(Editor’s Note: There’s a special countdown of the 40 Greatest Songs of the Chic Organization at the end of this article.)
What took me so long to do this?
Better yet, what’s taking the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so long?
Anyone who knows me well knows that my two all-time favorite groups are Earth, Wind & Fire and Chic, two bands with completely different styles who popularized their unique brands of music during the 1970s and partly into the ’80s. The former is one of the greatest groups of the 20th Century and has been in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 2000.
The latter – Chic – has been nominated for the RRHoF more times (ten!) than anyone else in history – a dubious honor that can only mean one thing: they’ve failed to make it each time.
Gives new meaning to the phrase “always a bridesmaid, never a bride,” doesn’t it?
It is with that in mind that I’m dedicating this article to Chic. It’s a tribute to that band, and it serves as a not-so-veiled petition to get them – or at least their creators – into the Rock Hall of Fame soon, like…this year, for heaven’s sake!
Those creators would be legendary rhythm guitarist Nile Rodgers and his late partner, the bass-playing dynamo Bernard Edwards.
Edwards, with his loping bass riffs, gave us the memorable bottom melody for Chic’s “Good Times,” the number-one pop and soul smash from summer 1979 that historians to this day say symbolically marked the end of an era (and the beginning of another). First, it was immediately replaced at No. 1 by The Knack’s “My Sharona” on the Hot 100 – a chart that had seen 12 straight weeks with five different disco songs at the top (and several more weeks before that during 1979). Secondly, “Sharona” entered the Top 40 just a week after the famous Disco Demolition Night (July 12, 1979) at Chicago’s old Comiskey Park baseball stadium and ultimately became the biggest hit of the year in Billboard, topping several disco singles below it, including Chic’s “Le Freak” and “Good Times.”
As for the other era just beginning? I still contend that Bernard Edwards doesn’t get enough props for creating one of the most iconic bass lines of the 20th century, one that became the melody for a little tune (Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”) that months later served as the foundation for a revolutionary new type of music – rap and hip-hop – that has thrived ever since. (“Good Times” has also inspired many other classics, including Vaughn Mason’s “Bounce, Rock Skate Roll,” Grand Master Flash’s “Adventures on the Wheels of Steel” and Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust,” to name a few).
On the other hand, Nile is still putting his signature guitar rhythms on music tracks. Just last year he was featured on the Duran Duran release, “Pressure Off,” on which he also provided vocals along with Janelle Monae. Also in 2015, he laid down a new Chic tune, “I’ll Be There,” from a rumored new Chic album that has yet to materialize. The single hearkened back to Chic’s old days (with lines like “I don’t wanna live in the past, but it’s a nice place to visit”) and even borrowed loosely from the bass line of the Chic-produced Sister Sledge single, “Got To Love Somebody,” a modest top-10 R&B chart hit in 1980.
More recently, Rodgers topped the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart – a descendant of the magazine’s Disco charts that ran from 1974 to (gulp!) 1987 – with “Kill The Lights” by DJ Alex Newell. The song, with its EDM elements, became Nile’s third Dance Club Songs chart topper in three years, following Chic’s “I’ll Be There” and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” from 2013.
Oh yeah, there’s that ubiquitous “Get Lucky,” the Daft Punk single produced by Pharrell Williams and featuring Rodgers’ signature rhythm guitar. The Grammy-winning disco tune was one of the biggest worldwide hits (if not the biggest) of this century, having reached #1 in 32 different countries and serving as an instant reminder that disco music was never really that bad in the first place (and it never really died).
Ahh, disco. I’ve long since concluded it’s a term that defines an era more than it does a genre, for the genre – dance music – has clearly had periods of greater success than it even did during disco’s heyday of 1974-79. Forty-two years of Billboard Dance and Club Play charts can attest to that fact, not to mention all the crossover and mainstream success the music has enjoyed on Billboard’s other charts, particularly the all-encompassing Hot 100.
Nevertheless, disco is that “four-letter word” of music, one that binds all its associated artists of that late-70s period to all things bad: hedonism, rampant drug use, promiscuity. It was also viewed as one that catered more to blacks and gay people than its polar opposite – rock music, the genre whose fans (more pointedly, Chicago radio personality Steve Dahl) somehow felt threatened enough by disco’s presence to organize the Comiskey Park record-burning rally that hastened the end of “disco” as we knew it then.
