There are certain tunes that seem to strike a chord with UK ravers. They’re kinda like Chuckie at the end of Childs Play 2 - every time you think they’ve been done in, they rise up for one last blast.
I’ve been thinking about this because there’s an new version of Patti Day’s ‘Right Before My Eyes’ doing the rounds, this time by pop act Little Nikki, with production from DJ SKT. It’s a great version, originally meant for a B Side (as is so often the case), which is probably how it got away with being as rough as it is – whilst the intro and verse are all sweet uplifting piano, the drop is pure bassy house rinseout. As far as I’m concerned, this duality has always been crucial to the development of dance music in England - the interchange between pop accessibility and dancefloor credibility has ended up paying the bills for a load of artists to pursue their deeper work. There’s a feeling of Baby D’s ‘Let Me Be Your Fantasy’ about the project (again, an example of an underground smash pushing mainstream), and, like that banger, I’m pretty certain that it’s going to have a massive result in the charts when it gets a proper release at the end of July.
So right now there's probably a load of haters whinging that Nikki 'ruined the original' Hi guys! Didn't we meet before? Cos the thing about Right Before My Eyes, is it just seems to work with whatever's going on in the UK dance scene at the time. In fact, the Little Nikki version marks the 4th time the track has made a major impact in the last 30 years (as well as countless lesser known rinses). I’m not sure what it is about the song that makes it such a hit over here, but I’d suggest it’s the combination of euphoric piano and melancholy vocal melody – the tune seems to straddle a magic place between commercial appeal and underground innovation, that allows it to, time and again, score big with serious DJs and heads, before breaking out into mainstream success. I thought I’d go through the previous versions as a snapshot of dance evolution.
First up, the Patti Day original – a track that was the result of a collaboration between disco songwriter Michael Zager and New York house DJ Bruce Forest. Forest had been resident at NYC’s influential, predominantly black & gay club Better Days. In 1989 around the time ‘Right Before My Eyes’ was written, he had relocated to England, where he started DJing around London, and producing for the likes of Elton John and Paul McCartney. It seems likely that he was hammering ‘Right Before My Eyes’ at the time, and you can be certain that local DJs would be paying attention to whatever a big shot from New York was dropping – and maybe this accounts for a lot of the songs' original popularity over here.
The first remix of note came in 1991, as one of the first releases on the Fokus label. Fokus was a crucial outlet for the first shoots of breakbeat rave, and I’ll probably devote a column to them entirely in the future. At this stage, all you need to know is that they released the early stuff from Luke Slater, and the Mickey Finn killer ‘She’s Breaking Up'. BOOM. The 1st Prodject EP (note the misspelled name – we can only assume that the kids at Fokus spent more time learning how to program a sampler than they did looking at a dictionary) had an A Side that was a traditional warehouse 4/4 banger I’ve included it hear for curiosities sake. On the flip however, was a great mash up – the producer Tom Taylor had stolen the gleaming piano riff from the Pin Up Girl’s bootleg of ‘Take Me Away’ – which in itself had stolen the piano and synth lines from Kevin Saunderson’s ‘Definition of Love’ – he’d then laced the ‘Right Before My Eyes’ vocal over the top, thrown in some clattering breaks and some hardcore hoover sounds, and all of a sudden he was at the forefront of a movement. As added endorsement, XL Records later licensed the track to its genuinely seminal ‘Third Chapter’ compilation – I heartily recommend everyone to track down a copy of this comp, it’s basically faultless..
The next strong mix – and the one I think most likely inspired DJ SKT to write his current version – came in 1998 when N’ n’ G (or Norris ‘Da Boss’ Windross and the man like Grant Nelson) knocked together a 2 step version that blew up on the underground. Again the tune was a stayer, and, with the MC Neat bars added it, got reissued in 2000, eventually charting at #12 (back when people used to buy music that meant a shit load of sales), with versions released in Sweden and Germany. Being honest, I haven’t got the Neat-less original version, which tbh is the more credible of the two, but y’know, I don’t hate on an MC, and I can quite happily work with the version below as an example of smart English pop.
So there we are, a pop fuelled trawl from disco to hardcore to garage to house, and a neat little thread running through 3 decades. If you want to see the evolution of dance happening right before your eyes (see what I did there?) you could even go and see Little Nikki launch her version of the track at the end of July. Plus I’m DJing at it, so y’know, there’s that.
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