BACK TO LOVE- THE HED KANDI YEARS 1999-2005.
BACK TO LOVE- THE HED KANDI YEARS 1999-2005.
Back in 1999, it seemed that there were numerous high quality compilations vying for your attention, and ultimately your money when you entered your local record shop. One of the compilations that I happened to chance upon, was the Back To Love series. Compiled by Mark Doyle, Back To Love was named after his successful club night. It looked back to the late eighties and early nineties, and over two discs, delivered some old school dance-floor classics. Prior to “discovering” the Back To Love compilations, I’d been aware of the Hed Kandi label, which was founded by Jazz FM in 1997 releasing their first compilation Nu Cool in 1999. That year, 1999, was a huge year for Hed Kandi, with three of their most popular and successful compilations being launched. These three compilations were Back To Love, Serve Chilled and Winter Chill. In a previous article on downtempo music, I’ve written about Serve Chilled and Winter Chill, both great compilations, which featured some of the best downtempo music of the time.
However, Back To Love was a compilation series that struck a nerve with many people. It brought back a sense of nostalgia, for people who remembered with fondness, the heady days of Acid House, and the eclectic music policy of the time. Back To Love and the subsequent compilations, recreated this eclectic music policy, with a mixture of musical genres happily, sitting side by side. Acid House, disco soul, funk and house music featured on the albums, and for many people, it brought back hedonistic nights of frenzied dancing until dawn in warehouses. After the success of the first volume, each year brought a new installment, with people awaiting eagerly, to here what hidden gems Mark Doyle would earth. Sometimes hidden gems sat next to familiar tracks, the only thing they had in common being their quality. I for one, loved this series, and will now review my favorite albums in the series, and my three favourite tracks from each of the volumes between 1999 and 2005, which to me, were the greatest years in the Back To Love series.
BACK TO LOVE.
The first installment in the Back To Love series was released in 1999. It wasn’t just the quality of the music that made the album stand out for me, it was the artwork. Like many of the covers, it was designed by Jason Brooks, who subsequently, would design most of the Hed Kandi album covers. Volume one featured twenty-two tracks over the two discs, with tracks by Rufus and Chaka Khan, Frankie Knuckles, Alison Limerick and Gwen McRae sitting side by side. This was a really eclectic selection of dance-floor classics which Mark Doyle had compiled, of which I’ll choose my favorite three tracks.
Ain’t Nobody by Rufus and Chaka Khan is my first choice, a classic funk track from the hugely successful seventies band which made Chaka Khan a household name. Being able to license such a huge track, showed how determined Mark and Hed Kandi were about making the series a success. Keyboards gradually get louder, building up, the volume and drama increasing play, before the rhythm section and guitars join in. When Chaka sings, her voice is strong and charismatic, a mixture of power, passion and soulfulness. Behind her, the arrangement has grown, and is a mixture of soaring and chiming guitars, funky bass and pounding drums, ably assisted by keyboards. Meanwhile Chaka gives a vocal masterclass, her voice powerfully and soulfully delivering the lyrics, her voice soaring heavenwards, full of passion and drama. For me, this is easily one of the highlights of the album, a track that features an arrangement that fuses funk and soul, with an outstanding vocal from a true diva.
Tears (Classic Vocal) by Frankie Knuckles presents Satoshi Tomiie, is a Chicago House track from one of the men who helped create and popularise the genre. It’s also a track that was hugely popular in the Acid House years. Drums crisp and quick pound, while a crisp cymbal accompanies them. They’re joined by the atmospheric vocal, while squelchy synths briefly interject. Keyboards, percussion and backing vocalists join, and by now, the tempo is perfect for the dance-floor, 120 beats per minute. As the track progresses, the lead vocal is joined by a powerful, roaring backing vocal, which gives way to whispery, then hugely atmospheric vocal. A mixture of great vocal, sitting atop fast beats, accompanied by synths and strings, combine to make a true dance-floor classic. It’s a track that has everything you could possibly want, made by a true pioneer and innovator Mr Frankie Knuckles.
