Wow! Jill & I had three of our niece’s four kids over for the past couple of days. I understand why we had our kids when we were younger. I’m too old for this stuff. But, it’s all about making memories. I just never realized that those memories were going to wipe me out so much. I miss the days before my back issues, when I was always a little more hyperactive than the normal person may age. Then again, if the back issues weren’t around, then I wouldn’t be writing this blog. Unfortunately, I’ll never win a Coach of the Year award for this blog.
Today, I come to you to praise the musical genius of one Nile Rodgers and his late musical partner Bernard Edwards, who, for our purposes, were Chic. Sure, drummer Tony Thompson was a member, as well as a revolving door of female singers, but when you have two of the most gifted musicians for their instrument, Rodgers had the guitar, and Edwards handled the bass, there may not be room for anyone else but the best session musicians available.
Okay, many of you rockers out there are howling and cursing my love of Chic. Yes, get over it! Chic played disco. But, what did black artists get mostly pigeon-holed to play in the mid-to-late-Seventies, but jazz, funk, or a combination of the two called disco. Black artists were, ironically enough, blackballed from playing rock music, though many of them would have preferred to, like Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards.The duo was influenced by England’s brand of Glam Rock in the early-Seventies, especially the seemingly sophisticated looking, acting and playing Roxy Music. They were also influenced by the many jazz artists for whom they played on record and on tour. Additionally, Edwards and Rodgers were part of the house band at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater, where they had to be good enough to be a backing band for any artist who might show up for a gig, from jazz, rock, soul, blues and pop artists from the Forties, Fifties, Sixties and Seventies. Their dream was to created a band whose playing, sound and dress all added up to sophistication, playing a disco-based music that did not have the instrumentation interplay of funk and rock bands that had been removed from much of the disco music of the time. This band would be able to play the notes straight up OR take it into an extended jam in a live concert. In other words, Edwards and Rodgers wanted Chic to, very unknowingly, to become the Steely Dan of black music.
Now, where Steely Dan is continuously praised for the complexity of their music while maintaining a sense of melody, or while melding elements of jazz with their rock music, Chic has not been likewise praised. Also, Steely Dan is known for the clever lyrics, littered with sexual double entendre, wisecracks and a running lyrical feud with the Eagles, Chic’s lyrics, which are bent in a similar manner, are totally overlooked by the public. Let’s take their huge hit song “Good Times”. Besides being the music bedrock of Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”, “Good Times” was written at a time of extreme economic recession, near depression. The songwriting brainpower was attempting to bring back a modernized version of the Depression era song “Happy Days Are Here Again”. Instead of heaping praising for this song that is parodying the times, rather was written off as a crass, self-serving song. To me, much of the criticism of the band is racially motivated, when they were accomplishing similar things with their music that 2001 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Steely Dan have been continually praised for. All the while, the greatest disco band of all time, Chic, remains not inducted for ten consecutive years.
The crazy thing where the Steely Dan/Chic comparison diverges is outside production work. The guys in the Dan have done very little outside production work. Whereas, the Chic Organization is known for it production work and it’s single-handed influence on the music of the Eighties. As disco waned, so did Chic’s hits, as they were swept up in the anti-disco fever that blow through the musical winds in the States. But, Edwards and Rodgers struck back in their production work. Just take a glance at a few of the artists with whom the duo worked: Diana Ross’ diana (“Upside Down”, “Coming Out”), INXS Swing (“Original Sin”), the David Bowie hit machine Let’s Dance and Duran Duran’s songs “The Reflex” and “The Wild Boys” and the LP Notorious. And, let’s not forget that Rodgers produced Like a Virgin by Madonna and Family Style by the Vaughan Brothers, just before Stevie Ray Vaughan’s untimely death. And, I should point out that the dynamic duo also produced the classic disco album We Are Family by Sister Sledge.
When Duran Duran was just beginning, the members have been quoted as saying that they hoped their sound would be a cross between the Sex Pistols and Chic. And, when you get to work with one of your heroes as a producer for some of your music, you know that you must be succeeding. Recently, I read that Nile Rodgers feels he is an extra member of Duran Duran. FYI: Nile Rodgers did some production work on Duran Duran’s excellent 2015 album, Paper Gods. You can always tell when Rodgers is involved, because of his distinctive guitar sound. Just listen to Daft Punk’s huge Summer of 2013 hit song, “Get Lucky”. There was Nile’s guitar holding down the disco rhythm as a testament to the Seventies’ disco days.
My recommendation for the best overview of Chic’s work as a band, as well as their production work, go get the double-CD set Nile Rodgers Presents The Chic Organization: Up All Night Long – Their Greatest Hits. The set is attributed to both Nile Rodgers and Chic, but the music represents some of the greatest dance tunes ever. The collection would have been better if it included INXS and Duran Duran, as well as some Vaughan Brothers and The B-52’s, if nothing else to show the depth of their influence.
So, enough of this tomfoolery, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! It is past time to induct Chic. Let’s induct them in 2017.