(More than) 40 Years Later: Why “I Want Your Love” is STILL Chic’s musical masterpiece…

(November 4, 2019).  “Le Freak” was Chic’s biggest hit with more than four million singles sold during its original release in Fall 1978, making it the biggest-selling 45 in all of Atlantic Records’ history. 

“Good Times” was the band’s most iconic hit – and their most ironic – symbolizing the end of a disco era but sparking a hip-hop revolution that changed music forever. 

Both singles topped the pop and R&B charts and have been highly regarded in music history for what they accomplished on both the charts and in popular culture…and rightfully so.

Chic’s “I Want Your Love” from 1979.

But the single that bridged the two – the one for which the bell tolled, literally – was arguably the group’s best.  It was the second (and last) single release from their fabulous C’est Chic album, and their fourth hit overall.  

I’m talking about the sublime “I Want Your Love,” a song that is not only Chic’s best, but arguably one of disco’s greatest accomplishments, musically speaking.  It’s pure perfection played out over a nearly seven-minute groove (or in half that time if you preferred the single edit, which pop radio did but Chic lovers knew better). 

“I Want Your Love” is that melancholy disco ballad with the haunting melody that ironically clocks in at a faster tempo (114 bpm) than its more celebratory successor, “Good Times” (112 bpm), and one that is as essential to Chic’s danceable canon as any of their 1977-80 output.  It is indeed disco’s best antidote to…well, disco,… a musical masterpiece that favored orchestration and substance over a heavy rhythm section (although it maintained the most essential of Chic’s rhythmic elements throughout).

“I Want Your Love” was Chic’s only million-selling single (of four total) that didn’t trumpet the main point of disco: dancing.  Its timeless lyrics about unrequited love connected with listeners from any era – disco or otherwise – which has made it perhaps the most enduring of Chic’s biggest hits.

But it is also a musical masterstroke – a classic composition whose main four-note riff (matching the chorus’ repeated lyrics of “I want your love, I want…your love”) was carried by tubular bells and horns while the rhythm section and strings formed the song’s underlying foundation.

Where “Le Freak” and “Good Times” (and later “My Forbidden Lover” and “My Feet Keep Dancing”) highlighted Chic’s ever-increasing trademark of using sparse musical arrangements and sharp, staccato vocals, “I Want Your Love” was more full and less robotic-like, with sultry-sounding lead-singer Alfa Anderson pouring her heart out during the verses (especially the second one), while backed by Chic’s other vocalists – including supporting studio singers – on the less inflected, but still-beautiful choruses. 

From the moment the late Tony Thompson introduces the track with his quick, one-two-three snare drum riff, you know you’re in for a rich and textured flourishing of horns and strings that setup the opening chorus perfectly, building to Chic’s forlorn vocalists taking it from the top.  As in all of Chic’s records, the chorus begins and ends the song, and “I Want Your Love” would be no different.  

But it’s what happens in between that illustrates the song’s true greatness.

The official music video for “I Want Your Love” from 1979.

In the verses, as Alfa sings, the instrumentation is stripped down to those essential Chic elements: Bernard Edwards’ bass, Nike Rodgers’ rhythm guitar, and Thompson’s drum.  Thrown in for good measure are the keyboards, with either Raymond Jones or Robert Savino providing playful – but perfectly placed – piano strokes throughout. 

“I Want Your Love” is as notable for what stands out musically as it is it for its subtleties.  Rodgers and Edwards, of course, are front and center, with their guitar-and-bass interplay as strong as ever.  In fact, it could be argued that “I Want Your Love” is the first Chic single that brought Edwards’ bass to the forefront, with a bottom so heavy that it’s second only to “Good Times” in its sonic impact.  

But the subtleties are in Thompson’s drumming.  

Chic’s timekeeper was flawless in maintaining their songs’ tempos without the need for a metronome.  “I Want Your Love” was no exception.  From start to finish, the song is steadily paced at 114bpm.

It’s what Thompson added on every third and seventh beat, however, that showed his true creativity.  If you listen closely, he gives the closed hi-hat a heavier double-tap on those beats, while still maintaining the sixteenth-note riff throughout.  It’s all very subtle, but without it, the song wouldn’t nearly be the same.  His drum notes are that essential.

Thompson’s steady hands are all the more noteworthy when one considers how the song builds around him.  The drums never build to a crescendo, even when the rest of the song does.  

During the vocal bridge, for instance, the Chic strings are taken up an octave while playing the main four-note riff, as Chic’s vocalists sing “I want your love, I need your love…I’ll share my dreams, and make you see…how really bad, your love I need.”

When that vocal section ends, the Chic strings take over completely (at the 3:26 mark on the album version), playing a repeated 27-note pattern that morphs into a mimicking of that same riff by the horns using a circular arrangement.  The song is clearly in its own musical orbit at this point, thanks largely to the work of concert-master Gene Orloff.

Rare pink vinyl of the 12” single of Chic’s “I Want Your Love.”

Then at the 4:33 mark comes the breakdown.  Just Nile and Nard and Tony jamming away and reminding everyone what they came to the Chic party for in the first place.  It’s seventeen seconds of just the rhythm section before the piano kicks in at 4:50 and the song builds again.  

It was that instrumental breakdown that foreshadowed “Good Times,” the band’s next single that took the trick to a more famous level just a few months later.  In fact, one could argue that, without “I Want Your Love,” the breakdown that Chic used in “Good Times” might not have existed, and hip-hop might have taken a different course altogether.

“I Want Your Love” is a song whose melody Nile Rodgers has said he dreamt in his sleep.  He recalled to the magazine Uncut in 2015 that he slept with a score chart next to his bed and awoke one morning and wrote the song’s whole score after dreaming it the night before. 

“I Want Your Love” wasn’t even intended for Chic, instead Rodgers and Edwards planned for their protégés Sister Sledge to record it, while the twin single, “He’s the Greatest Dancer” was meant for their own band.

Thank goodness cooler heads prevailed – the two producers felt that fawning over an attractive male dance-floor king was better suited for the Sisters than for their sophisticated ensemble.

Chic ultimately laid claim to the song that was appropriately theirs.

Released in January 1979, “I Want Your Love” peaked at No. 5 R&B (in April) and No. 7 pop (in May) in the U.S.  In a triple billing with “Le Freak” and the album cut “Chic Cheer,” “I Want Your Love” reached No. 1 on the disco chart.  In the U.K., the song peaked at No. 4.

Those numbers – while highly respectable – didn’t live up to those of “Le Freak” and “Good Times.”

C’est Chic: “Le Freak” Turns 40!

More Chic: “Good Times” Turns 40!

But “I Want Your Love” has always been musically superior.  It’s certainly among this writer’s favorite songs of all time, if not the absolute favorite. 

And that may never change.  

DJRob

Classic Chic (from left): Luci Martin, Tony Thompson, Nile Rodgers, Alfa Anderson and Bernard Edwards.

This article is dedicated to the memory of the late Bernard Edwards, Tony Thompson and Chic String member Valerie Haywood.

DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.

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