Musical Freedom by Paul Simpson featuring Adeva and Carmen Marie is my final choice from this volume, and is a track that brings to mind piano house. Like the previous track from Adeva and Carmen Marie. It’s a vocal that has its roots in soul and gospel, that opens the track, accompanied by piano, quick crisp beats, guitar and a strong bass line. Strings sweep in later, and percussion helps fill out the sound, giving the track a really joyous sound. A sample of Martin Luther King interjects briefly, and later further vocal samples appear and disappear. Throughout the track, samples, instruments and vocals appear, disappear and reappear, helping create a fantastic arrangement that’s fast, full and impossible to second guess what’ll happen next. However, what makes the track is the vocal, it’s loud and powerful, but hugely soulful and joyous, full of emotion and passion.
Listening to this volume of Back To Love it’s hard to believe that it was twelve years ago, when it was first released. It’s an album that’s full of an eclectic selection of music. All of them are of the highest quality, and all bring back good memories. Mark Doyle managed to compile an album that mixed familiar tracks with ones that weren’t so well known. On the album are tracks from some big names, Rufus and Chaka Khan, Frankie Knuckles and Jamiroquai which was quite a coup for both him and Hed Kandi. However, after such a good selection of tracks, would Volume 2 be as good? Standout Tracks: Ain’t Nobody by Rufus and Chaka Khan, Tears (Classic Vocal) by Frankie Knuckles presents Satoshi Tomiie and Musical Freedom by Paul Simpson featuring Adeva and Carmen Marie.
BACK TO LOVE.
BACK TO LOVE 2.
Back To Love 2 was released in 2000, and after such a successful and well received first volume, many people thought it was going to be difficult to produce as good an album. However, they were wrong. Volume 2 saw even more big names on the album, with De La Soul, Soul II Soul, Lil’ Louis, Archie Bell and the Drells and The Source featuring Candi Staton. Unlike many similar compilations, Back To Love actually got better on Volume 2, with twenty-five wonderful eclectic tracks. Mark Doyle it seemed, had the midas touch, with Back To Love, Serve Chilled and Winter Chill all releasing second volumes, and each compilation keeping up the same high standards they set on Volume 1. Choosing three tracks from this volume is difficult, such is the quality, but here are my selections.
You’ve Got the Love by The Source featuring Candi Staton revitalized Candi’s career, introducing her music to another generation of music fans. Previously, I’ve written about I’m Just A Prisoner, one of her early Southern Soul albums, and little did she know back then, that she’d record a million selling dance hit. A synth quickly plays, before Candi sings, her voice still as good, still as soulful, as she’s accompanied by drumbeats, synths and fingers clicking. Behind the lead synth, drumbeats and vocal, further synths sweep in, as the tempo is fast, the sound gloriously repetitive and steeped in drama. Candi however, steals the show, giving a vocal that’s both thoughtful and emotional, yet soulful and passionate. Although very different to her previous work, The Source helped revitalize her career and in the process, produced a brilliant track.
Let No Man Put Asunder by First Choice is a classic Salsoul track, which bursts into life with the rhythm section, keyboards, strings combining before the vocal enters. Its entrance is signaled by a dramatic burst of drums and strings. The vocal is loud, strong and hugely soulful. Straight away, you realize that something special is about to unfold. You aren’t disappointed. Here, the vocal is brilliant, laden with emotion and drama, it’s accompanied by handclaps, rhythm section, strings and backing vocalists. They provide the perfect backdrop for the vocal. From there on, the track flows beautifully along, strings lush, sweeping, while the rhythm section, guitars, percussion and handclaps drive the song along, the track combining elements of soul, funk and Latin to create a dance-floor classic.
French Kiss (Original Mix) by Lil’ Louis is another track that was hugely popular in the heady days of Acid House. A squelchy synth and fast, pounding drumbeats reverberate, before percussion and more squelchy, echoey synths and handclaps join the fray. By now the tempo is fast, the arrangement repetitive, perfect for dancing to in a dark and hot warehouse along with thousands of other strangers. Eventually, the tempo slows slightly as an erotic sounding vocal enters. This changes the track totally, with the tempo gradually building up the synths become fast and frantic, accompanied by a multitude of faux erotic groans and moans. In some ways, the track has taken a comedic turn, due to the “vocal” and its propensity to make you smile and laugh at its falsity. Meanwhile the synths and beats drive the track along as the “vocal” exits stage left. However, Lil’ Louis produced a memorable track, one that if you put it on, will either bring a smile or a look of shock to the people who are listening to it. One thing, don’t play it to anyone over seventy, the shock might kill them!
