It was Christmas 1990.
I received two gifts from my great aunt, a lovely woman who always bought gifts from the sometimes ridiculous Christmas lists I gave her every year. These gifts would wind up blowing my 12-year-old mind: a paperback copy of Stephen King’s Misery and a cassette of Deee-Lite’s debut album, World Clique.
For the remainder of my winter break, I basically did nothing but read that book and listen to this album. And to this day, when I hear certain songs on World Clique, I am reminded immediately of specific scenes in Misery. Yes, I am aware that I am weird.
World Clique remained in constant rotation for me for a good year after I first got it and, subsequently, Deee-Lite became one of my favorite bands. I was eager to hear, and see, what they would come up with next. I devoured their second, and highly underrated, album, Infinity Within, which was released in 1992. And the first concert I ever attended without my parents was a show during their 1994 tour supporting their third, and final, album, Dewdrops in the Garden. To be 16 and allowed to stay out until 1 A.M. on a school night dancing with drag queens as Lady Miss Kier performed while wearing butterfly wings — pretty fucking amazing.
Deee-Lite formed in New York City in 1986 and was comprised of vocalist Lady Miss Kier (Kieren Kirby of Youngstown, OH); Super DJ Dmitry (Dmitry Brill of Kiev, Ukraine) and Jungle DJ Towa Towa Tei (Doug Wa-Chung of Tokyo, Japan). Their unique mix of house, techno, pop, funk and rap, along with their retro- and drag queen-inspired look, made them extremely popular amongst New York City clubsters. The release of World Clique, and it’s hit first single, “Groove is in the Heart,” brought the NYC club scene to the rest of the world.
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Released on August 7, 1990, World Clique found its first success in the UK, peaking at #14 on the UK Top 40 chart that September. It then entered the U.S. charts, popping up on the Billboard 200 at #180 for the week of September 15. With the success “Groove is in the Heart,” World Clique made its way up the Billboard 200 chart for two more months, finally peaking at #20 for the week of November 24. The charting of the next few singles helped the album’s sales grow and it achieved RIAA Gold certification that December. The album remained on the Billboard 200 for an impressive 41 weeks, eventually exiting in June 1991.
“Groove in the Heart,” is arguably the most well-known track from this album — and probably of Deee-Lite’s entire ouevre. It reached the top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and UK singles charts, and number 1 on the U.S. Hot Dance Club Play chart. In addition to original lyrics, beats and Lady Kier’s surprisingly soulful vocals, the track sampled several songs, including Herbie Hancock’s “Bring Down the Birds,” Vernon Burch’s “Get Up,” Billy Preston’s “Uptight,” and Eddie Jefferson’s “Psychedelic Sally.”
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In addition to “Groove is in the Heart,” several other equally fantastic tracks were released as singles and did quite well on the dance charts. Those include:
“Power of Love”
and “What Is Love?”
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Lady Miss Kier, DJ Dmitri and DJ Towa Towa Tei relied on some funk and hip-hop heavyweights to make World Clique the special album it turned out to be. Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest provides the rap on “Groove is in the Heart”; legendary James Brown collaborators Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker make an appearances on “Smile On,” “Groove is in the Heart” and “Try Me On…I’m Very You,” one of my favorite tracks on the album; and funk legend Bootsy Collins (who also happens to be from my hometown) appears on four tracks playing guitar, bass and providing backing vocals. Collins and his Rubber Band also toured with Deee-Lite as their backing band on their first world tour. Collins, Wesley and Parker would again work with Deee-Lite, appearing on several tracks on Infinity Within.
I still regularly listen to World Clique and I have started to collect any 12″ vinyl singles from the album I can find, though they’re not as easy to come by as I would’ve thought. Deee-Lite may be considered by most to be just a dance/house band, but I consider them to be more than that. I don’t know if I would go so far as to say they were visionaries, but they were definitely pioneers of their genre and much of the world of dance music wouldn’t have developed without them.
I miss you, Deee-Lite. You will always be deee-groovy in my book.