, albeit a hyper-happy, post-acid one. "The first day we met, my heart stood still," go Joanne Thomas' divazilla (which is to say, earth-shaking) first words of "Got a Love for You." I know the feeling.
The aforementioned tracks, and most of Finest Silk's middle section (tracks 8-18, with the exception of "The Word Is Love," which had to come before "That's the Way Love Is" so Byron Stingily could answer Sharon Pass' request to "Say the word" with his "Love lovelove") represent Silk's own mid-career, swingin' period. This came between his jackin' beginning and most recent bumpin', represents his commercial apex ("Got a Love for You," "We Got a Love Thang" and "Too Blind To See It" all hit the U.S. Top 40, and a handful more hit the lower region of the Hot 100) and is the section nearest to my heart. It was here that Silk had perfected the balancing act of masculinity and femininity that house had struggled with from the start (of course it did, like anything gay*). To counter his saccharine keyboard melodies and over-the-top diva vocals, Silk gave his early-to-mid-'90s tracks an aggressive propulsion, a snare and kick combo with a plastic crunch. You could bounce a quarter off his pumped beats, while their accompanying songs increasingly resembled the disco that inspired him (and his peers) in the first place.
He'd come a long way from his too-limp ("Jack Your Body," which transplanted house to a global village as the first of its kind to hit No. 1 in the U.K.) or too-smooth ("I Can't Turn Around," which kicks ass, despite Keith Nunnally's status as the most un-diva-like singer house had [has?] ever seen) beginnings. Silk's early work, while possessing considerable charm, didn't usually stand out from that of his DJ-producer peers', particularly those like Frankie Knuckles or Larry Heard, who achieved the aforementioned masc/fem balance way earlier. Silk's production on M. Doc's meta "It's Percussion," is an exception, as it ignored hip-house's love of preset, high-hat clatter and ended up one of the best rap-house songs ever (thanks, of course, go to M. Doc's delivery -- can you say "perpetration can't be taken keep it shakin' just right" five times fast?).
His remix of Ten City's "That's the Way Love Is" (another triumph over the original -- no small feat, considering that Marshall Jefferson hatched it) marks the turning point toward the Silk that I fell in love with. Simultaneously robotic and emotionally complex (read: bittersweet), "That's the Way Love Is" feels like a midway point. His remix of Roberta Flack's "Uh-Uh Ooh-Ooh Look Out (Here It Comes)" has a similar effect, made from the same love, but without the "love lovelove." These gave way to his busy '90s stretch when he ran ID Records and became a remixing juggernaut. He was Hex Hector or Peter Rauhofer of his day, in that for a time, he was the no-brainer labels turned to when their pop needed a bump (Michael Jackson, Paula Abdul and En Vogue were among his clients).
Considering Silk's exposure, little is written about him and he's barely remembered as a founder, despite his Hot Mix 5 affiliation (this might have to do with of his virtual lack of releases on Trax, the touchstone for many of those who write about or discuss early house, thanks to the last year's Trax Records 20th Anniversary compilation). He isn't even fondly remembered as house populist, though the bold color palate he brought to U.S. Top 40 and R&B radio in the early-to-mid '90s was infinitely more exciting than the grays and browns that represent today's trance-touched radio house.
Silk continued making tracks throughout the '90s and into the new millennium, as Finest Silk's final six, post-popularity tracks attest. They're some of his strongest works, wherein he shows off a newfound respect for space, an affinity for live bass and love for a kick drum that thwacks instead of grunting. "Disco down," indeed.
Finest Silk is by no means comprehensive -- in an attempt to get as close as possible to the 80-minute mark, tracks had to be left off (including all-out classics like Jamie Principle's "Cold World," his remix of Michael Jackson's "Remember the Time" and his update of Aurra's "A Little Love"). I have enough leftover vinyl to make a mix just as long as this one (though it'd have to be called Not-So Finest Silk), and Silk's produced enough house records to fill another two or three volumes, easily. This mix ignores his slower, R&B work for people like Chantay Savage, CeCe Peniston ("Keep On Walkin'"), Tene Williams, Madonna and Mint Condition. Instead, these 24 tracks are what I consider to be the best house from one of the most under-appreciated producers of his time and genre. It's a sample of the vibrant, silly, kitschy, moving and completely deliberate offerings of a self-proclaimed non-musician (funny how so many of these could create such cataclysmic work).
"The best Chicago house imperceptibly intertwines 'track' (sound for sound’s sake, weirdness galore) with 'song' ('This could be on the radio') in a symbiotic relationship," wrote the always-enviable Tim Finney in his Seattle Weekly review of the aforementioned Trax 20th Anniversary comp last year. For those of us familiar with Silk's work, though, it was just an eloquent way of telling us what we already knew.
*This is no comment on Silk's own sexuality, which I assume is hetero (he has a daughter), but the prevailing sexuality of many of early house's pioneers and most of its listeners.