The follow up to Back To Love, if anything, was even better than the original It featured an eclectic range of music, ranging from Chicago House to funk, and Salsoul to hip-hop. Mark Doyle replicated the eclectic music policy of a classic Acid House night, where anything goes, as long as you can dance to it. It was always going to be difficult to follow up such a good compilation as Back To Love, however, one year later, Mark Doyle managed to do so. Personally, my fear was that having produced two good compilations that maybe, he would quickly rush out a third volume, like other labels had done with previously successful compilations. This proved fatal, with quality suffering, and in the process, alienating loyal fans. Thankfully, Mark resisted the temptation to do so, and it was another year until the next volume hit the shops: Standout Tracks: You’ve Got the Love by The Source featuring Candi Staton, Let No Man Put Asunder by First Choice and French Kiss (Original Mix) by Lil’ Louis.
BACK TO LOVE 2.
BACK TO LOVE 3.
Back To Love 3 arrived in record shops in 2001, a year that was to prove busy for Hed Kandi. Although they weren’t launching new compilations, they had numerous successful compilations that were releasing new volumes. This included Beach House, Disco Heaven, Serve Chilled and Winter Chill. All of these compilations were the brainchild of Mark Doyle, Hed Kandi supremo. The worry for me, was whether the ever increasing quantity of compilations, would affect the quality of previously successful ones, including Serve Chilled, Winter Chill and Back To Love. However, I needn’t have worried, as Back To Love 3 had an eclectic range of music, from some big names. Incognito, Frankie Knuckles, Dan Hartman, Shannon and Grandmaster Flash were some of the names on the compilation. Thankfully, there was no dip in quality, and again, choosing just three tracks is difficult.
Voodoo Ray (Rham On Acid Remix) by A Guy Called Gerald is my first choice and it begins with a female vocal ad-libbing, accompanied by pounding, electronic sounding drums, before a squelchy synth line appears. It has a slight echoey sound, as the vocal sits above the drums and synth. Later, a male vocal cuts in, repeating Voodoo Ray over the female vocal. The arrangement gets fuller, various samples accompanying the synths, drums and vocals. Sounds and samples flit in and out of the track, which is perfectly suited for the dance-floor. Its tempo is 120 beats per minute, the sound nicely repetitive, with a lovely hypnotic and catchy sound. Although Voodoo Ray was one of the early Acid House tracks, made at home using just a synth and samples. Rumor has it when it was first played at The Hacienda, the DJ announced the track as by “a guy called Gerald” and after that, the name stuck, and the track and future tracks, were released using this name. However, Voodoo Ray has stood the test of time well and although over twenty years old, still sounds great today.
Vertigo/Relight My Fire (Original 12” Version) by Dan Hartman is a track that combines elements of disco with Acid House. Here, when the track opens, keyboards gradually play, accompanied by crisp, pounding beats, with squelchy synths sweeping over the arrangement. Although made well before Acid House, the drumbeats and synths wouldn’t sound out of place on an eighties Acid House track. Later, strings sweep in, their sound lush and sweet. Gradually, the track builds dramatically up with drumbeats, strings and keyboards combining with percussion before Dan sings the vocal, his voice high and emotional. He’s joined by backing vocalists, as the dramatic and lush sounding arrangement plays behind him. A female backing vocalist takes over the lead vocal, her voice drenched in passion and emotion, sounding totally joyous. When Dan rejoins, they shows aging boy bands how the song should sound. The sound is utterly joyous, nearly ten minutes of brilliant music which just can’t fail lift your spirits. Absolutely brilliant.
Let the Music Play (Original 12” Mix) by Shannon is my final choice from this volume. For me, this track epitomizes the anything goes music policy of Acid House. It’s keyboards and drums that opens the track, producing a sound that’s melodic, catchy and full of hooks, but reminiscent of the eighties electronic sound with Acid House sounding synths. When Shannon sings, her voice is high and clear and she sings the lyrics well. This version isn’t the original single, it’s a remix for the 12 inch version. Although the arrangement sounds slightly dated, it’s still a great track that features a good vocal from Shannon, and can still fill any dance-floor.
