Last year, Isaac Ferry, who runs Gouranga, which has hosted some of my live mixes on SoundCloud, asked if I’d be up for doing something more bespoke, suggesting I focus in on Chic, given both their history and more recent renaissance as one of the must-see live feelgood experiences of the festival calendar.
The mix idea appealed, but I just didn’t have the time to give it my attention at that point, so we filed as something we’d go back to when time allowed. A few months later, when I was booked, along with Crazy P, to support Nile Rodgers & Chic at Manchester’s Castleford Bowl, I made a mental note that this would be the perfect time for me to do the mix for Gouranga, providing me with a solid deadline to aim for. I’m now happy to say mission completed. Here’s the mix ‘The Chic Organization – 1977-79 Selection Reworked’, clocking in at exactly an hour:
I finally got around to focusing on putting this together last week, having kept an eye on my deadline thanks to the constant online anticipation for the upcoming gig, which takes place this Wednesday. I’d decided the criteria for my approach would be to combine an hours-worth of edits and reworks of tracks written and produced by Nile Rodgers & Bernard Edwards (as The Chic Organization Ltd), including, of course, Sister Sledge, whose own success was Chic-generated, their hit-laden 1979 album ‘We Are Family’ also written and produced by Rodgers & Edwards, and featuring huge club favourites ‘Lost In Music’, ‘He’s The Greatest Dancer’ and ‘Thinking Of You’. All the inclusions are versions I’ve played on numerous occasions in a live context during the past decade, each one a firm crowd favourite.
Chic had a sound of all their own, the crack rhythm section of Rodgers (guitar), Edwards (bass) and drummer Tony Thompson providing the highly infectious grooves that characterised their records. They would be massively influential as a consequence, their anthemic tracks still loved all these years later, with a new younger generation still embracing their good time vibe in the same way their parents might have.
The mix consists of 12 edits / reworks of 9 tracks, all of which happened to be originally recorded during 1977-79, the years which saw Disco peak and decline, with Chic at the helm during those halcyon days, their own recordings providing 4 US top 10 singles, including a pair of #1s (‘Le Freak’ being the 3rd best-selling US single of the entire decade), before the Disco bubble was burst big time, becoming a dirty word as the 70’s segued the ‘80s, the term Dance replacing it for the Billboard club chart, although much of this was still Disco under another name.
Chic’s reign as Disco royalty ended with their second #1, ‘Good Times’, in 1979, released just as the Disco Sucks movement was gaining momentum, lobbying radio to return to a more Rock based format, Disco having staged something of a musical coup of the airwaves. Less than a fortnight after ‘Good Times’ was issued, the infamous Comiskey Park Disco Demolition Night was staged in Chicago, with shock jock Steve Dahl provoking a homophobic / racist frenzy as a bonfire of records by Disco and black artists burned. The shock value of this spectacle served to spread the anti-Disco rhetoric nationwide, and certainly hastened Disco’s demise during the second half of ’79 – the satire of Disco Sucks causing many people to turn away from a music they’d previously loved, if only for fear of being behind the times. By 1980 Disco was very much yesterdays thing as far as the music business, which had benefitted so much from its impact, was concerned.
For as big as people think Punk might have been at this point in history, it was Disco that was the major money-spinning gift that kept on giving, pouring big bucks into the coffers of the music industry, Punk small-fry in comparison. To provide perspective, during the years 77-79, there were over 30 chart-topping tracks that could be categorised as Disco – almost half of all the US #1s during those years. Further to this, 8 of the 20 best-selling US singles of the entire ‘70s were Disco-related releases issued within this timeframe. Then you add the juggernaut that was the double-album ‘Saturday Night Fever’ soundtrack, issued in late-’77 and featuring the music of the Bee Gees and others, which, until Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ came along in 1982, was the biggest selling LP of all-time. Disco wasn’t just a scene, it was a full-on phenomenon.
Against this background its remarkable to think that Chic would never have another top 40 US hit after the chart-topping ‘Good Times’, their early-‘80s releases failing to maintain the group’s status. More than any other band, Chic were the main casualties of the Disco Sucks climate, and although Rodgers & Edwards continued to write and produce for others, including Diana Ross and Debbie Harry (Rodgers would also go on to work with David Bowie and Madonna), their time in the limelight was through, as it was for Sister Sledge, whose follow-up album was a commercial disappointment (although they’d top the UK chart in 1985 with the Nile Rodgers produced single ‘Frankie’, a much poppier affair).
Chic disbanded after their seventh album, ‘Believer’ in 1983, with Rodgers and Edwards pursuing separate directions. They’d reunite in the early ‘90s, touring and releasing their first album in 9 years, 1992’s ‘Chic-ism’. Edwards, however, fell ill in 1996, just before a Chic concert in Tokyo, dying later in his hotel room as a result of pneumonia. He was the man behind some of music’s most recognisable basslines, but at the time of his death his legacy, and that of Chic, had become shrouded, the group never receiving anything near to their level of acclaim their music and influence merited.
A revamped Chic became active again with the new millennium, but in 2010 Nile Rodgers was diagnosed with prostate cancer, for which he thankfully received the all-clear 3 years later. During this period his wonderful autobiography ‘Le Freak – An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco And Destiny’ was published.
I remember an Australian promoter who’d booked Chic to headline a festival I was appearing at in 2012 telling me that they were surprised at just how many people weren’t aware of who Chic are, yet when you mentioned tracks like ‘Le Freak’, ‘I Want Your Love’ and ‘Good Times’, they knew them immediately.
