The 20 best house tracks ever

Time Out writers and Rinse FM DJs pick the four-to-the-floor house anthems that defined dance music in the '80s and '90s

After evolving on the Chicago club scene in the early '80s, house music exploded at the end of the decade to become the world's leading dance genre. By the early '90s, massive pop stars like Madonna, Janet Jackson and Kylie Minogue were all incorporating elements of house music into their sound. House music is still filling dance floors today, and has spawned no end of sub-genres including acid house, witch house, electro house, handbag house and, most recently, tropical house. But these 20 house music anthems picked by Time Out Music writers and Rinse FM DJs are the OG four-to-the-floor bangers. Play 'em loud and play 'em proud! 

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20 best house tracks ever

20
‘The Sun Can’t Compare’ – Larry Heard Presents Mr White
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‘The Sun Can’t Compare’ – Larry Heard Presents Mr White

Released in 2006, when house was being drowned out by the sounds of amped-up electro, the totemic figure of Larry Heard quietly dropped this magisterial piece of vocal-acid treasure. It’s been a DJ favourite ever since (for everyone from Ellen Allien to Julio Bashmore) thanks to its pulsing bleeps and plaintive vocal vibes.

19
‘House Nation’ – The House Master Boyz and The Rude Boy of House
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‘House Nation’ – The House Master Boyz and The Rude Boy of House

Hinged on an explosive loop of stuttering, multi-tracked vocals, this 1986 classic brought the thrill of robotic machine-funk to a wider audience after its release on seminal Chicago label Dance Mania. Those hypnotic vocal surges still send shivers down spines today.

18
‘Pacific State’ – 808 State
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‘Pacific State’ – 808 State

Few, if any, UK acts managed to nail the sound of Chicago house like Manchester’s 808 State. Not only did they find the US city’s groove in ‘Pacific State’, they also stamped on their own inventive mark, via a hyperactive bassline and a wailing saxophone hook that shouldn’t work but absolutely does.

17
‘Acid Trax’ – Phuture
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‘Acid Trax’ – Phuture

When they started mucking about with a Roland TB-303 synthesiser, Chicago trio Phuture (featuring DJ Pierre) probably didn’t realise they had stumbled across the squelchy, jagged sound of acid house – house music’s weirder, cooler, wide-eyed sibling. But they had and it sounded amazing. Released in 1987, ‘Acid Trax’ was the first and fiercest of many early tunes that went on to shape the sound of rave.

16
‘Playing with Knives’ – Bizarre Inc
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‘Playing with Knives’ – Bizarre Inc

There are plenty of early ’90s tracks that mixed house and rave to great effect, but perhaps none more so than this impossibly energetic stomper. The manic piano stabs, rushing rhythm and commanding vocals provide a soundtrack for burning more calories than any exercise video ever did.

15
‘No UFO’s’ – Model 500
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‘No UFO’s’ – Model 500

Techno master Juan Atkins also made some incredible, spacey proto-house under his electrified Model 500 moniker. ‘No UFO’s’ was decidedly, defiantly different to the abundance of smoother, Chicago-style tracks of the time (1985), making its weird, robotic grooves even more alluring.

14
‘Where Love Lives’ – Alison Limerick
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‘Where Love Lives’ – Alison Limerick

One of the finest example of how dance music could do more than just borrow hooks and melodies from pop, ‘Where Love Lives’ went one step further. UK singer Alison Limerick’s rich vocal lines are layered over upfront house beats, creating the perfect crossover record, aimed right at the mainstream, but still retaining the dance music credentials of all involved. Though it originally dropped in 1990, it wasn't until 1996 that a remix package finally sent 'Where Love Lies' into the dizzy heights of the UK Top Ten, where it really belonged.

13
‘Love Can’t Turn Around’ – Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk
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‘Love Can’t Turn Around’ – Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk

Originally a riff on a proto-house classic, Isaac Hayes’s 1975 disco foray ‘I Can’t Turn Around’, this collaboration between turbo-lunged singer Darryl Pandy and Farley Keith blew the roof off house music at the time. It still has the distinction of being a true crossover hit that’s maintained its dancefloor appeal decades on.

12
‘Rhythim is Rhythim’ – Strings of Life
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‘Rhythim is Rhythim’ – Strings of Life

Those springy piano chords, those kaleidoscopic synth stabs, those driving beats… They just always sound great. Detroit’s Derrick May (working under the name Strings of Life here) might be a techno pioneer, but he arrived there by feeding Chicago house through a futuristic, funky shredder, epitomised by this timeless track. Back in 1987, it heralded the era of rave, it accelerated house, it sounded sublime then and still does now.