So, Back To Love 3 kept up the high standard set on the two previous volumes. When the album was released, I thought that this volume of was the best so far. I haven’t changed my find in the intervening ten years. Looking at the standard of music on the album, it’s full of great tracks, from some huge names. They’re a mixture of artists from different eras and genres. Shannon and Dan Hartman contributed disco, Grandmaster Flash classic hip-hop, Frankie Knuckles Chicago house and A Guy Called Gerald an Acid House gem. Overall, the album was a huge success, and it seemed that the series was going from strength to strength. Mark Doyle it seemed, was a man who could do no wrong. However, could that last? Standout Tracks: Voodoo Ray (Rham On Acid Remix) by A Guy Called Gerald, Vertigo/Relight My Fire (Original 12” Version) by Dan Hartman and Let the Music Play (Original 12” Mix) by Shannon.
BACK TO LOVE 3.
BACK TO LOVE 03.03.
My next choice from the Back To Love series is the volume that was released back in 2003, Back To Love 03.03. Over two discs were tracks from Frankie Knuckles, Greg Diamond and Bionic Boogie, Mount Rushmore and Mantronix. This was the fifth volume of the series, and again, it featured a wide range of artists and across the musical genres. The quality was still high, but by now, Hed Kandi were releasing a huge amount of compilations. I for one, feared that from now on, this would begin to impact on quality, as it seemed every time you went into a record shop, another new release from Hed Kandi was there. However, still, the quality was there, and as usual, picking just three tracks, wasn’t easy.
Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless) (Basement Boy Strip To the Bone Mix) by Crystal Waters is my first choice and was a huge hit when it was originally released, hugely popular in clubs and on radio. A keyboard plays the introduction before the vocal enters, and immediately, you’re transported back years, by this familiar track. The vocal is charismatic, accompanied by loud drumbeats, while the keyboards play the melody. Percussion plays as the tempo is quick, the beats, loud and the vocal a mixture of ad-libbing and traditional vocal. It’s a track with a feel-good sound, that’s melodic and hook laden. It’s one of those tracks that once you’ve heard it, you can’t get in out of your head. Although this is a remix, it adds something to the original, turning it into a hugely fast track, about 158 beats per minute, where the beats are loud and pounding, with percussion and keyboards accompanying a charismatic vocal. Overall, it’s a great track, melodic and hook laden.
Hot Butterfly by Gregg Diamond and Bionic Boogie is a classic disco track, one that features a lovely lush, sweeping arrangement and strong vocal. Dramatic drums, sweeping strings and keyboards accompanies Gregg’s strong and emotional vocal. Backing vocalists, a quick prominent bass, percussion and horns join Gregg in producing an arrangement that’s dramatic, almost grandiose, as it unfolds. It’s a track that just keeps on getting better, with wave upon wave of lush and sweet music emerging. A mixture of strings, percussion horns and rhythm section accompanied by sweet and soulful backing vocalists all contribute to the track’s success. Together with Gregg Diamond’s strong and emotion laden vocal, this is easily one of the highlights of the album. An absolute classic track, one with a timeless quality.
Funkin’ For Jamaica (1991 extended Remix) by Tom Brown is my final choice from this album. A trumpet blows, accompanied by crisp, crunchy beats and a multitude of voices whooping and hollering, before piano, keyboard, funky bass and horns enter. The vocal when it enters, is laden with emotion and passion, and deeply soulful. Here, genres collide, with jazz funk, reggae and house all making their presence felt. Rhythms, melodies and beats accompany a hugely soulful vocal. The rhythm section produce a funk masterclass, one that reminds me of many jazz funk tracks. Their rhythms are funky with a capital F, with bass, drums and percussion all contribute to this masterclass. Meanwhile the beats are loud and crisp, with elements of house being heard in the drums and percussion. The track is melodic, catchy and not short of hooks. Again, this is a remix which adds something to the original, and if anything improves on an already excellent track.
Like previous volumes of Back To Love, this volume didn’t disappoint. It was an eclectic selection of music, one that crossed the musical genres several times. Chicago House, big beat, hip-hop, soul and disco all sat side by side. Even though Mark Doyle was responsible for numerous Hed Kandi compilations, he still ensured that the music on this volume remained of the highest quality. Neither the quality, nor the eclectic, anything goes music policy suffered. Although five volumes had been released, unlike other previously successful compilations Back To Love still was consistently releasing albums full of great music. However, now that Hed Kandi were releasing about a dozen compilations each year, how much longer would that be the case? Standout Tracks: Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless) (Basement Boy Strip To the Bone Mix) by Crystal Waters, Hot Butterfly by Gregg Diamond and Bionic Boogie and Funkin’ For Jamaica (1991 extended Remix) by Tom Brown .
