There you are on a Saturday night, in the depths of a club. Humidity hangs in the air; tingling bodies jostle for position on the dancefloor; other things that you traditionally associate with nightclubs are happening because you're in a nightclub and that's what happens in nightclubs. For an hour or so now the music's been rigidly instrumental, just a clanking lattice of percussion and stabs, curlicues of curdled melody and flurry-punches of sub-bass. And then, like day break, like grey skies into blue, there's a vocal. There's something real and human and there.
For all that we tell ourselves that restraint and minimalism are important artist tools, that, no, we don't need to hear songs in a club to have a good time, deep down we're all longing for something that's even tangentially linked to the verse-chorus-verse structure we grew up with. Man cannot sing along to "Inspector Norse" only.
With that in mind, we've decided to put together this list of the ten best male vocal house records ever. You'll notice that there's no Robert Owens or Jamie Principle here, and a few other omissions that might initially seem glaring. Whilst the list can't purport to solid objectivity, I can confirm that as of right now the following tracks definitely are the best male vocal house records ever. Enjoy, and don't forget to remind us about what we've missed out.
1. Kerri Chandler - Rain
I tried to be really CLEVER and FUNNY with this one and replicate in writing how Kerri Chandler punctuates every line of his 1998 deep house classic with a yelped cry of the word "RAIN!" but it was actually quite difficult to do it without the result looking something like, "On Kerri Chandler's 1998 deep house classic RAIN he punctuates every line with a yelped cry RAIN of the word "RAIN!" which is incredibly ugly and difficult to read. So now I'm doubly sorry.
2. Kenny Bobien - U Gave Me Love (Unreleased Mix)
A fun insight into life at VICE: the happiest moment of my time at the company so far came on a Friday afternoon when the former editor of VICE UK commandeered the office stereo for the last hour of the working week, winked at me from across the room, and played this gospel house classic —as I sipped on a lukewarm beer and cracked on with some vital admin work, I was floating on air. Bobien's ode to the glory of God's loving glow is enough to reduce even the most ardent of Dawkins-fans to idol-worship. It's a truly thrilling vocal performance that's both feather-light and strangely forceful. In a better, kinder, less dogshit world, this would have been one of those house records that even Scott Mills bangs out on the Radio 1 drivetime show in the height of summer when the whole of the UK smells like Piz Buin and hot chips.
3. Aaron-Carl - Crucified
As far as opening lines in house records go, "Drowning in despair/looking for a love that isn't there/a cry for life is over/see the tears flow like a river/ashes stone me from behind," takes some beating. "Crucified" is an incredibly dark, despairing and destroyed record, the polar opposite of Bobien's song of praise. This is as introspective—and beautiful—as house music gets. Carl's vocal carries with it the necessary emotional heft needed to sell lines like "I might as well be crucified/drowning, drowning, drowning, drowning for love," which in the hands of a lessor producer, arranger, and performer could come across as nothing more than teenage solipsism. If nothing else, it's easily the best eschatological deep house record of the 90s. That's undeniable.
4. Romanthony — Let Me Show You Love (Gerd's Crooklyn Full Vox Mix)
Putting together a list of the best male house records without including the dearly departed Romanthony would, in effect, be a crime against humanity. Known to a million mums worldwide as the bloke who sung on "One More Time" by Daft Punk, Romanthony's back catalogue is stuffed to the gills with screamer after screamer. Picking one song by one of the most distinctive, emotive, and incredible vocalists to ever commit themselves to vinyl wasn't easy—"The Wanderer", "Make This Love Right" and "Hold On" were all in very strong contention for a slot on the list—but in the end we've plumped for the most emotive of the lot. "Let Me Show You Love" is a huge, open-hearted banger beyond belief, a sensationally, sincerely OTT classic that'll leave you tear-soaked in the smoking area. The Gerd remix is our favourite of the hundreds out there, nearly all of which are great, but this one just pips it: big, bold, brash vocal house at it's absolute best.
5. Lenny Williams - Gotta Lotta Luv (House Mix)
I'll admit that outside of this song I know literally nothing about Lenny Williams. I'm prepared to stay in the dark about Lenny and his life because, fuck me, if he's got other songs as transcendentally fucking brilliant as this then I've wasted my entire life listening to records by people who aren't Lenny Williams. And that'd be awful. "Gotta Lotta Luv" rides for eight incredible minutes over the one of the best piano house chord sequences ever—which, given that piano house is God's own music, is no small claim—and Williams' immaculately delivered loverman vocals. He sounds like squirting some really, really expensive, really, really nice smelling handwash over silk sheets, on the balmiest evening of the year. The song's so good that I've decided to take up driving lessons just so in about a year's time I can drive up and down the promenade in Great Yarmouth at dusk banging it out. If there's a bigger compliment you can pay a record then I'd love to hear it.
6. Basil Hardhaus Feat. Burrell - "Black Man" (Nicholas Black & Proud Mix)
After Lenny's got us all Sanxed up, we thought it'd make sense to cool down with this churning slab of ice-cold basement-party-friendly tech-tinged-house taken from one of Nicholas' fantastic Nu Groove re-edit EPs from a few years back. The excellently named Basil Hardhaus's Burrell featuring original is a percussion-heavy slow-mo tribal kind of thing, which is interesting enough, but Nicholas takes it on a mazy 70 yard run before smashing it into the top left corner with a piano-heavy stomper that drips with MDMA-stinking sweat.
7. Blaze - Lovlee Dae
As YouTube user Reyna Quintana so eloquently puts it, "HOW COULD U DESCRIBE BEING HAPPY BETTER THAN THIS??? AND 4 A BETTER REASON!!! PERFECTION, ABSOLUTE PERFECTION!!!"
8. Yohan Square - Love of Life (Genesis Mix)
This PLO Man favourite's made the grade because the enunciation on display is absolutely next level. You know listening to E-40 is always a total joy because of the absolutely bizarre way he rolls words round his mouth—adding and subtracting syllables at will, stringing together nearly-rhymes, conjuring up a lexicon of his own? The mysterious Yohan Square was on a similar wave for a bit back in 1991. No spoilers but if you've never heard this one before prepare to find yourself annoying friends, family, and colleagues with your impersonation of Square himself. An oddball classic.
9. CeCe Rogers - No Love Lost (Tribal Mix)
Everything about this BBQ-appropriate sizzler screams OVER THE TOP. CeCe plays the male diva role to perfection here, instilling every word with the kind of urgency and intensity that'd be laughable and hammy if it didn't feel so fucking real. It's a classic story of, well, losing love, told with the kind of theatrical aplomb which connects all the records in this list. If you've recently been dumped and you whack this on, you're probably quite liable to be walking around with the words "I ONCE BELIEVED IN PERFECT LOVE/I THOUGHT THAT YOU WERE FROM UP ABOVE/BUT NOW I KNOW AND THE TRUTH IS CLEAR/HEARTBREAK IS REAL AND HAS LEFT ME IN TEARS" inked onto your back within a few hours.
10. Ten City - That's the Way Love Is (Underground Mix)
We'll end with the GOAT. If you need me, or anyone else for that matter, to explain to you why this record's so incredible, you don't deserve the gift of hearing.