One of the best-known artists of the freestyle era, Stevie B. actually topped the charts with a slow jam, “Because I Love You (The Postman Song),” but his dance numbers are house party–perfect. “Party Your Body” was Stevie B.’s first single and proved him to be a triple threat, as he also wrote and produced it. “Party Your Body” is also one of the best examples of how many different styles collided in freestyle. There’s a lot going on in this song that points to the influence of early hip-hop DJs, producer Arthur Baker and recording group Art of Noise. But one of the key elements in “Party Your Body” are the horns, which illustrate the impact Latin American music had on freestyle.
In the video for their breakthrough single “Fascinated,” Company B are a vision of the ’80s with spiky, platinum blond wigs and coordinated turquoise leather outfits that often featured such MTV-era trends as the fringed jacket and strapless dress. They’re fierce. As for the song, “Fascinated” starts with haunting disco vocals that recall what Donna Summer was doing on “I Feel Love” and “Love to Love You Baby.” Then there’s a drastic shift in the vibe when the chorus hits and the vocals kick into full power.
Nice & Wild might not be an instantly recognizable name, but for ’80s dance music lovers, the song “Diamond Girl” is. This 1986 single hits an electro groove with Kraftwerkian heavy breathing that gets far sexier than “Tour de France” did and a beat that’s more hip-hop than disco. It’s a busy song that incorporates lyrics in English and Spanish, a strange quasi-rap moment, a guitar solo and some cut-up vocals that imitate what a turntablist might do. For some reason, all those elements work, particularly if you’re listening to the “disco version.”
It’s hard to believe that a project with a name that’s so Nietzschean would be associated with freestyle, but that’s the case with Will to Power. Helmed by producer Bob Rosenberg, a Miami DJ who was affiliated with radio station Hot 105, Will to Power emerged in the mid-1980s and essentially bridged freestyle with Miami bass. “Dreamin’” is euphoric, with echoing vocals and repeated lyrics that become hypnotic by the end of the song. While the vocalists have changed over the years, Will to Power remain active.
John Robie is an underrated figure in dance music. He worked closely with Arthur Baker on Afrika Bambaataa’s seminal hip-hop tracks “Planet Rock” and “Looking for the Perfect Beat.” Later in the decade, he co-produced “Shellshock” with New Order. In the most un-humble opinion of this writer, though, his greatest achievement is “One More Shot,” a 1982 dance tune credited to C-Bank that draws from what he did on “Planet Rock” and points to what he would do with New Order yet remains a completely different beast. Singer Jenny Burton belts pleas for another chance with such passion that it becomes the most intense of earworms, the sort of song that can spend days burrowing in your brain. The vocals are also spaced out well throughout the song’s eight minutes and 19 seconds, making it very DJ-friendly. It’s a perfect dance song and encapsulates the intertwining styles that morphed into freestyle.
Today, India is best known as a salsa singer; she won a Latin Grammy for her album Intensamente con Canciones de Juan Gabriel in 2016. However, her 1990 debut solo record, Breaking Night, is the link between freestyle and house with production from Jellybean Benitez, “Little” Louie Vega and Mantronik. The standout cut from the album is the Benitez-produced “Dancing on the Fire” with its dramatic synth lines and India’s intense vocal workout. Originally released as a single in 1988, “Dancing on the Fire” is pretty late in the game for freestyle, which began to wane at the start of the ’90s, and the singer isn’t all that well-known for her work in this area. Outside of her salsa records, India is widely recognized in the house music world, particularly for the now-classic Masters at Work track “I Can’t Get No Sleep.”
Confession time: In 1987, when I wasn’t even old enough to go to the mall by myself, I was obsessed with Exposure, the debut album from Exposé. That cassette spent so much time in my Walkman that I knew every lyric on the album, much to the chagrin of family members who had to listen to me sing along on road trips. Exposé were aspirational, not just for fourth-graders in the San Fernando Valley but for ’80s dance artists. Exposurespawned four top-10 singles in the United States. The version of “Point of No Return” that’s on this album, though, isn’t the original. The song was initially released two years earlier with Alejandra Lorenzo, who left the group before the full-length debut, on vocals. The 1987 version was recorded with singer Jeanette Jurado, who remains a member of Exposé. The two versions are similar enough that it’s hard to make a call on which one is better. I prefer the more dynamic vocals on the 1987 version and the more club-oriented production of the 1985 version.