How Robin S' 'Show Me Love' became one of dance music’s most iconic anthems
UK label Champion Records is celebrating its 35th year with a series of remixes of classic releases. The label's best-known hit is Robin S' ‘Show Me Love’, which was remixed by Swedish producer Stonebridge in 1993 to become the timless hit we know and love today. Here, Harold Heath catches up with Stoney, Champion A&R Paul Oakenfold, and Robin herself to learn the story of one of dance music’s most iconic anthems
It starts with a cymbal crash, a bumpy house beat and a prominent, punchy snare. There’s a gnarly, low synth stab that plays a simple three-note riff, and then a yearning, wordless vocal comes in, held over a few seconds while one of the most recognisable melodies in house music plays out.
That skeletal, bouncing arrangement — a keyboard preset on the Korg M1 synthesiser — made the journey from underground clubs to become the soundtrack to a million nights out and eventually to countless wedding receptions, cab journeys, dodgem rides and weekend shopping trips. You hear it at the football, in the pub, on Eastenders, in McDonald’s; it echoes across factory floors, it’s the backing track to holiday romances and grey Monday morning journeys to work alike.
‘Show Me Love’ transcended its likely fate, crossing over to the mainstream and then becoming woven into our everyday experience. ‘Show Me Love’ eventually demonstrated just how commercially successful vocal house music could be, how a decent song with contemporary dancefloor production can cross over to become something way bigger than its writers and singer ever thought possible.
It’s been quite the journey for a song that had an inauspicious beginning. The rarely heard original from 1990 was pleasant enough but didn’t stand out among the many quality vocal house tracks that were blooming at the start of the ‘90s. Channelling Jocelyn Brown’s ‘Somebody Else’s Guy’, the original ‘Show Me Love’ was of its time: slightly clunky percussion, synthetic sax riff, a descending piano chord progression, all of which singularly failed to bring out the melancholic soul of Robin S’s vocal. In its original form, it sat on the shelves at Champion Records, just waiting for its moment.
Champion was based in a tiny office in Harlesden, North-West London and run by Mel Medalie, who employed a fresh-faced Paul Oakenfold as A&R. It was a job, Oakenfold told DJ Mag, that involved more than merely A&Ring: “My role at Champion Records was literally doing everything. We were a very small company; I loved learning from Mel and I was up for whatever needed to be done. Sometimes I even used to sleep in the office!”
Oakenfold’s first signing to the label was Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s ‘He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper’. Champion were putting out street soul from Oliver Cheatham and post-electro/early hip- hop from the likes of Kartoon Krew and Whistle and were well placed to begin licensing some of the biggest early US house tracks. They put out ‘Jack The Groove’, ‘Let The Music Use You’, and ‘Break 4 Love’ by Raze, and during the late ‘80s/early ‘90s licensed records that are now considered bona fide classics, including ‘Can You Party’ from Royal House (Todd Terry) and Kenny ‘Jammin’ Jason & ‘Fast’ Eddie Smith’s ‘Can U Dance’.
The label released quality techno in the shape of Kenny Larkin’s ‘Integration’ and releases from Speedy J and Cybersonik (Daniel Bell, John Acquaviva and Richie Hawtin). They also had plenty of vocal anthem success in the mid-’90s with classics like Sandy B’s ‘Makes Me Feel Like Singing’ and Kristine W’s ‘Feel What You Want’, as well as launching Faithless via Rollo’s Champion sub-label Cheeky.
In 1992, ‘See The Day’ by singer Ann Conseulo was released. A vocal house tune with a distinctive piano chord progression, it caught the attention of Champion, who licensed the track. ‘See The Day’ was a Stonebridge production and the producer seized his moment, asking the label if they had anything else he could remix. Stonebridge (real name: Sten Hallström) is an enthusiastic and affable interviewee, and despite having been asked about ‘Show Me Love’ countless times is happy to launch into the story once again. He does a great impression of Champion label boss Mel Medalie, and peppers the interview with non-vocal representations of the various parts of the track — so much so that listening back to the transcription it becomes clear that you could, should you wish, assemble a half-decent version of ‘Show Me Love’ made purely of Hallström’s vocal impressions of his synths.
