- "I Can't Stay Away" was released in 1987, one year after Marshall Jefferson's genre-defining "Move Your Body," and just prior to Ragtyme's morphosis into the better-known Ten City, which went on to issue further classics like "Devotion" and "Right Back to You." The past twenty years have been good to this Jefferson/Ron Hardy collaboration, which hasn't lost an ounce of its freshness or ominous edge.
The offspring of an all-star production team, including Frankie Knuckles on the mixing board at Chicago Trax, "I Can't Stay Away" takes up the romantic devotion of '60s soul and transforms it into a sinister electronic confessional. Singer Byron Stingily delivers over-the-top testaments like "I think about you every night and day, and having you in every way!" and "I will catch a bullet with my teeth!" with enough inflamed sincerity that it pushes the yearning and longing past the point of utmost devotion and into creep-out stalker territory.
The track's hypnotic minimalism is a testament to resourceful composition: If it's 1987 and your gear only lets you make two sounds at a time, those sounds better be in the exact right place—"I Can't Stay Away" is anchored for the most part by two sparse, atmospheric synthesizer lines, and the compelling way they're able to fully divide the sound space between them is what keeps the track from being a museum curiosity. The last notes of the bass riff are perfectly wonky—not directly on the beat, nor ineptly ignorant of it. Instead they hover over it in a satisfyingly handmade way.
For whatever reason, Clone decided to axe the original release's Lil' Louis remix, leaving behind only one of Jefferson's two versions together with Hardy's rework. Mentioning that Hardy's mix is the standout here is a little like saying that Mercedes makes pretty good cars—it should be pretty obvious from name alone. Part of Hardy's legacy as the godfather of disco edits was his genius attention to repetition, like the nine-minute steamroller of Isaac Hayes' "I Can't Turn Around," or the edit of "Peaches and Prunes" by Nightlife Unlimited, which unleashes kinetic energy from the smallest looped slivers of the original. In this case, the compulsion to repeat isn't exercised by locking into insane frenetic loops, but rather adding vocal overdubs that exclaim "I Can't Stay Away!" with raw, unsettling intensity. In comparison, Jefferson's "Power-Pella" is a bit meandering, giving more than ample room to wordless vocal histrionics.
Overall, this is a stunning, dark and beautiful landmark, both as a key to understanding the genealogy of electronic dance music, and as an impossible-to-ignore dancefloor killer that jacks your body and pricks the hairs on your neck at the same time. Classic haunted house.
A I Can't Stay Away (Ron Hardy Mix)
B I Can't Stay Away (Marshall Jefferson Power-Pella)