For all their talents as musicians, Nile Rodgers and his Chic band mates were the unfortunate casualties – along with several of disco’s other superstars. Yet Rodgers (and his late partner Edwards) pressed on, with each becoming even more prolific in the 1980s as they loaned their talents to famous projects by Duran Duran, Madonna, Diana Ross, David Bowie, Robert Palmer, Power Station and others.
Then in the 1990s, Chic was revived in two ways: first by the band’s founders in a 1992 reunion album, Chic-ism, featuring the #1 Hot Dance Music – Club Play single, “Chic Mystique”; and later by way of several music samples by hip-hop acts. Puff Daddy famously used the Chic-produced “I’m Coming Out” for The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money, Mo Problems” and then sampled “Upside Down” for MC Lyte’s “Cold Rock A Party.” Faith Evans’ “Love Like This” borrowed liberally from Chic’s 1979 #1 disco track, “Chic Cheer” and Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy With It” sampled “He’s The Greatest Dancer.”
If one were to consider Rodgers’ complete body of work – from early Chic to today and including samples – he’d surely be in the Rock Hall of Fame by now. As it stands, he’s been stigmatized by the very term with which he had one of the most symbiotic of relationships. The growth of disco in the late ’70s led to Chic’s discovery. Chic’s body of work helped further popularize disco. Then the two – Chic and disco – came to a head in the summer of 1979, just as “Good Times” was peaking and bad times were looming.
But the irony is, Rodgers’ best work are the songs that contain Edwards’ bass, namely, the Chic songs. Together, Edwards’ bass and Rodgers’ guitar – along with precision drumming by the late Chic member, Tony Thompson – formed some of the tightest rhythm tracks of all time. Thompson’s drumming was meticulously timed, with subtle cymbal syncopation and nary a change in tempo (before drum programming took over and made things too perfect, unintentional tempo changes were the norm in ’70s music) as the songs progressed. All of this was wrapped by the famous bass and guitar, with flourishes of sparse piano, keyboards and strings (plus well-placed hand-claps thrown in for good funky measure).
The Chic female vocalists, namely original member Norma Jean Wright, who was later joined by Luci Martin and then replaced by Alfa Anderson, may be considered disposable now (they were often assisted in the studio by the likes of Luther Vandross, Fonzi Thornton, Diva Gray and Michelle Cobbs and were replaced in 1992 by Sylver Logan Sharpe and Jenn Thomas), but they were essential then – if not for their singing then definitely for the image they helped project and the Chic brand they helped create. Sharpe and Thomas – as talented as they were vocally – didn’t carry the same image as their predecessors did, instead giving the band a more raw, funkier edge. The original singers had a signature sound that was later emulated by early-’80s acts like Change, Narada Michael Walden and the B.B. & Q. Band.
Of course, the turnover situation with the female leads presents a dilemma for the RRHoF when deciding which members to induct – the ones that were there when the big hits were created, or the ones that have sung those hits for the past 20-plus years since the band re-emerged?
Whatever the decision, it’s time for the Chic Organization to get its due recognition. Ten past nominations means that someone wants this group in the Hall of Fame.
After all, we’re talking about Chic…an organization as sophisticated as the music of that era – and the band’s name – demanded.
An organization whose impact on music has been felt ever since.
An organization that did it better than anyone else.
An organization that deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame now!
Or at least, Nile and ‘Nard should be there.
But don’t just take my word for it. I’ve taken the time to create a djroblist countdown of the 40 Best Chic Organization songs, which follows below. The eligible tunes were all written and produced by the team of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards between 1977 and 1983. This list only includes those songs billed under the Chic Organization production umbrella and does not include songs that Rodgers or Edwards produced separately from Chic – either together or apart.
I’ve also created a special Spotify playlist, which you can access here.
Please enjoy both.
After all, C’est Chic.
SOMETHING EXTRA: The countdown starts with a song that just missed my top-40 Chic list. It's a near-miss at #41 that I feel still deserves some recognition. I admittedly discovered this song in the late 1990s or early 2000s, many years after its original release and way too late for anyone who describes himself as Chic's biggest fan. In the years since, not too many people that I've played it for have warmed to it, but the song's structure is something for the ages (and something Chic hadn't experimented with before). It starts off as a mid-tempo funk ballad, with Alfa Anderson singing longingly and painfully about unrequited love. Then it suddenly morphs into a signature Rodgers/Edwards/Thompson jam session as Anderson's tone changes to a celebration of found love. It's like Shangri-La around you!