BACK TO LOVE 03.03.
BACK TO LOVE 03.04.
When I bought Back To Love 03.04, back in 2004, two things immediately struck me. One was that the music was still just as good, with the eclectic selection of music I’d come to expect present, and the other was that the album cover featured a picture of an old Chopper bike, which I’d always wanted as a child. Once I got the album home and played it, I was hugely impressed. Tracks by Primal Scream, Ce Ce Peniston, Jamiroquai and A Tribe Called Quest were on the album. Here was an album where, hip-hop, Acid House, Chicago House and Acid Jazz all featured. Even though Mark Doyle was even busier compiling a multitude of other compilations for Hed Kandi, he ensured that Back To Love went from strength to strength. As always, choosing three tracks was still hard, but this time, it was slightly easier, with Primal Scream’s Loaded a huge favorite of mine always going to be chosen. So, it was Loaded and two others.
Loaded (Terry Farley Mix) by Primal Scream is my first choice from this volume. I’d have preferred the original version found on Screamadelica, Primal Scream’s seminal 1991 album, where they combined rock and dance music brilliantly. Strings play, sounding grand and lush, before they’re joined by horns, drumbeats, loud and dark bass, handclaps and later, piano. The introduction is lengthy, before an atmospheric, whispery vocal from Bobby Gillespie enters. A slide guitar plays, while others screech and soar, accompanied by blazing horns and gospel tinged backing vocals. Vocal samples enter, a by now, full arrangement, with Bobby’s vocal appearing, disappearing and reappearing, accompanied by guitar, slide and rhythm. The arrangement by now is brilliant, with wave upon wave of music unfolding. It’s impossible to second guess what’ll happen next, as over six minutes, the Scream take you on a magical, musical equivalent of Alice In Wonderland. Absolutely outstanding, and worth buying the album for this track alone.
Blow Your Mind (Parts 1 & 2) by Jamiroquai opens with keyboards, quietly and melodically playing, before crisp beats and percussion accompany the vocal. The track gradually and gently unfolds, with horns interjecting brightly, producing a contrast to the everything that’s gone before. Together, JK accompanied by the rhythm and brass sections and his trusty keyboards produce a joyous uplifting track. It’s deeply melodic, catchy with hooks aplenty. JK’s vocal is a mixture of scatting and a more traditional style, and sitting atop an arrangement that combines elements of funk, soul and even jazz, is just the finishing touch to what is a great track.
We Got A Love Thang (Silky House Thang) by Ce Ce Peniston opens with piano and crisp crunchy drumbeats and keyboards combining, before her vocal enters. Her vocal is soulful and joyous, full of power and passion, as horns, strings and backing vocalists accompany her. This is a track reminds me of early piano house tracks, because of the way the piano and drums combine. The longer the track progresses, the better it gets. Both the vocal and arrangement are outstanding, with the vocal laden with emotion and passion, while the arrangement is just what a really good house track should sound like. Crisp, quick and pounding drums, combine with keyboards, piano and percussion to produce an arrangement that’s joyous, melodic and uplifting. Together with the vocal, which is supplemented by some sweet, joyful backing vocals, it’s a brilliant, classic house track, and one of the best tracks on the compilation.
Back To Love 03.04 was the sixth volume of the series, and still, the quality remained. Many similar compilations had either declined in quality, or crashed and burned, now no longer existing. That Back To Love was still going, and still releasing compilations crammed full of great music, was testament to Mark Doyle, the driving force behind Hed Kandi. Against the odds, and in a crowded market full of compilations vying for people’s attention and money, you could still rely on both Mark Doyle and Back To Love. Although the label was now releasing well over a dozen different compilations, together with Serve Chilled and Winter Chill, these three series’ could be relied upon. However, having reached their sixth anniversary, would the next installment of Back To Love be as good? Standout Tracks: Loaded (Terry Farley Mix) by Primal Scream, Blow Your Mind (Parts 1 & 2) by Jamiroqua and We Got A Love Thang (Silky House Thang) by Ce Ce Peniston.