All that has changed now, although its Nile Rodgers’ name that might be more familiar to many these days, the charismatic guitar icon re-entering popular consciousness with a vengeance following his contributions to Daft Punk’s 2013 album ‘Random Access Memories’, not least on the global mega-hit ‘Get Lucky’, for which he also made a video appearance alongside the robots with fellow contributor Pharrell Williams, the single gaining a ‘record of the year’ Grammy. All this is well overdue, Rodgers’ legacy, creating some of the defining records of the ‘70s and ‘80s, finally gaining fuller acknowledgement.
Chic made a triumphant appearance at Glastonbury in 2013, and have since wowed audiences throughout the world with what is, in essence, one of the great songbooks of Pop culture. Nile Rodgers has been on some journey, and continues to travel at relentless speed, spreading the joy around the globe.
My mix contains 6 edits / reworks of 5 Chic tracks, 5 of 3 Sister Sledge singles, plus my edit of the Rodgers & Edwards written and produced 1979 hit for French act Sheila & B. Devotion, ‘Spacer’, which featured on my recent ‘Credit To The Edit Vol 3’ compilation.
Isaac from Gouranga is Bryan Ferry’s son and was key in helping me license Roxy Music’s ‘Love Is The Drug’ to open the 2nd volume of ‘Credit To the Edit’ back in 2009. 4 years on he commissioned a remix of the 1985 Bryan Ferry favourite ‘Don’t Stop The Dance’, which I did with Derek Kaye (our first of a dozen remixes together). Nile Rodgers played on ‘Don’t Stop The Dance’, Roxy Music’s image of sophisticated glam being a key Chic inspiration when the group formed in 1976.
I first came across Chic as total newcomers in October 1977 when I picked up an import copy of their first single, ‘Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)’. It was surefire, a sensational groove carousel, immediately huge on my nights at the Golden Guinea in New Brighton despite not being available in the UK until it was rush-released here in late-November, going on to reach #6 and sparking a run of 5 top 10 hits here.
Unbeknown at the time, I’d bought New York City’s ‘I’m Doin’ Fine Now’ (1973) when I was a young teenager, before I’d started DJing. I’d subsequently learn that Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards both played on this record – the first hit they contributed to, the record going top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic. They had their own group, The Big Apple Band, back then, who gigged around New York, but the change of name to Chic came about when another Big Apple Band, led by Walter Murphy, beat them to the punch with a monster Disco novelty hit, ‘A Fifth Of Beethoven’ in 1976 (Rodgers and Edwards are sometimes wrongly attributed as playing on this record).
I’d meet Nile Rodgers briefly at Bestival on the Isle Of Wight in 2013 before being part of a panel at Amsterdam’s ADE dance music conference / festival the following month alongside not only the Chic legend, but another seminal Disco figure, Giorgio Moroder – needless to say it was humbling to be sat alongside 2 people who shaped dance culture to such a level, Giorgio’s renaissance also coming on the back of the Daft Punk album, which had a track, ‘Giorgio By Moroder’ named in homage to the great Italian producer, who defined the European approach to Disco, most notably in 1977 via his timeless co-production (with Pete Belloti) of Donna Summer’s electronic atom-splitter ‘I Feel Love’.
It was a privilege to play all these incredible recordings in advance of their UK release. I acquired them, with the forementioned exception of ‘Dance, Dance, Dance’, as DJ promos, which would generally give you a month or so with the track ahead of its commercial availability – my relationship with the record companies in London reaping dividends. Fred Dove, the promo head at WEA, had a streamlined DJ mailing list that was notoriously difficult to get on, but once you did, as I was fortunate enough to have done, despite only working in a backwater seaside town, I was guaranteed regular packages of amazing tunes through my letterbox, and all for free – it was a real coup at the time, believe me! WEA were one of the only labels that would mail you US promos, so we were getting the records as soon as they could be shipped over to the UK and posted out to you – can you imagine having a track like ‘Le Freak’ or ‘Good Times’ weeks ahead of your local contemporaries?
WEA, of which the Atlantic label is represented by the A, had both Chic and Sister Sledge on their roster. Sister Sledge was an Atlantic act I’d known from their pre-Rodgers & Edwards recordings, including ‘Mama Never Told Me’ and ‘Love Don’t You Go Through No Changes On Me’. My introduction to the Chic-ified version of the group was on receiving a US promo 12” with ‘He’s The Greatest Dancer’ on one side and ‘We Are Family’ on the other (now what a double-header that was to announce your re-invention), again giving me local exclusivity for a period of time. The ‘We Are Family’ album, released on Atlantic’s Cotillion subsidiary, would spawn a quartet of hits, with ‘Lost In Music’ and ‘Thinking Of You’ also gaining classic status.
These are all records that are ingrained as part of life’s soundtrack for me, imbued with a particularly special resonance given I was a fresh-faced 17-19 year old when I first played them – musically, it was a wonderful time to be young, experiencing what is now solidified as club culture and history, then fermenting around you from the roots out.
So to put this together, in a sense, serves a double purpose, combining my own homage to that youthful, hopeful time, whilst illustrating how great music can be relevant way past the era in which it was made, especially when you have DJs who can give these tracks a contemporary twist, bringing them to an audience who weren’t born at the time of the original releases.
Apart from a few of my own edits, the work of Killer Funk Disco Allstars, Norington, Leroc Sportif, Daz Digs Disco, Late Nite Tuff Guy, Todd Terje, Deep & Disco, Chewy Rubs, DSD and In Flagranti are respresented here. Full tracklisting with SoundCloud upload.
Sister Sledge Wikipedia:
Sheila & B. Devotion Wikipedia: