Some words and a playlist intended to prove the magnificence of Chic, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards

Pop Heaven / Pop Hell, Video

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For the last month or so I have found myself listening to a lot of Chic, and Chic-produced musics. “Chic?!?!?!??” will say the cooligans, “Aren’t they spangly disco nonsense what only gets played at Christmas parties and such and such and such??!?!?”

Well, yes and no. And no again. Because if there was an award doled out for Most Overlooked Clever Buggers In Music, well, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic would… probably be overlooked for it. So I’m going to do my own wee bit to try and explain why the pair deserve at least a dozen props from listeners of music all over this dumb old world.

Chic’s biggest hits, of course, are so well-known as to be virtual aural wallpaper. In the last week alone I’ve heard “Le Freak” and “Good Times” played on TV shows and adverts, and “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge got a nice airing in an episode of The Wire I happened to be watching.

It’s nigh-on impossible to appreciate how goshdarn different these songs were when they first came out. They combined funk, R&B and the – at the time – up-and-coming disco sound to create a hellishly danceable melange.

In addition, Chic avoided the tacky fashion excesses of the time and decided to dress in suits – with their female singers elegantly clad in classy frocks – to enhance the sense of sophistication their music brought. Before they started unwittingly soundtracking drunken office parties and packing out disco compilations, Chic were a slick affair. Never mind that Nile Rodgers came from a dirt poor background – it was about projecting an image, and they did it almost too well.

I love this video for “I Want Your Love”; it shows the aesthetic, the musicianship and the downright awkwardness of the young, newly-minted Nile and Bernard to great effect.

Bernard Edwards’ bassline for “Good Times” played a part in bloody well inventing rap music as we know it, and has been sampled by, among others, Blondie, De La Soul, DJ Shadow, Grandmaster Flash and Dan The Automator.

Nile Rodgers’ trademark rhythm guitar style has had the term “chicken scratch” applied to it over the years, due to its choppy funkability. It’s not overstating it to say that he’s the most influential rhythm guitarist of the last thirty-odd years. If you think you’re having trouble placing his style, just think of the opening to Notorious B.I.G’s “Mo’ Money, Mo Problems”, which samples Nile’s playing on the Chic-produced “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross.

Oh yeah -  because they were pretty decent writers and producers, too. Between them they produced and played on the more decent parts of the catalogues of La Ross, Madonna (Nile produced Madge’s Like A Virgin album, hence the vid at the top of this page), David Bowie, Duran Duran, Carly Simon and Robert Palmer, as well as their regular stardust-sprinkling on the hitherto little-noticed Sister Sledge.

Recently I’ve been reading a book called Everybody Dance: Chic And The Politics Of Disco, which provides some delicious tales behind their work and collaborators.

Like, Diana Ross stropped off for a month while they were producing diana; and the version eventually released was mixed without their consent (the original version didn’t see the light of day for over twenty years). David Bowie dumped Nile Rodgers after he’d produced the biggest record of his career, Let’s Dance.

Tony Thompson, Chic’s drummer, sadly went to his grave with ill-feeling towards Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, bitter at the lack of recognition (and money) he received after helping create the band’s finest productions.

I’ve always loved a music industry type unafraid to indulge in a bit of myth-making, and Nile Rodgers is up there with the best. He’s an articulate cat, too. Here he talks about the chicanery that helped Chic get “Dance Dance Dance” its first play in the biggest club in New York, if not America – Studio 54:

The tale of how “Le Freak” was written has entered the annals of music mythology: it was originally called “Fuck Off”, and was written after the furious duo were turned away from Studio 54 one New Year’s Eve (despite having been invited by Grace Jones).

Then there’s the story of how “I’m Coming Out” got its title. The pair used to frequent gay clubs; not because of their sexuality, but because at the time that’s where all the best disco could be heard. Equating Diana Ross’s final record for Motown with the liberation of the Ross-obsessed clubbers around him, Nile proceeded to instruct Diana to sing the chorus as “I’m coming out…” When the diva questioned whether it would mean people might think she was gay, he feigned ignorance at the term’s connotations, thus allowing one of the ultimate gay anthems to go unchecked by her formiddable ego.

(Stories like these are just about worth the spelling/grammar errors you’ll find on pretty much every page of Everybody Dance: Chic And The Politics Of Disco.)

One of the threads I found interesting in the book was the recurring sense that Nile and Bernard, by choosing not to hog the limelight, somehow lost control of how they were perceived. Once the “Disco Sucks” movement kicked off, the band, who had avoided creating “stars” of their singers Norma Jean Wright, Luci Martin and, later, Alfa Anderson, found themselves with little chance to prove they were more than “just” a disco act.

They were essentially a funk/R&B outfit who hopped on the disco bandwagon just in time to ride it up the charts; but thanks to their apparently democratic group dynamic (it wasn’t really: the guys controlled everything) which meant no one member outshone the others, there was little that was tangible for people to hold on to once they stopped hearing their songs on the radio. Which was when the pair started working their magic on others’ music instead.

Not that success in this area totally eased the bitterness. It clearly irks Nile – and why shouldn’t it? – that while he was unable to get his own, now reformed band arrested, some skinny blond Brit could shift zillions of units thanks to his producer’s work on hits like “Lets’s Dance”, “China Girl” and “Modern Love”.

While Bernard Edwards sadly passed away in 1996, Nile Rodgers still takes the Chic brand around the world while also appearing as a no doubt entertaining guest at music conferences and suchlike.

I slightly regret not going to see Chic – or, let’s be honest, Nile – on their latest tour (they visited London recently). But there was something that stopped me buying tickets. Perhaps it was a sense that without his compadre on bass, I’d only be getting half the experience.

So for the time being I’ll stick with the recorded music, which will do just fine. If you’re not aware of Chic’s legacy and influence and have even a passing interest in pop music, dance music, funk music… heckers, music full-stop, check out the Spotify playlist, Sheer Chic, at the link below.

It features a mere sprinkling of music Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards either wrote, produced, played on or provided samples for (as a duo and individually). Un-Spotifyers, there’s a track listing for you at the end of this post as well.

Listen to Sheer Chic on Spotify

Learn more about Chic:

Chic samples on Whosampled.com

The full story behind “Le Freak”

NileRodgers.com

ChicTribute.com

Buy Everybody Dance: Chic And The Politics Of Disco at Amazon.co.uk

Nile Rodgers gives a guitar lesson

Nile Rodgers videos on Videosurf.com

Bernard Edwards obituary on independent.co.uk

Bernard Edwards on Wikipedia

Sheer Chic tracklisting:

  • Sister Sledge – He’s The Greatest Dancer
  • Chic – I Want Your Love
  • Diana Ross – Upside Down
  • Sheila – Spacer – Version LP
  • Chic – Savoir Faire – 2006 Remastered LP Version
  • Duran Duran – The Wild Boys
  • Madonna – Like A Virgin
  • The Power Station – Some Like It Hot (7”)
  • Chic – Everybody Dance
  • Diana Ross – I’m Coming Out – Original CHIC Mix
  • Robert Palmer – Addicted To Love
  • Chic – Your Love Is Cancelled
  • Sister Sledge – We Are Family – Single Version
  • Chic – Le Freak
  • David Bowie – Let’s Dance
  • Duran Duran – A View To A Kill
  • Diana Ross – Tenderness – Original CHIC Mix
  • Robert Palmer – I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On
  • ABC – When Smokey Sings
  • Madonna – Material Girl
  • Chic – I Loved You More
  • Sheila – Mayday
  • Chic – Soup For One
  • Sister Sledge – Pretty Baby
  • Diana Ross – My Old Piano – Original CHIC Mix
  • Chic – Chic Cheer
  • David Bowie – Modern Love
  • Sheila – King Of The World
  • Sister Sledge – Lost In Music
  • Sheila – Your Love Is Good
  • Chic – Strike Up The Band
  • Sister Sledge – You Fooled Around
  • Diana Ross – Now That You’re Gone – Original CHIC Mix
  • Sheila – Don’t Go
  • Chic – Open Up
  • David Bowie – China Girl
  • Sister Sledge – Thinking Of You
  • Madonna – Angel
  • Sister Sledge – Got To Love Somebody
  • Duran Duran – Notorious
  • Chic – Real People – Single Edit
  • Diana Ross – Friend To Friend – Original CHIC Mix
  • INXS – Original Sin
  • Sister Sledge – Frankie
  • Chic – Happy Man
  • Madonna – Dress You Up
  • Duran Duran – The Reflex
  • Sister Sledge – Dancing On The Jagged Edge
  • Chic – I Got Protection
  • The B-52’s – Roam
  • Chic – Dance, Dance, Dance – Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah LP/12″ Version
  • The Notorious B.I.G. – Mo Money Mo Problems
  • Alcazar – Crying At The Discoteque – Radio Edit
  • Modjo – Lady (Hear Me Tonight)
  • Will Smith – Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It
  • The Sugarhill Gang – Rapper’s Delight

3 comments

  1. fLOYJOY says:

    wHEN YOU MENTION THAT ROGERS AND EDWARDS ONLY VISITED GAY BAR BECAUSE IT WAS THE IN THING TO DO AT THE TIME, YOU MIGHT WANT TO RECONIZE THAT BERNARD EDWARDS DIED OF SOMETHING…VERY SPECIFIC AND WHICH HAS BEEN KEPT SECRETE. I SUGGEST YOU RECONIZE THAT AND ACKNOWLEDGE THAT HE PROBABLY DIED FROM AIDS?

  2. Stuart Waterman says:

    It’s no secret how died – it was pneumonia. Pneumonia does not automatically, or even probably, equal AIDS.

  3. mark says:

    “David Bowie dumped Nile Rodgers”

    INSANITY, people are so misinformed and reckless with their so-called writing. NO BOWIE DIDN’T dump Nile, Bowie as he always does moved onto his next phase. BOWIE ALSO invited NILE back in 1990 to produce Black Tie White Noise. I had to point out the silly reckless ENQUIRER type of crap writing.

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