While disco provided the soundtrack to the seventies, garage was one of the genres of music that provided the soundtrack to the eighties. Like disco in the seventies, garage in the eighties and nineties both feature on a Backbeats compilations. Whereas seventies disco featured on Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah, eighties garage features on Livin’ the Nightlife, while Saturday House Fever features nineties garage anthems. Both of these compilations are part of the now thirty strong Backbeats compilation series, which started in 2010. This is just the latest in the long line of successful compilation series’ released by Harmless. After successful compilations like Pulp Fusion, Backbeats is a popular series, with each of the thirty releases costing less than £4, $6 or €5. Starting with the eighties, I’ll tell you about the first of Backbeats’ garage compilations, Livin’ the Nightlife.


Livin’ the Nightlife was the very first of the Backbeats compilations, released back in 2009. On Livin’ the Nightlife are eleven New York Garage classics from the eighties. Each of the eleven tracks are the original 12 inch mix, which I like, as it allows you to hear the original track as it was meant to be. Much as I like remixes, many people buying this compilation won’t be familiar with this genre of music, so it allows them to hear the original track. This may even be the first time they’ve bought such a compilation, so it’s good to hear a new track in its original form. If there anything like me, then having bought most of the compilations, they’ll want to complete the set. The good thing about this, is having bought this compilation, they may grow to love the music like I do. On the album, are tracks by Young and Company, Class Action, Colonel Abrams and Dinosaur L. These tracks are from a variety of labels including Sleeping Bag Records, Easy Street Records and The International Music Network. So having told you about Ian Dewhirst’s compilation, what does Livin’ the Nightlife sound like?

Opening Livin’ the Nightlife is Young and Company’s I Like (What You’re Doing To Me), released on Brunswick Records in 1980 is one of the best tracks on the album. It has a really uplifting sound, with crunchy beats, percussion and the sweetest of vocals sitting atop the arrangement. The tempo is 118 beats per minutes, perfect for any dance-floor, which I’m sure this track would still fill. 

Often on lesser compilations, the compiler puts the best tracks at the start of the compilation, leaving the filler until later in the album. Here, there’s no filler just great music, that takes you back to the eighties, but in a good way. Class Action’s Weekend is just the second track, with a vamping, sassy vocal set against an arrangement full of drumbeats, synths and percussion. It’s an impressive sounding track, with a great vocal, full of power and emotion, released back in 1983 on Sleeping Bag Records who also contribute a track by Dinosaur L. This track brings back good memories, and proves that there really was some great dance music around in the eighties, a decade that isn’t remembered for its great music.

Although The Paul Simpson Connection’s track Treat Her Sweeter is slightly slower than the two previous tracks, it sounds deceptively fast. In reality, it’s only 116 beats per minute, and features some great interplay between Paul’s lead vocal and his backing vocalists, sung against arrangement that has a slightly harsher, harder arrangement. During the track, there are some stunning divaesque backing vocalists that soar above the synth heavy arrangement. Listening to the track, you could almost date its release date to 1985, when it was released on Easy Street Records. However, although the arrangement has this harder, harsher sound, reminiscent of the mid-eighties, the track isn’t short of hooks, and is really catchy.

Proving that there’s quality throughout the compilation, the penultimate track Cuba Gooding’s Happiness Is Just Around the Corner, released in 1983 on Streetwise Records. This is an eight minute epic track that’s 120 beats per minute, perfect for any dance-floor. With a chugging synth heavy arrangement, where drumbeats and backing vocalists play a vital part in the arrangement this familiar sounding track gets underway. Sitting above the arrangement is the near falsetto lead vocal, with sweet sounding backing vocalists and percussion providing an accompaniment. Although synths play a large part in the arrangement, this sound has dated well, unlike so many eighties tracks where synths played such an important part in the sound. 

These tracks are just four of the album’s highlights. Livin’ The Night Life has many more highlights. These include Colonel Abrams Music Is the Answer, released on 1984 Streetwise Records. With synths and crunching drumbeats accompanying the Colonel’s dramatic, vamping vocal this a great track just takes off, full of energy. 

Adeva’s In and Out of My Life released in 1988 on Easy Street Records, has a very different sound. Unlike Colonel Abrams contribution, the arrangement doesn’t have the same harsh arrangement, but is just as full of energy and features a real diva style vocal, set against the quick reverberating arrangement that sweeps along. The final track I’ll mention is Serious Intention’s You Don’t Know, released in 1984 on Easy Street Records. Again, synths play a major part in the arrangement, combining with crisp drumbeats, while stabs of echoey synths are accompanied by a similarly echoey vocal. Effects are used heavily throughout the track, with delay and echo arranger and producer’s weapon of choice. This works well, even when the vocal is given the same treatment on this electronic slice of garage music.

Livin’ The Night Life is a nostalgic trip back to the eighties and proves that after the classic disco of the seventies, there was some good quality dance music during the eighties. On the compilation are eleven quality garage tracks, from a variety of artists and labels which are very different from the disco era. Why I hear you ask? Well, by the eighties, synths and drum machines were used much more on dance tracks, and this lead to a very different sound. No longer did producers require session musicians like the Salsoul Orchestra for a session, instead, all they needed were synths and drum machines and they had the basis for a track. By then, the synth sound was much better than that of seventies. However, this lead to a harsher sound, while the drumbeats sounded much crisper. One thing that hadn’t changed was the use of a vocalist on the tracks. Whether it was a male vocalist or a sassy, strutting diva, they were still needed, as back then, they’d not yet been replaced by samples. Although the music sounded different, it was still good quality, but how would the garage music of the nineties that’s found on Saturday Night Fever, Backbeats compilations of nineties garage anthems compare? Would it compare favorably to the music found on Livin’ The Night Life, which contains some great music. Standout Tracks: Young and Company’s I Like (What You’re Doing To Me), Class Action Weekend, The Paul Simpson Connection Treat Her Sweeter and Cuba Gooding Happiness Is Just Around the Corner.