BACK TO LOVE 03.04.
BACK TO LOVE 03.05.
The final volume of Back To Love that I’ll review is Back To Love 03.05, the seventh volume, released in 2005. To me, this was the last really good instalment of the series. After that, things weren’t quite as good. However, having produced seven volumes of top quality and eclectic music was pretty good. This volume didn’t disappoint, featuring tracks from Sister Sledge, Frankie Knuckles, N.W.A., Neneh Cherry and A Tribe Called Quest. Overall, this was an eclectic selection of music which comprised some old school Chicago House, classic disco, hip-hop, rap and some great house music. Twenty-five great tracks, with something for everyone, choosing just three isn’t easy.
I’ll Be Your Friend (Original Def Mix) by Robert Owens sees drums loud and crisp, combine with repetitive slightly squelchy synths, before percussion and horns interject. After that, the vocal enters, with delay used on the vocal, which is both atmospheric and charismatic. Owens’ voice is loud and strong, and has graced numerous memorable house tracks over the years. Here, he doesn’t disappoint, and together with a pulsating and full arrangement, another great house track unfolds. A melange of squelchy and effectively repetitive, thundering synths, crisp and fast, beats and blazing horns provide the perfect backdrop for his vocal. Together, they make this an excellent, atmospheric and slightly haunting sounding track, which will still fill any dance-floor today.
Thinking of You (Original album track) by Sister Sledge, opens with Niles Rodger’s guitar playing, and after a combination of guitar, subtle percussion, rhythm and string sections Kathy’s vocal enters. Her voice is slightly deeper, with a huskiness present, as her sisters accompany her. When the track progresses, her voice takes on a joyous sound, all the time backed by an arrangement that mixes soul, funk and disco. Wave upon wave of strings, lush and sweet, enter, with Niles and Bernard adding some funk to Kathy’s soulful vocal. Later, a piano plays adding the finishing touches, to yet another brilliant track that’s perfect for any dance-floor.
So Much Love (12” Choice Mix) by The Brand New Heavies is my final choice from this album. It’s a funky sound that opens the track, with the rhythm section and guitars combining before a sweet and melodic vocal enters. It’s accompanied by lush, sweet strings, which are joined by short and subtle bursts of horns. This provides the perfect accompaniment to what is an outstanding vocal. It’s full of emotion, delivered with passion, while a lovely melodic and funky arrangement accompanies it. Together, the rhythm, string and brass sections combine with guitars and percussion to produce one of the best tracks on the album.
So, Back To Love 03.05 was the seventh volume of the series, and still Mark Doyle and Hed Kandi were delivering the goods. There had been no blips or drops in quality. The quality of music still as good, and just as eclectic, as it had been in 1999, on the first volume. Like you’d have heard during the Acid House days, the music was wide ranging, with Chicago House, classic disco and hip-hop all featuring on the album, and all sitting comfortably next to each other. By 2005, many other compilations were focusing on one particular genre of music, whether it be house, disco or hip hop, and it was hard to find such an eclectic compilation of music. This to me, was part of the success story that was Back To Love, and what made it one of most eagerly awaited and most successful compilations available. Standout Tracks: I’ll Be Your Friend (Original Def Mix) by Robert Owens, Thinking of You (Original album track) by Sister Sledge and So Much Love (12” Choice Mix) by The Brand New Heavies.
BACK TO LOVE 03.05.
Between 1999 and 2005, Back To Love was one of my favorite compilation series’. The music on the album was a wide ranging and eclectic selection of music. On the albums there was everything from Chicago House to hip-hop and Acid House to classic disco. There was something for everyone, with each volume featuring some great music, with well known tracks and hidden gems sitting side by side. Like many people, I awaited each new volume eagerly, and until 2005, this was one of the best compilations around. Together with Mushroom Jazz, Cafe Del Mar, Sounds of OM and OM Lounge, Back To Love was one of the best compilation series of the past twenty years. If you’ve never heard any of the Back To Love compilations, they’re well worth buying, especially if you’re someone who enjoyed clubbing during the glory days of Acid House. If so, then these compilations will bring the memories flooding back, and transport you back to nights spent dancing in warehouses to some of the best music your ears will ever hear.