I was in the early grades of my high school tenure when Chic hit the local radio airwaves with their first hit song, “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)” in the winter of 1977. Back then, I did not have a stereo system as I had in college and beyond. Heck, back then I had a record player and a big transistor radio that pulled in AM stations from all over the Midwest and some New York stations, in addition to the local FM stations. I loved to dial in Chicago’s legendary WLS-AM at night to hear their DJs and their playlist. One thing that I loved about the top hits of those days was that no matter whether I listened to them on the transistor or my mom’s console stereo, they all seemed to jump from the radio. And, this song from Chic absolutely jumped from the crappy radio in Mom’s 1972 Buick Skylark, my transistor and the console stereos of my Mom and the parents of my friends. This record was hot and had that great throwback hook of “Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah” that reminded me of the old big band records my Mom and her brother would play whenever we visited my beloved Uncle Dick.
After that, I kept an ear out for Chic on the radio, and during that time period of 1977 through 1979, they were dominating the radio with dance hits like “I Want Your Love,” “Everybody Dance,” “Le Freak” and “Good Times,” to list a few. While I loved that funky brand of disco they played, it was their sly lyrics that separated them from the average disco artist who wanted to boogie all night long. Historically speaking, I have learned just how subversive the whole disco movement was, but I never really got past the music. Plus, I was in my full-blast AC/DC and Kiss phase and had not begun to branch into the punk and new wave stuff beginning to be covered in my favorite rock magazines like CREEM.
Then that whole awful Disco Demolition night happened up in Chicago in the summer of 1979. Just the year prior, I was dancing the nights away in Fort Collins, Colorado, at a national sports event with young ladies from all over the States. When I came home, I was quietly listening to Chic, Village People and Heatwave at home, while still maintaining my high school cred by still espousing a love for all things hard rock, since all my friends and I were in retrospect harboring some racist tendencies that I personally blamed on naivety. When I got to college, I began to slowly uncloak my true likes and dislikes, at first in the entertainment industry, especially music. That’s when I began to stock up on Chic, Parliament/Funkadelic, Rick James, Prince, Bee Gees, etc., with no irony or care.
Over the years, I have begun to noticed just how subversive Chic’s lyrics and music truly were. These guys, first, were creating a version of funk that just so happened to work in discos. Not all funk could do that. Plus, they were not afraid to push the boundaries on music with drumming that came right out of a Led Zeppelin concert thanks to a Zep-loving drummer named Tony Thompson. Then, the had the funkiest bass this side of Bootsy Collins thanks to Bernard Edwards, who had the ability to sit in that rock-based rhythmic pocket of Thompson’s and funk up the beat with a jazz-like smoothness. On top of all of that was Nile Rodgers’ supped up Steve Cropper-esque scratching that put a rock cherry on top of that R&B-based guitar sound. Plus, he could throw in a Jeff Beck-influenced rock guitar solo that would eventually be expanded by no other than Prince. These guys had the chops of jazz musicians, streamed through the ears of true rock and R&B artists of the past and present. Rodgers claims Chic’s vision and music was influenced by Roxy Music, but I cannot get away from the fact that they seem to be the flipside of Steely Dan more than anything else musically speaking. Either way, this is a band that has gone on to become influences on artists like Sister Sledge, Duran Duran and Prince, to list a couple.
But the true genius of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, the heart and soul of Chic was the visionary reach of this creative partnership as a whole production company that worked under the guise of The Chic Organization. You see, Chic in essence was a band that originally consisted of Rodger, Edwards, Thompson, and two female singers, Norma Jean Wright (a solo artist in her own right) and Luci Martin. Unfortunately, some legal conflicts eventually saw Wright leave the band and be replaced by Alfa Anderson. But, The Chic Organization had a coterie of musicians, singers, arrangers, engineers, etc. form around New York City who not only worked on the Chic records but also on the outside productions that Rodgers and Edwards did together and separately. Eventually, The Chic Organization crafted the Eighties dance/rock sound that dominated pop music and the dancefloors throughout the decade. Success collaborations happened with disparate artists such as Debbie Harry, Sister Sledge, David Bowie, Duran Duran, The B-52’s, Jeff Beck, Robert Palmer, to name a few. Additionally, Edwards produced a supergroup called The Power Station, whose members included bassist John Taylor and guitarist Andy Taylor from Duran Duran, singer Robert Palmer and Chic drummer Tony Thompson. During Live Aid, Thompson played drums for The Power Station and his heroes Led Zeppelin, while Nile played with both Madonna and Thompson Twins, whom he had produced recent records. Throughout that decade, while Chic was no longer the hit factory it was during the late-Seventies, you could hear the influence of the band’s three musicians all over the radio and beyond.