“It was a lovely 120bpm disco track, kind of boogie... I thought the kick-drum was pretty nice so I kept that,” Stonebridge begins. “Made some simple drums, kept the keys but added a new bassline and now, this is where the magic happened: I used the Korg M1 keyboard. Preset 16 is called Pick Bass. Very disco — and I did the actual bassline with this bass sound. I mixed it down, sent it to Champion, and Mel called me a day after saying, ‘It’s oooohkaaay..’ but I had kept too much of the original. It was a Saturday, I had a gig that night and had about five hours before the gig so I decided ‘Fuck it, I’m going to go back and redo that remix’. So I hit up the old Atari and tapes, decided to keep the vocal and the kick-drum and then I had my bassline, preset number 16. And as you do, you click through the presets and the next sound, number 17, was ‘Organ 2’. So the bassline played with an organ sound and it sounded insanely cool.”
So if you’ve ever imagined Stonebridge had spent hours trying out different organ riffs before finally settling on the one on the record, that didn’t happen. ‘Show Me Love’’s famous buoyant keyboard riff was originally a bassline. “I’d never played an organ bassline in my life, it was just pure accident and I heard this bassline played by the organ and fuck me that shit was funky. It was never like I was sitting down thinking, ‘OK, let’s make a really unique global record using an organ’. It was a complete accident.” There were a few house tracks that had made use of the Korg M1 ‘Organ 2’ preset before: Area 10 feat. MK’s ‘Feel The Fire’ from 1991 sounds very much like an M1 for example, but it wasn’t used as a bassline, more a lead. M1’s ‘Feel The Drums’ — also from ‘91 — used what sounds like a Korg M1, and their name would suggest this too, but again, it was used as a lead sound on top of a bassline. Stonebridge’s particular innovation was to use the organ preset along with the kick-drum as his low end, with no separate bassline.
“The original kick-drum was in the right key — probably by accident,” he tells DJ Mag, “and the organ doesn’t have a lot of low-end; together those two created a fantastic bottom end and I was thinking ‘Fuck man, that’s enough!’”
Hallström acknowledges that he was accused of stealing the idea from MK’s huge remix of Nightcrawlers’ ‘Push The Feeling On’, but points out that “very few people know that I did the actual ‘Show Me Love’ mix in ‘92 but it came out in ‘93: it just took a year for it to come out.”
In terms of production, ‘Show Me Love’ is a masterclass in restraint. The way that Hallström signalled the chorus, for example: he simply added a smooth string pad, really low in the mix, playing a gorgeous pair of minor chords, nothing more. It’s such a subtle technique, scarcely noticeable, but it perfectly delineates the chorus from the verse, while adding another layer of yearning to the song — a little extra warmth in what is quite an austere production.
“I needed something for the chorus so I added two very discreet string pads. It’s the best, the brain thinks ‘Ah, that’s the chorus’, even though nothing in the actual rhythm changes. A mistake a lot of people do is to make the chorus too big, but then it becomes pop. In this case the groove was basically the same throughout, but you felt the strings.”
The skippy drum patterns in ‘Show Me Love’ are quite distinctive too — particularly the snare, which smacks pretty hard. “I was a DJ and I played a lot of Morales and Todd Terry. I’d heard on a David Morales mix — I can’t remember which one — a really cool snare, but unfortunately there was no clean snare in the track, so I had to sample one with a kick. That’s why the snare drum is so heavy, because the actual snare had a kick playing at the same time.”
