It’s the eternal question at gay trivia nights. Who invented disco? America did, but Europe picked up the glittery mirror ball and ran with it. So what if it’s been cheapened and kitschified by endless Disco Party telediscs, because by the 1990s a dance floor gem by a NYC-based trio tore up the rulebook: Deee-Lite’s Groove Is In The Heart was an addictive mish-mash of street groove, sampledelia and dollops of psychedelic strangeness that you couldn’t help tap your foot in appreciation and wonder at its one-off genius.
Just the one, dear?
Some records change the world. Some records get the world on the dance floor. Deee-Lite’s Groove Is In The Heart is among the latter.
After the Disco Sucks tried to outlaw the genre with more than a whiff of racism and homophobia, disco lived on through various rebrandings, many of them forced underground by the Reagan and Thatcher era of the conservative ’80s. You can’t keep a good groove down though, and with Madonna, Pet Shop Boys and, to a lesser extent, Erasure keeping the flame alive, by the 1990s they had paved the way for Chicago house and Detroit techno via old-school hip-hop and nu-disco.
Hailing from a little further down the Eastern Seaboard, wildly dressed combo Deee-lite emerged from post-disco New York in a blaze of sex and self-sufficiency, taking the scene’s trashy, kitsch aesthetic and turning it into a blaze of pansexual pop art.
“We formed Deee-lite just as the musical flames of house music and hip-hop were blazing,” the Lady told DJ Mag, certainly not for turning. “Even with these two forces, we were also absorbing ’60s and ’70s jazz and funk, ’70s and ’80s electronic music, and ’60s acid rock. I consider myself a musical intern for life.”
When Deee-Lite blasted into the musicsphere in 1990, many mistook the colourful combo for nostalgia-wanking upstarts trying to revitalise the passive flower-children ethos and artifice their parents embraced two or three decades prior. Reductively, it trivialised the truly forward-thinking momentum of their music.
Straight from the halls of NYC’s bygone super clubs to God’s ears, Deee-Lite’s bohemian philosophy imagined the denizens of the global village collectively bopping their heads to a kaleidoscopic fusion of funkadelic house beats, giddy samples, back-to-nature rhythms, and a stream of coy lyrics with big-themed ambitions.
You can’t craft songs like theirs without a good ear for timing, a strong sense of camp, and the stamina for digging deep into the crates. This was electronic dance music in a language everyone could understand, and no 45 delivered the group’s world-conscious word as colourfully and open-heartedly as Groove Is In The Heart, which flew up the charts while goosing paisley shirts and platform heels from Roundhay to Salvador.
The group’s post-modern hybrid helped create one of the most cheerful songs of the 1990s. Because as long as Deee-Lite was popular, even if it was only for 15 short minutes, this crazy world seemed like a much happier place.
Groove Is In The Heart was the first single from the Deee-Lite debut, World Clique, and features a drum loop nicked from Billy Preston, Funkadelic’s Bootsy Collins on bass, and a guest rap from A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip, which came about after Deee-Lite had opened for his homies the Jungle Brothers.
Jazz ledge Herbie Hancock also received a writing credit because one of the tracks Groove samples is his 1966 composition Bring Down The Birds. “It’s weird, but Elektra initially didn’t even want to put out Groove Is In The Heart because they didn’t like it,” Kier later admitted. But the label gave the group “complete creative control,” and relented — the song was just too infectious and the frenetic, eye-popping video too rich to deny, and a gateway for anyone itching to let their freak flag fly.
Indeed, buoyed by that psychedelic promo, Lady Miss Kier became something of a proto Spice Girl, while the song itself became a worldwide smash and even topped the charts Down Under in Australia. In Britain it was only held off the top spot by a Levi’s boosted telly tie-in: Steve Miller’s spliffy ole chestnut The Joker.
Thirty-three years on, Groove Is In The Heart remains an indelible crowd-pleaser, played at parties for all eternity, with Slant Magazine placing it in third place as one of The 100 Best Dance Songs Of All Time.
I couldn’t ask for another.