In 2016, Chic was nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for a record eleventh time, but, for what I believe is an anti-disco faction of the voters, never got the call for induction. Since the Hall was facing growing pressure from a group of Twitter followers loosely self-labeled as Hall Watchers (of which I am proudly one), the administrators decided to induct Nile Rodgers for his Musical Excellence. I think that one ticked me off even more as the Hall ignored the contributions of Edwards, Thompson and the trio of female singers of Wright, Martin and Anderson. Like the Bee Gees and Donna Summer before them, Chic should never be pigeonholed as a disco artist. All three, as well as KC & the Sunshine Band, Sylvester and the Village People, transcended the genre, not merely defined it and should be recognized for that feat.
While I would love to dwell on my Chic fixation, I am going to broaden my argument for their influence over music by listing my Top 40 songs from The Chic Organization, which gives the fullest picture of the band Chic. Please, Rock Hall Nominating Committee and voters, Do Not Forget Chic!
40. “Roses” – Adam Lambert with Nile Rodgers (2020)
39. “Lay Your Hands on Me” – Thompson Twins (1985)
38. “Till the World Falls” – Chic feat. Mura Mosa, Cosha & Vic Mensa (2018)
37. “Saturday” – Norma Jean Wright (1978)
36. “Sea of Love” – The Honeydrippers (1984)
35. “When Smokey Sings” – ABC (1987)
34. “Just Another Night” – Mick Jagger (1985)
33. “Why” – Carly Simon (1982)
32. “Dress You Up” – Madonna (1984)
31. “Backfired” – Debbie Harry (1981)
30. “Looking for a New Love” – Jody Watley” (1987)
29. “Notorious” – Duran Duran (1986)
28. “Forever Young” – Rod Stewart (1988)
27. “You Can Leave Your Hat On” – Joe Cocker (1986)
26. “Upside Down” – Diana Ross (1980)
25. “Pressure Off” – Duran Duran feat. Janelle Monáe & Nile Rodgers (2015)
24. “Savoir Faire” – Chic (1978)
23. “Get It On (Bang a Gong)” – The Power Station (1985)
22. “The Original Sin” – INXS (1984)
21. “Tick Tock” – The Vaughan Brothers (1990)
20. “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” – Robert Palmer (1986)
19. “Material Girl” – Madonna (1984)
18. “Modern Love” – David Bowie (1983)
17. “My Forbidden Lover” – Chic (1978)
16. “Roam” – The B-52’s (1989)
15. “Addicted to Love” – Robert Palmer (1986)
14. “People Get Ready” – Jeff Beck with Rod Stewart (1985)
13. “I Want Your Love” – Chic (1978)
12. “He’s the Greatest Dancer” – Sister Sledge (1979)
11. “Some Like It Hot” – The Power Station (1985)
10. “We Are Family” – Sister Sledge (1979)
9. “Love Shack” – The B-52’s (1989)
8. “Like a Virgin” – Madonna (1984)
7. “Let’s Dance” – David Bowie (1983)
6. “The Reflex (single remix)” – Duran Duran (1984)
5. “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)” – Chic (1977)
4. “Get Lucky” – Daft Punk with Pharrell & Nile Rodgers (2012)
3. “I’m Coming Out” – Diana Ross (1980)
2. “Le Freak” – Chic (1978)
1. “Good Times” – Chic (1979)
Unfortunately, Bernard Edwards passed away in 1996 at the age of 43 while the band was on tour riding a wave of disco renaissance then. Recently, Rodgers has put together a touring band that has been storming across Europe and Asia where disco never died. In 2012, interest in the band was piqued by Rodgers hooking up with Daft Punk to blend the styles of the electronic band with that of the disco master on Daft Punk’s brilliant album Random Access Memories. Finally, in 2018, Chic release a great album entitled It’s About Time, which led to a successful tour of North America as the opening act for Cher in a brilliant double-billing of the oft-overlooked but continually brilliant acts.
As I typed this blog, I was listening to the playlist I made from this list (Amazon is missing “Tick Tock”! C’mon Jeff! Surely, you could afford to add The Vaughan Brothers’ Family Style album on your service.), and it all sounds fresh today! It’s time for Chic, both the band AND the organization, to receive their due. Peace.