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  Chic
 

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Click below for a Chic sample:

Rebels Are We

My Forbidden Lover

Savoir Faire

chic1.bmp (120054 bytes)

 
The greatest disco act of all time, Chic was to the late 70s what the Beatles were to the 60s: stylish trendsetters, commercially successful and massively influential.  Their songs are among the most popular and best-selling singles of their era and their impact can still be heard to this day.

While their creative peak was brief, lasting from 1977-1980, during those years the Chic sound was everywhere, to the point where critics recognized them as the dominant influence of the era.

The engine that drove the Chic sound was the production duo of Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards.  The two were members of the New York City Big Apple Band, a studio band based in rock and funk.  But the sound ruling the day was disco, and they shrewdly realized a transition was in order if they were to crack the big time.

Jettisoning their personal interests, Edwards and Rogers concocted their own take on disco, one that was more musically inclined than your standard studio dreck.   Edwards was easily one of the most inventive bassists of all time, combining with Tony Thompson's crisp drumming to provide a firm foundation of propulsive groove over which Rogers' liquid-smooth guitar lines rode effortlessly.  Recruiting Norma Jean Wright and Alfa Anderson to sing, they cut a demo called "Dance Dance Dance" and shopped it to labels, where it was soundly rejected by everyone who heard it.  Feeling that this reaction was proof that they had stumbled on a new sound, they continued to pound the pavement until Atlantic was convinced to put the record out.  Upon its release, "Dance Dance Dance" heated up dance floors and went gold.  Many of the dancers missed the irony of the song: reflecting on the stereotype of the black entertainer shucking and jiving for the entertainment of whites, Rogers and Edwards sprinkled taunts of "yowsah yowsah yowsah" throughout the track and tacked it onto the title.

To go along with the new music, Chic crafted an image of upscale sensibility.  The tailored outfits, restrained vocals and zippy strings screamed "sophisticated," in stark contrast to the outrageously dressed, overbearing melisma-laden vocals that characterized early disco.  For their part, Rogers and Edwards played up to the image, insisting there was no mission in the music other than pure escapism.  It was perfect for a generation burned out on politics and fuelled by cocaine and thoughts of the "good life."

Chic certainly captured the look of the good life with the cover of C'est Chic.  Lounging in a large living room, everyone is the epitome of 70s cool.   And who could blame them, given the masterwork that C'est was?   "Le Freak" was another #1 hit that at one point was Atlantic's biggest selling single ever, moving well past 5 million copies.  Rarely has a negative experience (the song was inspired after Nile and Bernard were denied entrance to Studio 54) been turned into such a positive.  The whole album was a turntable wear-out for 1978 and made Chic superstars.

Having established themselves as a creative force, the next challenge was outside production.  Their first major project was Sister Sledge, a family group from Philly who'd never had much success despite talent.  The sisters turned control over to Edwards and Rogers, and the result was the commercial and critical breakthrough We Are Family.  The LP is notable for maintaining its consistency throughout each song, a rarity in the late 70s.  They also launched the career of Norma Jean, one of their original singers, by producing the club anthem "Saturday."

Returning to the home base, Chic saved their best moment for 1979.   "Good Times" was released that summer and became disco's swan song. The lyrics spoke about partying, but the robotic, emotionless delivery put an entirely different edge on the song, perhaps symbolizing the burnout following too many nights of clubbing.  From a political perspective, it could have been a call for people to get one last party in before Ronald Reagan took control of the country.  Chic never explained the true meaning of "Good Times," but one thing that was clearly understood was that bassline.  Bernard Edwards came up with his funkiest creation for the song and spotlighted it with a solo to ensure folks paid attention.

Next, Chic was called on to revitalize the career of uber-diva Diana Ross, who was faltering in the late 70s.  Rogers and Edwards went in with the intention of creating fierce soundscapes that emphasized the beat, but Ross' ego would not stand for being upstaged on her own LP.  When the sessions were done, she secretly went to the studo and remixed the tracks to put her voice more prominently in the mix.   Nevertheless, "I'm Coming Out" and "Upside Down" topped the charts and confirmed their status as pop kingmakers.

By now, the Chic sound was sought after by many artists.  Some, like Change and Gino Soccio, admitted their debt to Chic.  Others ripped them off completely.  Two major cases in point are Queen and the Sugarhill Gang.  Both produced virtual reproductions of "Good Times" for their hits "Another One Bites the Dust" and "Rappers' Delight."  Chic took action against Sugarhill for infringement, resulting in their being credited on the record.  That incident foreshadowed the battles over sampling that would occur throughout the 80s and 90s.

The next few Chic albums were largely high-quality affairs, but they were victims of the disco backlash.  Real People, Tongue In Chic and Believer failed to reach the heights of their first three albums.  The myth that Chic was outdated was refuted when Carly Simon hit the top 10 with "Why," a song they produced for the Soup For One soundtrack.

They broke up in 1985, with the ladies heading for session work and the fellas moving into production.  Nile Rogers continued to have a large impact on music, giving David Bowie ("Let's Dance"), Madonna ("Like A Virgin") and Duran Duran ("Notorious") some of their most memorable tunes.  Edwards produced sides on the Power Station, Jody Watley and ABC, earning a Grammy for Watley's "Don't You Want Me."

Chic reformed in 1992 with new vocalists for Chicism.  The album caputred the group's sound in a modern context, with "Your Love" and "Just A Groove" earning a rightful place in the Chic hall of fame.  The sales weren't impressive, but it did announce to the world that they were back.

Tragically, Edwards died of pneumonia in 1995, while the band was on tour in Japan.  His last performance was released on Live at Budkohan, which also had apperances from Sister Sledge, Stevie Winwood and Slash.

Since his death, the Chic sound has been a primary influence on house music, particularly the French variety.  Covers of "My Forbidden Lover" and "Saturday" were successful and Modjo relied on Chic grooves to power their hits "Lady" and "Chillin'."  

Chic's Deepest Grooves

Chic (Atlantic, 1977)
The anonymous look of the cover art has no bearing on the inside grooves.   Still developing their formula, this shows a band on the verge of explosion.

C'est Chic (Atlantic, 1978)
Widely held up as the greatest disco LP, and who am I to argue?   Has the hits ("Le Freak", the style ("I Want Your Love") and the displays of virtuosity ("Savoir Faire") to rank as the best example of disco at its artistic peak. 

Risque (Atlantic, 1979)
More than just "Good Times."  "My Feet Keep Dancing" and "My Forbidden Lover" also worked their way into dancers' hearts in 1979.

Real People (Atlantic, 1980)
The golden touch starts to fade a bit, but this is an underrated work that should be better appreciated.  How can you deny "Open Up"?

Take It Off (Atlantic, 1982)

Believer (Atlantic, 1983)

Dance Dance Dance: Best Of (Atlantic, 1991)

Chic-Ism (Reprise, 1992)

Live at the Budokan (1999, Sumthin' Else)

Copyright 2001 B.Graff.  All rights reserved.

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