‘Nobody believed I sang it’: how Move Your Body blew dancefloors away

‘Nobody believed I sang it’: how Move Your Body blew dancefloors away

Marshall Jefferson, songwriter, producer

I first heard the term “house music” in Chicago in 1983 when I was working at a post office. There was this girl there who dressed crazy, with her hair different colours. She said she was going to the Music Box, where they played “house music”. I went along and the bass was so loud it physically moved you back a couple of inches. I got into house from that point on. Jesse Saunders made the first house record – 1984’s On and On – but lots of us thought we could do better.

I took out a loan to buy a sequencer, which allowed me to play something at 40bpm then speed it up to 120bpm, so I’d sound like a musician. I was working the graveyard shift at the postal sorting machine when I had the idea for Move Your Body. I remembered it all the way home then put the keyboards, bass and drums into the sequencer. My post office friends Curtis McClain, Rudy Forbes and Thomas Carr and I laid down a rough mix in 30 minutes. I wrote some lyrics real quick. Curtis was the best singer so he sang “Gotta have house music all night long” while we sang backing. We never realised those words would become a cornerstone of the genre.

At first, my DJ friends weren’t too impressed. But when Ron Hardy at the Music Box played a cassette of it six times in a row, the crowd went mad. DJ and producer Frankie Knuckles somehow got a copy and soon Larry Levan, a DJ in New York, had heard it. After it reached the UK, journalists started coming over to write about the “house music” phenomenon. It was the 1980s version of viral!

Move Your Body was the first house recording made with piano on it but Love Can’t Turn Around [by Farley “Jackmaster” Funk and Jesse Saunders featuring Darryl Pandy] came out before it. Some people said Move Your Body wasn’t house – Larry Sherman at Trax Records disliked it so much, I had to pay him to press it up. I gave it to him to release under our band name On the House, but he put it out as Marshall Jefferson, which caused a lot of problems with the other guys.

I’m amazed and humbled that it’s still popular after nearly 40 years. It’s been sampled by so many artists. Technotronic didn’t technically sample Move Your Body for This Beat Is Technotronic. They just played the riff. I still hear that riff everywhere.

Curtis McClain, singer

On the graveyard shift, we used to listen to music on our Walkmans. Rudy was a keyboard player, Tom threw down little rhymes, I’d come in singing Top 40 stuff and Marshall would chime in with the harmonies. That’s how we all connected.

When we recorded Move Your Body, I’d worked all night and then had to take my girlfriend home because she’d spent the night at my house. So I was tired when I finally got to the studio. I arrived as Rudy was finishing the piano intro. Marshall handed me a piece of paper with the lyrics. I didn’t know about house music then and I wasn’t feeling it at all. The song had no conventional bridges or choruses.

At first I sang it in a smooth Top 40 R&B voice, but Marshall wanted to hear more of a twang. I’d just worked an eight-hour shift on that dusty ninth floor, but tried my best to belt out the screaming vocals. Later, when Ron Hardy mixed it, he had me adding harmonies from the basement while he was mixing. I’m a pretty good singer but, to me, Move Your Body sounds like I can’t sing! Something in that vocal obviously connected though.

After it came out credited only to Marshall, nobody believed I’d sung on it, because my voice is normally deeper. All these other people in Chicago were getting bookings by claiming it was them who sang on it. Finally, when we did a show at the Power House, people realised it was me, but as recently as two years ago Move Your Body was listed as eighth in a music magazines’s Greatest Dance Songs of All Time – with the vocal wrongly credited to someone else.

Tom was never interested in going on the road. Rudy went back to the post office and died in 2001. I walked away from music for 20 years, but now I’m doing shows again. I’m proud to have been one of the four people who made Move Your Body. I just want my granddaughter to be able to say: “My granddaddy did that.”

Source: theguardian.com