Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Strike It Up: A Short History of the Italian House Music Group Black Box

Bursting onto the dance music scene in the late 80s and 90s, the Italian group Black Box impacted the US & UK pop charts with a series of house music dance singles. Black Box remains active in the club scene and are currently available for bookings through London-based booking agency MN2S.

Black Box is comprised of three talented Italian musicians; club DJ Daniele Davoli, classically trained clarinet teacher Valerio Semplici, and keyboardist Mirko Limoni. Before settling on the name Black Box in 1989, these three musicians had released hit singles under two other band names. Using the name Starlight, the group scored a Top 10 UK hit in August 1989 with “Numero Uno” and then using the alias Mixmaster reached number 9 in the UK with “Grand Piano”.

Black Box recorded its first album in 1989 and recruited French fashion model Katrine Quinol to appear on album cover art and also to pose as the lead singer of the group in their music videos. The first single “Ride on Time” was a hugely successful hit, bursting its way into the Top 10 in 11 different countries and holding the # 1 spot for six weeks in the UK. In fact, the single was so successful that it went on to become the most popular UK hit of 1989. Although it failed to chart as a pop single in the US, it reached #39 on the dance chart becoming the first high-profile Italian house record.


The song samples Loleatta Hathaway’s disco tune “Love Sensation” and the title “Ride on Time” was derived from the lyrics in the original single, “cause you’re right on time”. After losing a large share of the royalties to the writer and producer of the Hathaway song, Dan Hartman, Black Box released another version of the single using singer Heather Small to perform the vocals.

“Ride on Time” was featured on Black Box’s debut album Dreamland which was released in May 1990. The group enlisted Martha Walsh to perform vocals on a number of tracks for club consumption while Katrine Quinol’s kept responsibilities for promoting the band’s image. The album achieved huge success reaching gold status in both the US and UK and double platinum in Canada and Australia where it spent three weeks at No.1.
The album contained four more hit singles, “Everybody Everybody”, “I Don’t Know About Anybody Else”, “Fantasy”, and “Strike It Up” all which became massive hits worldwide.

Released in early 1990, “I Don’t Know Anybody Else” derives its title from a misinterpreted lyric in “Love Sensation” by Loleatta Hathaway, the original being “I don’t love nobody else”. The single reached the Top 10 in eight countries and #1 on the US dance chart, the first of three consecutive singles to do so.

Released in March 1990, “Everybody Everybody” was another international hit which included the US where it held the #1 spot on the dance chart for three consecutive weeks. It was also the first single to become a pop hit in the US, reaching #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #2 on the R&B Chart. The track was also featured in the movie Cool as Ice, the feature film debut of rapper Vanilla Ice and a 2008 episode of The Family Guy.

The next single released in 1990 from Dreamland was a cover of the Earth Wind, & Fire “Fantasy”. The single was an International hit, reaching the Top 5 in the UK, Ireland, and Australia but failed to chart in the US. Despite four successful singles from Dreamland, Black Box would release a remix album titled Remixland which had very moderate success on the charts.

In early 1991, Black Box went back to Dreamland for its next single “Strike It Up” which again heralded international success.


Black Box once again entered the Top 10 in several countries included peaking at #8 on the US Billboard Hot 100 pop chart. The track also reached #1 on the US and Canadian dance charts. “Strike It Up” remains highly popular at US sports stadiums and arenas to this day. After appearing on the compilation album ESPN presents Jock Jams Vol 1 in 1995, the song has sustained its tie to sports by being regularly played at the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes hockey arenas as well as the Green Bay Packers football stadium Lambeau Field.

Black Box would release two more singles from Dreamland in 1991-92, but neither would capture significant impact compared to the previous singles. Black Box would release another remix album in 1991 titled Mixed Up! And their 2nd studio album Positive Vibration would be produced in 1995. Unfortunately, neither would be able to match the success of Dreamland.

But despite being able to match the commercial achievements in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Black Box continues to be remembered for their distinctive piano house style, embodying the genre of Italo house music. Their unique sound which infused house music from the US and UK together with Italo-disco of the ‘70s and ‘80s made a significant impact that dance music fans won’t soon forget. Black Box’s legendary dance hits remain extremely popular and they are still a live act to behold. They are currently available for booking through the MN2S Music Booking Agency.