Friday Night Tune: Lil’ Louis – French Kiss (Diamond Records)

Lil’ Louis was probably the first big name house producer I ever became familiar with, and my introduction wasn’t through a local club or DJ, or through catching him on radio in the dead hours of the night. Nor did I first come across him in the pages of the music press. My first experience of Lil’ Louis was from sitting on the sofa on a Saturday morning, watching TV.

British music television had always been pretty bad but by the late eighties it was slowly beginning to change. This was partly due, I think, to the way in which by the middle of the decade MTV had become such a huge and important entity. Its clout was such that even staid, dull, British stations could smell the advertising revenue, and there was a an understanding that music could be trusted to formats that didn’t just echo Top Of The Pops or The Old Grey Whistle Test. Sure, there had been shows like The Tube way back at the start of the eighties, but usually if you wanted access to the music you actually liked, you had to look elsewhere.

The first place I ever heard Lil’ Louis was one the long running Chart Show, a very MTV mix of endless videos and little else. What marked this show out from the others is that it didn’t just concentrate on the top ten, it included charts culled from various genres, which seemed to appear randomly depending on whether the relevant researcher had managed to do their job that week. Being the late 80s we mostly watched it for the indy charts, a Saturday morning tradition which grew in importance as punk, grunge and shoegazing became bigger and bigger. It seems strange that the quality of an entire weekend could be defined by whether or not you got to see a 90 second slice of a video by The Boo Radleys or Ride (Actually, it was rarely a video – often there were none and the track was played over a still publicity shot of the particular bands looking moody), but we were easily pleased back then. Occasionally, very occasionally, you might get My Bloody Valentine or Mudhoney – that was like winning the lottery.

In those early days, before we had started our love affair with weird, bleepy music, the dance charts were suffered more than enjoyed. Most of the music was pretty much as you would expect, and a lot of it would have been ignored as often used it as an excuse for sneaking away to smoke fags and jabber about Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. Who were shite. For some reason, though, French Kiss stuck in the brain. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was the video, full of toys, colour and (not so) subliminal imagery. A lot of it was the tune itself. It was so very different from everything else we were hearing. Repetitive, mechanical, but very much full of life and soul. It was starkly separated from almost everything else on the show. We hated it. And yet, every time it was on it was listened to. It was beginning to make its way into our brains and that first, utterly important, change to our neural networks was under way.

When, a couple of years later, I really began to get into electronica, it was a tune that kept cropping up. It would appear on mixes by people like Derrick May, a huge and long time supporter of the tune, and somebody who still plays it today. It would appear through the strobes and dry ice in many of the clubs I started going to, usually to major effect, and once I started playing out myself it was a tune I abused far more often than I should have.

Interestingly it remains one of those house tunes which achieved complete and genuine cross over between the underground and the mainstream. That’s something you cannot say for a lot of true, authentic Chicago house which still often appears to be regarded as a curiosity by the music world. I can’t claim I loved everything Lil’ Louis ever did – once I began to immerse myself in the music my tastes quickly ran off at a tangent – but I’ll take this tune all the way down with me. It was the key which unlocked other doors, doors I never really knew existed until I came to them. You probably never forget your first loves – even the ones you try to disguise by pulling their pigtails and pretending you just don’t want to know. Thank God for that, otherwise I might still be listening to Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and be a stranger to a larger, odder, and much more colourful world. And they say that television is bad for you…