Todd Terry’s early-’90s productions were another influence in the eventual sound of ‘Show Me Love’. The distinctive raw synth riff at the very top of the track that repeats after each chorus was apparently inspired by a Todd Terry production. “Todd Terry, at the time, was releasing like an EP a week and he had one that started with a distorted synth sound,” says Hallström, effortlessly dropping into a wordless approximation of said synth sound, “DAAH, DAAH-DAAH, something like that, and I was so impressed when I dropped that in the club that I decided I need something else to add to the remix. Because ‘Show Me Love’ was kind of sweet, I needed some balls in there too. So I took a DX 100, which is a shitty Yamaha synth, and I just drove it through the desk. Everything was in the red, you know full bass, full treble, full gain, full everything. Then I added some delay and that sounded cool. I didn’t rip Todd, I just took the idea of starting the track with a nasty sound.”
There is one other small piece in the audio puzzle which Hallström hasn’t mentioned before. Kevin Saunderson released ‘Definition Of Love’ in 1989 under the Kaos alias, a track which contains a distinctive little synth pattern. You can also hear it in the piano intro of 1991’s ‘Take Me Away’ by True Faith & Final Cut featuring Bridgett Grace, which lifted heavily from ‘Definition Of Love’. “In the strings after the chorus on ‘Show Me Love’ there is a part which goes ‘boop boo-do-do boop boop’ and that was a little inspiration from that Kevin Saunderson track — and I’ve never told anyone that before!”
Hallström was in two minds about sending the remix back to Champion. Swedish DJ, songwriter and producer Denniz Pop “just made a face when he heard my remix of ‘Show Me Love’ and asked ‘Did you do this shit?!’” he recalls. “Then I played it to the other A&R guy and I said ‘I’m not sure about this mix man, I rushed it’, and he said ‘Dude, this is the best thing you ever did!’” Champion accepted the remix with a typically low-key response from Medalie. “The next day I got a call from Mel and he was like ‘Yeah it’s oooohkaaaay...’ Always! It was never like ‘Fuck me this is the best thing you’ve done!’”
Champion needed a longer version, which is why there are a few white label promos of a monumental 12-minute re-edit of ‘Show Me Love’. There was a bit of back and forth between Medalie and Hallström regarding the final edit of the song, with Medalie insisting that the raw synth from the intro be repeated after every chorus, but by edit number 12, producer and label were happy.
Of course, ‘Show Me Love’ would be nothing at all without that unforgettable, impassioned delivery from vocalist Robin S. She hadn’t done much house music at this point in her career but was pleased with Stonebridge’s rework of the song.
“I thought it was much better than the original,” she tells us. And then, it blew up: “I felt like I was dreaming. It took a while for me to really believe it was happening. Looking back, I have to say that I am totally blessed to have a song that is STILL one of the staple anthems of dance music. Vocal house is one of the most powerful energies in the universe.”
Hallström received a £1000 remix fee, which he shared with Nick Nice from SweMix, who’d also done a remix of the tune. “Then I heard nothing about it and I thought ‘Oh well, it’s probably one of those records that didn’t make it’. Around five months later I came to London for a show. I go into my hotel room, put the TV on and [UK music show] Top Of The Pops was on and I hear my fucking mix! What the fuck is this?! So I called Champion and asked ‘Why didn’t you tell me it was a hit?’” Hallström pauses before delivering his punchline with relish: “‘Oh’, they said, ‘we didn’t want your remix fee to go up!’ True Story!”
It’s 30 years now since Robin Stone recorded her vocal, and 28 years since Stonebridge clicked onto the ‘Organ 2’ preset on his synth. As a slew of tracks sampling the original, various cover versions, reinterpretations for the EDM generation involving Hardwell, Steve Angello & Laidback Luke and more have shown, ‘Show Me Love’ is an enduring house classic. It’s a song that has been there during good times and bad, a source of solace and release for music lovers and dancers alike, and through our shared dark days it continues to work its potent, everyday magic.
The Stonebridge mixes of ‘Show Me Love’ are a part of Champion’s 35th anniversary box set, which also features mixes of Raze ‘Break 4 Love’, Kristine W ‘Feel What You Want’, and more. Get yours here.