For anyone who was going to clubs or just paying attention to the radio, the two opening notes are instantly recognizable, and now iconic.
Played on the upper octaves of a keyboard and punctuated with a male baritone voice offering a sassy “ow!“, the distinctive chords are the opening statement of Black Box‘s 1990 smash “Everybody Everybody,” which was amidst its three week run at No. 1 on Dance Club Songs 32 years ago today, July 20, 1990.
A mid-tempo mix of keyboard, simmering percussion and a peppy brass section, “Everybody Everybody” was part of a succession of hits by the Italian production trio, who’d previously made music under the name Groove Groove Melody. Before its release on May 8, 1990, the group’s debut album, Dreamland, had already yielded the global club smashes “Ride On Time” and “I Don’t Know Anybody Else,” with the songs helping propel Dreamland to the Billboard 200, where it peaked at No. 56 in November of 1990, ultimately spending 61 weeks on the chart.
But while the album had already yielded major hits, its third single would be its most successful — and most controversial. Released in March of 1990, the intensely catchy “Everybody Everybody” was a dancefloor smash and slow-burn chart success, rising out of clubland to Top 40 radio and debuting at No. 77 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August of 1990, where it peaked at No. 8 that October.
It was happening amidst — and as part of — a big moment for house music, which at the turn of the decade was experiencing its first significant crossover moment in the U.S. Leading this trend were acts like New York’s C&C Music Factory and European outfits including Technotronic and SNAP!, who along with Black Box were at the forefront of a musical revolution that in the following years would include CeCe Peniston, Culture Beat, Robin S, Corona, La Bouche, Haddaway, Real McCoy and other beatmakeres.
Together, all of these artists and their grip of high BPM hits brought house music made for nightclubs to the radio, presenting a genre that had previously only had major commercial success in Europe to millions of fresh ears. This moment was particularly significant given that house music’s origins in the underground, where it was forged largely by Black men, many of them gay, as the soundtrack for safe spaces where members of historically marginalized communities could gather to dance, socialize and experience social freedoms not typically available in more commercials venues.
Forged in the late ’80s in Chicago by pioneers like Frankie Knuckles, Ron Hardy and Marshall Jefferson, house music then crossed over to Europe, where it split off into a flurry of subgenres while becoming a sensation in emerging dance hubs like London and Ibiza. Thus, by the time house music crossed back over to the U.S. and hit radio, much of it had been filtered through European sensibilities and production techniques, gaining a pop slant while often maintaining the soaring, gospel style vocals that early house producers had used to merge house music with the church songs of their childhoods.
Such was the styling with Black Box, made up of Daniele Davoli, Valerio Semplici and Mirko Limoni, who at the height of their success would create a scandal by dually including, and also not including, one key figure on the album. That was Martha Wash, a legendary soul singer with the booming voice who’d clocked hits like 1983’s “It’s Raining Men” (as one half of The Weather Girls) and to whom Black Box paid a flat fee to record demos for Dreamland, which they told her would be presented to other singers.
That’s not what happened, with Black Box instead just using Wash’s vocals on “Everybody Everybody” and several other tracks on Dreamland. But by the time “Everybody Everybody” was released, French model Katrin Quinol had joined the group, and it was Quinol who appeared in the “Everybody Everybody” video, lip-syncing Wash’s power-lunged vocal runs while vamping around in a suit coat and heels. (A 1990 Newsday piece reported that Quinol, a weak singer, didn’t even speak English.) The model also appeared on the cover of Dreamland.
Wash — whose vocals were also used on the Dreamland cuts “Fantasy,” “Strike It Up” and “I Don’t Know Anyone Else” — wasn’t even credited in the liner notes, with the widely made assumption being that Black Box wanted a more conventionally attractive woman (versus a self-proclaimed “large woman,” as Wash called herself in a 2014 Rolling Stone interview) as the face of the group.
“I said to myself, ‘I don’t believe this s–t is happening again,” Wash said in 2014 of first seeing the “Everybody Everybody” video. “I called my manager and said, ‘I just heard myself on TV in a video.’”
Indeed, Wash’s vocal demo had, also without her knowledge, also been used in C&C Music Factory’s 1990 smash “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now),” which topped the Hot 100 in early 1991, and the video for which featured C&C Music Factory member Zelma Davis lip-syncing Wash’s iconic vocals. (Technotronic also acknowledged that they’d had a Zairean model lip sync the vocals on their hit “Pump Up the Jam.”) After Wash filed myriad lawsuits against labels and producers over the unsanctioned use of her voice, the federal government introduced new legislation requiring proper vocal credit on albums and music videos.
But despite the song’s thorny origins, “Everybody Everybody” remains a ’90s dance crossover classic, enduring in pop culture via plays on episodes of Family Guy, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, Master of None and a recent Downy commercial. The song’s chart anniversary also comes amidst a resurgent moment for ’90s house, withe Beyoncè’s June genre homage “Break My Soul” shining a light on the sound, the artists who originated it and the moments of catharsis it still offers, decades after its first major moment.