By the nineties dance music was changing, and changing fast. On Saturday House Fever, the music proves this. Gone are the slightly harsh arrangements of eighties garage, in is music which is much more joyous and uplifting. The music has a softer sound which is partly to do with a combination of things. Now, the synths and drum machines were improving in quality, and some producers had decided to start using “proper musicians.” One thing that was still needed was a quality vocal, and on Saturday House Fever there are some stunning vocalists, none better than Kathy Brown on Happy People, an absolute timeless classic. Other divas included Keisha Jenkins, Leisha Moore and Debbie Pender, who all contribute some great tracks to Saturday House Fever. This is an album of tracks originally released on Easy Street Records compiled by Ian Dewhirst and released in 2009. It’s that compilation, Saturday House Fever that I’ll now tell you about.

Although Kathy Brown’s track Happy People is the penultimate track on Saturday House Fever, it’s easily the compilation’s highlight and that’s why I’ve chosen to review it first. Released in 1999 on Easy Street Records, it’s a track that thirteen years later still sounds just as good, and has a timeless quality, like all good music. Starting with Kathy just scatting over a gentle piano and lush strings, the track literally bursts into life. With crisp drumbeats and handclaps joining the piano, Kathy is transformed into a diva, her voice soaring, powerfully while backing vocalists sweetly accompany her. It’s a true classic garage track, so good that it alone, almost makes buying this compilation worthwhile.

Keisha Jenkins’ Goin’ Through the Motions was released in 1993. Like Kathy Brown’s track Happy People, this is another real garage classic. With keyboards, percussion and drumbeats combining, the track begins. It has a really catchy sound, even before horns blaze in at the same time as Keisha’s vocal. After that, the track just gets even better, with Keisha delivering the lyrics beautifully, while backing vocalists accompany her. Like the previous track, the track lacks the harshness of some of the eighties tracks, and has a much more soulful sound that has dated much better and has a contemporary sound. Again, this is one of Saturday House Fever’s real highlights.

Another of the great female vocalists that features on this compilation is Leisha Moore, with her contribution being Damn, What A Feeling. Like the two previous tracks, this was released on Easy Street Records, this time in 1995. The arrangement has a slightly harsher sound and quicker tempo, with crisp drumbeats, synths and percussion playing important parts in the pumping arrangement. Atop that arrangement sits Leisha’s confident, powerful vocal, while backing vocalists accompany her soaring vocal. Although it has a slightly different sound, it has one thing in common with the other two tracks quality.

The quickest track on Saturday House Fever is Debbie Pender’s Movin’ On, released in 1997. Her sultry vocal sits on top of a quick arrangement, where drumbeats, synths and percussion combine, while backing vocalists accompany Debbie’s sultry, sassy vocal. Like the previous track, the arrangement has a slightly harsher, harder sound, although neither as harsh or hard as the eighties tracks. However, it doesn’t take away from the uplifting and joyous sound of this hugely catchy, hook laden track.

Although I’ve mentioned four tracks by female singers, they just happen to be some the best tracks on Saturday House Fever. I could just as well have mentioned Bobby Blackwell’s 1994 track Let Love Through. Bobby proves that there are some great tracks on the compilation that feature a male vocalists. Here, synths, drums and percussion accompany Bobby’s uplifting vocal, which sometimes gives way to a vamp. The sweet sounding, gospel tinged backing vocalists provide a contrast to the sound of the arrangement. Overall it’s a track that’s among the compilation’s best. 

Cassio’s Baby Love (Asja Iman) is one of a quartet of tracks that were recorded and released in the eighties. Released in 1982, this track has a much more nineties garage sound, and deserve its place on the compilation. The only artist who has more than one track on the album is Alexander Hope, whose two tracks Saturdays and Let the Music Take You, were both released in 1984. Again, both tracks have a much more nineties sound, and sit better on Saturday House Fever rather than the eighties garage compilation Livin’ the Night Life. Similarly, both tracks prove that there are quality tracks from male vocalists on the compilation. Of the two tracks, Let the Music Through is my favorite, with crunchy drumbeats, synths and backing vocalists providing the backdrop for Alexander’s soulful vocal. This is just the latest in a long line of quality tracks that can be found on Saturday House Fever.

Saturday House Fever has a very different sound to Livin’ the Night Life which featured the eighties garage sound. Personally, the nineties garage sound was a bit more soulful, than its eighties counterpart. Having said that, I’m a huge fan of all types of dance music and partial to both eighties and nineties garage. One thing I would say though, is while I’ve referred to the music on the compilation as garage, many people would refer to the tracks as house music. However, I think the music really is garage music, and have referred to it as such. Regardless of what genre of music is on the music, it all has one thing in common, quality. For anyone wanting to hear some nineties garage music, then this is a good introduction. This is one of great things about the Backbeats’ series, that if you buy the thirty compilations, you’ve only spent £120, $180 or €150 and have your own library of music covering everything from Northern Soul, Southern Soul and Deep Soul to Disco garage and house music. Of these thirty compilations, two of my favorites are Livin’ the Night Life and Saturday House Fever, which feature some fantastic garage music, spanning two decades, the eighties and nineties, both hugely important decades in the history of dance music. Standout Tracks: Kathy Brown Happy People, Keisha Jenkins Goin’ Through the Motions, Leisha Moore Damn, What A Feeling and Debbie Pender Movin’ On.


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