Many don’t like to face up to this fact, but dance music has been around now for a long time – with the first house tracks being released almost four decades ago. Infact, one of those – and quite potentially the very first – releases from house music history is going to turn 40 years old in the next few weeks.
On January 20th this year, “On And On” by Jesse Saunders will be celebrating its birthday – and one person who’s always been very proud of the track is Saunders himself. In 1983, he had a song that he used in his sets, which was subsequently stolen – exactly what happened to that particular piece of vinyl history has never been revealed, but we do know that Saunders recreated it as best as he could.
The resulting track was pressed to wax and released on his own Jes Say Records label – and Saunders has spent decades telling everyone who’ll listen that “On And On” was the first house track released on vinyl. Whether this is accurate is a more difficult question to answer and depends entirely on how you define house music in the first place.
There’s little point trying to deny the influence of the song on house music – and Saunders was heavily involved with the genre in its formative days. It’s also probably accurate to state that “On And On” was one of the first house music releases made available to the public, and that it does unmistakably feature elements of the genre.
For his part, Saunders himself retains a lot of confidence in how accurate his version of history is – even happily discussing the subject on his Facebook page from time to time. Some of those arguments get quite heated, as Ears To The House reported back in October 2021.
Having found a 1986 interview where Farley Jackmaster Funk – real name Farley Williams – claimed to be the first DJ to play “obscure oldies, imports, drum machines, and early rhythm-only tracks like ‘On And On’”. After Saunders pointed out this was wrong, Williams admitted “I wasn’t the first – that was my ego talking” – but insisted his own role in house music’s development was crucial.
One person who has much less faith in Saunders’ own story is Wayne Williams – his older stepbrother, no less. Just days after the previous row, Wayne Williams bruisingly referred to Saunders’ claim about having the first record pressed to vinyl as “a lie”.
In his native Chicago, there don’t seem to be many who agree with the Jesse Saunders version of history – but perhaps helpfully for the “On And On” creator, there isn’t any consensus about an alternative either. A majority verdict from the jury could still be a while off…