11
‘Good Life’ – Inner City
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‘Good Life’ – Inner City

One of Detroit techno don Kevin Saunderson’s housier, poppier moments – under his Inner City project with singer Paris Grey – also became his most well-known. With its unashamedly upbeat vocals and colourful ’80s synths all over the place, ‘Good Life’ showed that dance music wasn’t all about heads-down raving in a dark basement club – it could also be (whisper it) happy, for no damn reason at all. In recent years its joyous hooks have been sampled by modern house stalwarts Hercules and Love Affair and pop superstar Rihanna.

10
‘Chime’ – Orbital
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‘Chime’ – Orbital

Based around a couple of simple but utterly hypnotic loops, ‘Chime’ rang out Orbital’s floaty take on house loud and clear. It also soundtracked countless chill-rooms across the land as the perfect example of ambient-leaning dance music which still had enough of a pulse to dance to, should you be able to drag yourself off the bean bag. According to legend, it cost Orbital (a.k.a. Sevenoaks-born brothers Paul and Phil Hartnoll) less than £1 to produce.

9
‘Voodoo Ray’ – A Guy Called Gerald
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‘Voodoo Ray’ – A Guy Called Gerald

Helping pioneer the UK strain of Chicago-licked acid house with 808 State wasn’t enough for Gerald Simpson, who also recorded this seminal sizzler of a track on the side. Heavily influenced by the psychedelic side of house, ‘Voodoo Ray’ also utilised trippy, tribal rhythms, making for a multicoloured post-rave odyssey that still sounds deliciously heady today.

8
‘Percolator’ – Cajmere
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‘Percolator’ – Cajmere

Having your track remixed by every DJ and their dog doesn’t necessarily mean that the original is a classic. In Cajmere’s case, however, there’s no question. The bubbling, filtered blips are so beautifully weird when mixed in with a driving Chicago rhythm that it’s impossible to ignore it. If you’ve been to more than a handful of club nights, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll have heard a DJ drop this deviant dancefloor-filler.

7
‘Deep Inside’ – Hardrive
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‘Deep Inside’ – Hardrive

This energetic club anthem bore all the musical trademarks of its creators, Louie Vega and Kenny Dope, better-known under their Masters at Work moniker: chopped-up soulful vocals samples, jazzy chords and a pulsing, carnival-tinged beat that evolved from the funkier end of disco. Impossible to resist in a club. Or anywhere else, in fact.

6
‘It’s You’ – E.S.P.
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‘It’s You’ – E.S.P.

This track from a little-known Chicago duo demonstrated that stripped-back, minimal house could still carry a killer groove. The percussive rhythms, wandering bass, occasional synth hits and whispery vocals are all beautifully simple, making for a laid-back, funky gem when mixed together.

5
‘Can You Feel It?’ – Mr Fingers
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‘Can You Feel It?’ – Mr Fingers

To those who regard electronic music as being devoid of emotion, we give you this staggering 1986 masterpiece from the saintly Larry Heard (under his Mr Fingers alias). The ultimate break-of-dawn anthem, the combination of butt-shaking low-end acid bass and bleary eyed synths make this more vivid than an acid flashback.

4
‘French Kiss’ – Lil’ Louis
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‘French Kiss’ – Lil’ Louis

This number from Chicago’s Lil’ Louis was one of the first house tracks to enjoy both considerable commercial success and heavy club airplay on its release. Even one listen to its infectious, unrelenting groove and orgasmic tempo shifts is enough to understand exactly why it got everyone so excited.

3
‘Mystery of Love’ – Fingers Inc.
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‘Mystery of Love’ – Fingers Inc.

Chicago-based production/vocal outfit Fingers Inc. may only have been active for a few years in the mid-’80s, but they released some undisputed gold during that time. Easily at the top of the pile is ‘Mystery of Love’, an epic, atmospheric vocal house journey that seduces the listener but also demands some dancefloor action.

2
‘No Way Back’ – Adonis
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‘No Way Back’ – Adonis

The mechanical, acidic take on house that Adonis perfected on ‘No Way Back’ in 1986 mixed retro-futurism with the spirit and soul of classic Chicago house, retaining more than enough funk in its lifeblood to fill any dancefloor.

1
‘Your Love’ – Frankie Knuckles / Jamie Principle
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‘Your Love’ – Frankie Knuckles / Jamie Principle

First recorded by Jamie Principle (hailing from – you've guessed it – Chicago), the ‘Godfather of House’ Frankie Knuckles made the track famous with his slightly punchier version, still featuring Principle. The arpeggiated synth-line that introduces the track signals something special is about to happen, and over seven-and-a-half minutes it certainly does, marrying a heartfelt electronic love song with heady dancefloor bliss – something that so many house tracks strive for but so few achieve. It’s been covered and reworked by many different DJs and producers over the years, but Knuckles and Principle’s version is the one that has rightly gone down in dance music history.

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Comments

20 comments
Roisto R

Joe Smooth - Promised Land

modvs1 .

Where's "That Piano Track" by Outrage (Jnr Boy's Own)? 

