There are musical innovators and then there's Frankie Knuckles. The Bronx, New York born DJ/producer turned Chicago-based dance visionary, who is widely recognized as the architect of house music, died Monday afternoon at the age of 59. And with his untimely passing comes a flood of tributes from the U.S. (The Roots frontman tweeted of Knuckles' death, "He was the DJ that DJs aspired to be. True dance pioneer.") to overseas (BBC Radio 2’s Pete Tong added: “RIP gentleman genius, groundbreaker, inspiration. Blessed to have worked with you..."). And while Knuckles trumped his cult hero status as the man that made Windy City dance venues the Warehouse and the Power Plant landmark attractions in the '80s—by the next decade he reigned as the go-to remix king for the headlining likes of Luther Vandross, Michael Jackson and Depeche Mode—his death is being felt the hardest back home.
"He made what I call wonderful garage music," Southside Chicago native and local DJ Demetrius Lawrence tells VIBE. "He is one of the most original DJs that we've ever heard bringing in the establishment of house culture on multi-levels from music to fashion to philosophy. Frankie's death is a huge loss." Indeed, his impact on the EDM world and beyond cannot be overstated. VIBE presents the ten greatest Frankie Knuckles tracks of all-time. Dance on! —Keith Murphy (@murphdogg29)
10. "One More Round," Kasso (1986)
House music's early global reach is triumphantly displayed on this game-changing Frankie Knuckles remix. Yes, production tandem Kasso ruled the Italian disco scene and abroad. But the Chicago music giant gave this playful track a much needed, funk-propelled, kick in the ass. A global dance icon was officially born.
9. "Tears," Satoshi Tomiie (1989)
Billed as Frankie Knuckles Presents Satoshi Tomiie, the master always made it a point to share the love. By the late 80's, house music was no longer an underground phenomenon. Its glossy transformation can be heard here in all its commercialized, finely-tuned orchestrated glory. Thankfully Knuckles manages to still keep the beat banging.
8. "Bad Boy," Jamie Principle (1988)
Pure rebel music courtesy of arguably Chicago's most successful dance tandem. The criminally underrated Jamie Principle (imagine the daredevil sexual obsessions of '80s Prince combined with the brooding, ethereal, weirdo vox of David Bowie) is given ample space to wave his freak flag backed up by the mighty Knuckles. Gay or straight? Who cares. The groove makes such antiquated notions meaningless.
7. "Only The Strong Survive" (1987)
With the exuberant Ricky Dillard on vocals, Knuckles takes it to church. Preach!
6. "It's A Cold World," Feat. Jamie Principle (1987)
Another TRAX Records classic. Knuckles and Principle team up again for this middle-finger to all social conventions and stereotypes.
5. "Waiting On My Angel," Jamie Principle (1985)
One of the earliest collaborations between Knuckles and Principle is also the pair's most infectious statement.
4. "You Can't Hide From Yourself" (1986)
Knuckles, Chip E, and Joe Smooth rework Teddy Pendergrass' floor burning '70s workout and transforms it into a stripped down anthem for the new age. The go-to record for any self-respecting house music DJ, "You Can't Hide From Yourself" was for serious heads that didn't mind staggering home from the club soaking wet.
3. "The Whistle Song" (1991)
This is the sound of house music going pop. And yet the greatness of "The Whistle Song" is that Knuckles made the mainstream dance over to his side. The great producer's highest charting hit to date remains unapologetically warm and fuzzy all over. And that's a good thing.
2. "Let No Man Put Asunder," First Choice remix (1983)
If you were a frequent reveler at Chicago's legendary Warehouse club in the early '80's chances are you witnessed Knuckles shut it down with First Choice's rousing 12-inch "Let No Man Put Asunder." The song proved to be so popular that the budding studio maverick decided to offer his own take on the crowd-pleasing number. Frankie added flavorful synth runs, more kick on percussion, and upped the echo, changing the course of American dance music.
1. "Your Love," Jamie Principle (1987)
The crown jewel in house music's rich, varied canon, "Your Love" began as a 1984 demo by a then unknown Principle. After hearing the dark, pulsating cut, Knuckles played the composition at his Power Plant club garnering strong notice from regulars. Three years later, Frankie flipped "Your Love" into a futuristic love letter propelled by Principle's sublime torch carrying lyrics. "I can't let go..." Those words would prove to be more than prophetic for a generation of followers moved by Frankie Knuckles' genius.