‘I Can’t Stay Away’

Freewheeling through time and space, Kris Needs continues his adventures in sound. This month: ‘I Can’t Stay Away’ by Ragtyme Featuring Byron Stingily

Recent weeks have seen me trawling through some early Chicago house 12-inch records for raw gems that stoked America’s mid-1980s electronic revolution, soon after to roger the UK senseless. My rummaging was inspired initially by writing about Nina Walsh’s teenage adventures at London’s earliest acid house nights for our book (which include meeting lifelong compadre Mr Andrew Weatherall under a bass bin at Shoom and a surreal Gary Glitter encounter at Future).

Records like Phuture’s ‘Acid Trax’ and Marshall Jefferson’s ‘Move Your Body’ will always be benchmark-cementing anthems. But as with any decent movement, there was pure gold to be found in the obscure independent releases I spent much of the last century hunting down, before the internet made it easy. These earliest house tracks from the genre’s anarchic infancy now sound like alien transmissions from a future planet – drenched in DIY punk energy and uniquely melancholic beauty.

Dating from 1987, ‘I Can’t Stay Away’ by Ragtyme Featuring Byron Stingily was one of six 12s released on the tiny Bright Star imprint run by Raymond Barney – the Chicago record store lynchpin who went on to head up the Dance Mania label.

Since colliding with it in the bins at New York’s Vinyl Mania emporium (where Larry Levan’s saucer-eyed crowd flocked the morning after to procure whatever monster he’d unleashed hours earlier), I’ve rated ‘I Can’t Stay Away’ among the era’s most deeply devastating house anthems and pivotal companion to the darker-hued wonders being fermented by Fingers Inc and Master C&J.

Future Ten City singer Byron unleashes a tour de force performance of spontaneous gospel intensity. The accompanying roll call features Marshall Jefferson, who co-wrote with Byron Stingily and produced the record, Frankie Knuckles mixing with his Powerhouse in mind, and remixes by Lil Louis and, most cataclysmically, kamikaze decks-devil Ron Hardy at his inferno-like Muzic Box.

The unfettered catharsis of house music’s earliest incarnations charges this record’s basic ingredients like a lightsabre up the tradesman’s, as radioactive cello-like synth motif, spooky space-strings and killer drum machine eruptions spike Byron’s torrential testifying.

It’s impossible to imagine the mayhem these mixes ignited at their bespoke niteries. On all four, that metronomic kick alone would’ve destroyed the floor like a jackhammer, with Frankie’s dubbed-out Power-Pella and Powerhouse versions reaching transcendent peaks before Louis adds supernatural harmonies to the incessant title chorale, and Ron focuses on the song’s melodic passion minus drums.

I’ve just seen this miraculous tune going for only a few quid on Discogs. This has been a public service announcement.

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