Dan W

"Love can't turn around" was a seminal aural moment for me nearly 30 years ago ! Still sounds good , as does Frankie Knuckles , 10 City , Raze , Turntable Orchestra and Joe Smooth.

I am still bang into house music , a DJ on Shoreditch Radio and am part of a House Music collective so Mary J saying these tunes are "crap" is unfair as music is a personal choice and I love all the brand new EDM and Tech House as much as the Old Skool tunes that started it all off some 30 years ago.

Peace

Dominic A

‘Rhythim is Rhythim’ – Strings of Life. Did you mean ‘Strings of Life’ – Rhythim is Rhythim?


"Detroit’s Derrick May (working under the name Strings of Life here)" ah, no, you didn't.

Gilbert A

I have the original record 2/20 :p <3

den l

All comments below seem valid, top 20 House tunes ever is a big claim.Top 20 of the early days seems more apt.I believe we still listen to House music in 2015 with some cracking choons out there.As far as history of House music goes then top 20 it may be.Nice to see all my vinyl on the list .As an 19 year old in 1989 in London good times were had by all .

David O

and these

DJ ROLAND CLARK - What Do I Gotta Do (Tony Loreto remix)

Andre Espeut's Quintet - Here Today (Instrumental Version)

Truby Trio feat. Marcia Montez - Alegre 2004 (Little Louie Vega's Mix)

Leroy Burgess - It's The Weekend (Rob Hardt Remix)

Fanatix Ft Sara Devine & Sterling Ensemble - Call On Me

Soulful Session Lynn Lockamy - Hostile Takeover

The Sunburst Band - Until The End Of Time

Rhemi, Hanlei - Diamond (Original Mix)

DJ Spen Ft Gary Hudgins - Don't Be Afraid

Jihad Muhammed - Movement Blues

Vince Watson - Eminesence

Portia Monique - Never Give You Up (Joey Negro Extended Mix)

Marc Evans - Given Me Joy(Knee Deep Classic mix)

David O

Some of these ones perhaps

Joey Washington - Just Us

UBQ project - Feel my soul

Michael Watford - Holdin' On (Orginal Shelter Mix)

Ragtyme - I Can't Stay Away

Fast Eddie - Can You Still Dance

The Night Writers - Let The Music (Use You)

Cassio - Baby Love (Asja Iman)

Elements Of Life featuring Lisa Fischer & Cindy Mixelle - Into My Life (You Brought The Sunshine)

Trevor Loveys - Elevate Your Mind (Real Deep Remix)

Tommye - I Need To Go Away (All By Myself)

String Free - Phortune

Erick More Morillo - Dancin'

Sound Stream - Love Town


Chucks

This article should be titled The 20 best house tracks for 50 and over. Most of these songs are crap and have stayed around only because most of the people that originally listened to them are still alive and haven't developed their taste past the age they were then. It's really sad. If this is how house music is presented how can we expect anyone to understand what's great about it. Most of the producers here are just beat jockeys with no musical talent at all.

John C

You clearly dont know your house music Kieron G as "you got the love" by Candi Staton was just a commercial rip off of Frankies "your love". Great list of real house music.

Chucks

@John C You mean  the cover of Jamie Principle's Your Love? Who doesn't know about house music? I think that'd be you. 

Kieron G

Usual list of DJ tosh. This list would be better called either ‘Top 20 seminal tracks’ or perhaps more precisely ‘Top 20 tracks I've chosen (as a snooty elitist DJ) to impress others snooty elitist DJs and show them how much obscure music I've listened to.’

That said that Pacific state, Playing with knives, Where love lives, Strings of life, Voodo ray,  and Can you feel it are all good tunes

If you want some good upbeat house music try

-‘It's just a feeling’ by Terrorize (Radio edit)

– ‘Closer to all your dreams’ by Rhythm Quest (Piano mix)

-For something really cool check out the Youtube video of these two mixed together via ‘Bally’s Sweatbox Arbroath 1992’

-‘Don't go by Awesome 3 (Kicks like a mule mix) or the even better remix of that i.e. Don't go by Third Dimension (Rhythm Masters club mix)

and something more soulful…

-‘You've got the love’ by  The source and Candi Staton.

Why don't you throw some more good upbeat tunes into the mix??

Kevin S

Would have replaced Bizzare inc with anything from Robert Owens, and included Virgo - Ace and Sandman and Vincent Floyd. Would have replaced hard drive by Logic the warning, also Jovonn always missed off these sorts of lists. Glad to see ESP on there.

GrahamSouthLondon

Not forgetting the 'said' track also formed the backbone to the club anthem 'You got the love' The Source feat' Candi Staton.


FK:Always.

New House Music

Some great well remembered introductions to house music for me back in the late 80's and a couple I never knew. Nice post!

www.marqamusic.com