British dance act The Prodigy has been around for 25 years now. In 1990, no one expected the careers of musician Liam Howlett and his regular dancers and MCs Keith Flint, Maxim and Leeroy Thornhill to last longer than a few singles. However, The Prodigy developed into an extremely popular live band and often managed to surprise with a new sound. The ten dance floor classics from The Prodigy.
10. Voodoo People
With their second album Music for the Jilted Generation (1994), The Prodigy was able to prove that they were not a one-hit fly. The third single from the album “Voodoo People” is an excellent combination of dance music and rock that The Prodigy would further develop afterwards. The guitar riff used is not a sample, but it was reenacted from Nirvana’s “Very Ape” which was barely a year old.
The first singles by The Prodigy, which were released in the period 1991-1992, are infectious dance music with fast drum breaks, high voices and unexpected changes. On “Fire” the tempo suddenly slows down to reggae speed and then resumes frantically. The title refers to the recurring voice sample from the eponymous “Fire” by the eccentric sixties singer Arthur Brown.
8. No Good (Start The Dance)
“No Good (Start The Dance)” was released roughly at the same time as the album Music for the Jilted Generation. Thanks to the infectious (and accelerated) voice sample of Kelly Charles, the song got a pop feel despite its hectic beats that perfectly matched the cheerful atmosphere of 1994. A good clip meant a lot of airplay on MTV and in the Netherlands’ No Good (Start The Dance) ‘miss the top position of the top 40 by a hair.
The fourth single from Music for the Jilted Generation turned down the tempo with the beat accompanied by an infectious sample from Incredible Bongo Band. Dancer Maxim keeps repeating the text “I’ve got the poison / I’ve got the remedy”. “Poison” may not have been a big hit, but it would present a sound that was ruthlessly copied by new artists like the Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim.
With the third album Fat of the Land, The Prodigy would once again storm the charts. The sound was solid and made extensive use of hip hop rhythms and rock riffs. The second single with its infectious chorus, sung in a characteristic flat English way by Keith Flint, resulted in a second number 1 hit in its own country. In the Netherlands, “Breathe” peaked in ninth place.
5. Outer Space
“Outer Space” is a legendary single from the early days of The Prodigy. After three fast dance floor hits, “Outer Space” was a big surprise. After an introduction, the languid reggae rhythm of Max Romeo’s “Chase the Devil” is started, which is then intertwined with a nervous rave melody. The rattling rhythm resumes and rapper Kool Keith’s accelerated voice shouts “I’ll take your brain to another dimension.” A message that was very popular at house parties. So good that “Outer Space” even took fifth place in the top 40.
4. Smack My Bitch Up
The third single from Fat of the Land was not a big hit but was said to be very influential and set the model for much of the energetic electronic music used in video games. In addition, the group managed to cause controversy with both the minimal lyrics and the video of the song. Due to the misogyny of the phrase “smack my bitch up”, the song was not played on BBC radio. The video was broadcast by MTV after midnight with difficulty and would become an audience favorite. The video was filmed from the perspective of someone who goes out for a night and drinks and snorts a lot, gets aggressive, smashes things and throws up. Eventually the vandal comes home with a stripper. After sex, the gaze is turned to a mirror and the person turns out to be a woman.
3. Everybody in the Place
“Everybody in the Place” was one of the biggest dance hits of 1991. The Prodigy carefully worked out the song in different versions until an extremely cheerful mix that sounded like a wild fairground attraction. “Everybody in the Place” is driven by a nervous break beat and a melody played against the rules by a heavy bass. The song is periodically interrupted by a circus-like melody, after which a voice chases the dancer with the lyrics from the title. Only Queen could keep this classic from the first place in England, partly because of the death of Freddie Mercury.
The first single from the album Fat of the Land was not only a radical step for The Prodigy, it would also become one of the most important songs of the 1990s. Contrary to expectations, dancer Keith was suddenly pushed forward as a singer / frontman. His long hair had been cut off and exchanged for a bizarre punk haircut. The new look with make-up and piercings perfectly matched the aggressive sound and anarchic lyrics of “Firestarter” that Keith delivered with passion. In England, the song caused controversy because of its potentially vandalistic message, promptly leading “Firestarter” to the top of the charts (in the Netherlands it reached eighth place.) A masterpiece that transcends genres.
The Prodigy’s breakthrough happened in the summer of 1991 when house music got faster and louder. “Charly” is said to rule the dance floor along with “Dominator” and “Mentasm”. What distinguished “Charly”, however, was the characteristic voice sample. In a children’s program, Howlett found the voice of a boy who translates his cat’s meow: “Charly says always tell you mummy before you go off somewhere.” Innocent, but also words that were full of double meanings: Charly is slang for cocaine and go off is a synonym for “going crazy.” Much chuckling among house lovers, especially because at that time there was a lot of media attention for the dangers of house music. The record store could easily ask for the song featuring that boy and that cat, and 200,000 copies of “Charly” were sold in the UK alone. A new kind of pop group was born.