The most extraordinary dance hit of 1989, possibly even the decade, was all thanks to the twisted genius of one man from Chicago. As a club DJ Marvin Burns was one of the original core of nightclub hosts who specialised in spinning the exciting new style of dance music for which his home city was rapidly becoming famous. Branching out as a house music producer and creator in his own right he became Lil’ Louis and by early 1989 had made the US club charts with tracks such as War Games and Jupiter.
His place in music history was however assured by the creation of a track he called French Kiss. Running a full ten and a half minutes in its uncut and unedited form, the track was in essence as simple a musical creation as you can get. Just one note – F-natural – repeated over and over again in a hypnotic rhythm with what at first appear to be nothing more than the occasional electronic effect and some acid house beats to accompany it. Except that after five and a half minutes the track does something that no club track at the time did. It slows down. And keeps getting slower. As the pace drops, something new enters the mix. The sound of a woman moaning softly. Then louder and more intensely in a manner reminiscent of something we are not supposed to mention in front of the children. As she reaches a noisy and erotic climax French Kiss grinds to a dead halt, pauses for breath and then starts back up again, the beats and repetitive chord gaining quickly in tempo before ending at double speed and itself spiralling off into oblivion.
Put simply, French Kiss is an aural document of the pace, rhythm, structure and sounds of a a satisfyingly sticky romp between the bedsheets. All at once it is the rudest and most provocative record ever made. And it was a massive British hit single to boot.
All it took was a handful of spins on some of Radio One’s specialist music shows, although John Peel only aired the first five minutes before noting his disappointment that a track that sounded so good “deteriorates into the usual tedious sound of a woman having an orgasm” as if this was something that happened every day in acid house records. Granted Je T’Aime, Moi Non Plus and Love To Love You Baby had also featured the sounds of female orgasms they were a subtle and integral part of the melody. French Kiss just belted the listener in the face with it. Released commercially by FFRR records, the single crashed into the singles chart at Number 10 in its first week on sale and began a steady rise still further.
Naturally this caused Radio One a few headaches, although not for the reasons you’d expect. Given that at the time it was only five years since the furore over Relax and just two since George Michael’s I Want Your Sex had been banned from daytime airplay it was perhaps surprising that it wasn’t the literal mid-song climax of French Kiss which caused an issue, merely the fact that track was only available in its full 10 minute version as a 12-inch single and for that reason alone impossible to schedule on the Sunday afternoon chart show. So for the first time ever Radio One arranged their own shorter edit of the track, cutting it down to four minutes but keeping the moans and groans of Mrs Lil’ Louis intact. Although as the focal point of the track they could hardly avoid it surely. As the single climbed the chart even the label became persuaded of the need to make the single more accessible and by mid-August had themselves issued the four minute radio edit on 7-inch, just in time for the instrumental track to rise to the dizzy heights of Number 2 – only denied the chance to be one of the more astounding Number One hits of all time by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers.
Around the same time the track became one of the few records in chart history to appear on both the singles and albums chart simultaneously, a budget priced collection of five remixes entitled French Kisses hitting Number 35 on the long players chart. It was the first chart album ever to consist of nothing more than remixes of the same track – although Grace Jones had previously charted with an album made up of differing recordings of Slave To The Rhythm.
Off the back of this British success the track became a hit in many other territories too, albeit in a radically different form. Persuaded that a ten minute instrumental was unlikely to fluke its way into the charts in any other country, Lil Louis’ allowed a vocal version to be made, featuring singer Shawn Christopher performing a rather banal song over the track whilst the impact of the orgasm is dulled somewhat by the addition of a squealing saxophone to try to distract from the naughty bits. It comes as something of a shock to hear the “Short But Sweet Radio Vocal Mix” treated as the standard version of the track (without the orgasm to boot!) across Europe given the way it was first time around a British hit in quite literally untouched form.
The legacy of French Kiss helped Lil’ Louis to one further hit single in early 1990, his philosophical musings on the fragility of relationships on I Called U becoming a Top 20 hit in the first weeks of the new year. The closest we’ve come since to a revival came in the summer of 2000 when Josh Wink incorporated elements of French Kiss in his track How’s Your Evening So Far.
Lil’ Louis continues to tour and perform to this day, although his most recent headlines were rather negative ones thanks to a legal dispute which blew up when he sacked off a planned Australian tour in 2012 and left his promoters severely out of pocket. In early 2015 he suffered permanent hearing loss when an air horn was activated near him whilst soundchecking for a performance in Manchester. Rightly remembered in his home country as one of the founding godfathers of house music, in Britain he is the man whose musical representation of sweet music between the sheets became a blush-inducing smash hit and yet somehow never once managed to trouble the censors.
Text adapted from The Top 40 Annual 1989 – Coming Soon!