Top Ten: Chic

Jimmy Coultas

Last updated: 22nd Jun 2018.
Originally published: 13th Jun 2018

Image: Nile Rodgers (source)

Dynamic duos don't come more domineering in disco than the powerhouse combination of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. Better known as Chic, the pair have been responsible for some of the most groove-heavy pop music we've ever seen, dominating dancefloors for over forty years across the globe.

As well as their era-defining output as a group, they've also been the musical nous for a huge variety of artists, the likes of Madonna, Duran Duran, David Bowie, Grace Jones and more benefitting from the musical touch of either of the pair, in many cases both.

That's not to mention the plethora of artists that have sampled them. House music, and in particular Daft Punk, have constantly raided their back catalogue for inspiration, whilst P Diddy and Bad Boy Records pretty much had a legal retainer with Rodgers to cope with the constant stream of briefcases of cash posted their way during the shiny suit era of the 90s.

Whilst Edwards sadly died in 1996, Rodgers continues to fly the flag for Chic, crisscrossing around the globe with his band and firmly a part of the high end of the UK music touring calendar. He and the band are due for a bevvy of dates in the UK again this summer (including both Fiesta X Fold festival and Lytham Festival), and as such we've pulled together the ten finest moments Chic have powered in their long and illustrious history.

'I want your love' (1978)

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The band's seventies heyday was rife for brilliant smashes. 'Le Freak', 'Good Times' and 'Dance, Dance, Dance' are all records that still rock weddings and bar mitzvahs close to half a century after they were first created, but it was this dreamy gilt-edged ballad which showcased the group could deliver substance too.

A deft ensemble of beautiful bell-like chimes, gentle bassline and soaring strings, the opening line is still one of the most romantic in popular music history; "Do you feel like you ever want, to try my love and see how well it fits?". It remains a brilliant example of dancefloor driven songwriting and a truly mesmerising record, the bittersweet tones (Rodgers penned it for an unrequited lover) adding a ministerial vibe which elevates it above much of their back catalogue.

Bonus fact, it was also Todd Terje's excellent rework at the turn of the last decade which helped power Rodgers' and Chic's revival in the UK, opening him up to the stints at Glastonbury and Bestival.

'Chic Cheer' (1978)

Lurking on C'est Chic, the same album that powered the above smash, is this infectious monster. It's everything that is great about Rodgers and Edwards in tandem, just two gloriously talented session musicians jamming their way to dancefloor nirvana - killer bass licks, stuttering drums and giddily hedonistic vocals drifting in and out. "Everybody screeeam!"

Sister Sledge 'Thinking of You' (1979)

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Rodgers and Edwards started to break out from their own work in the late seventies, and it was with Sister Sledge where they found their first collaborative groove. The sibling trio has tasted a degree of chart success with the uptempo soul heavy disco track 'Love Don't You Go Through No Changes On Me', but the meeting of minds created dizzying results on We are Family

This track, originally a B-side to 'Lost in Music', was a slightly slower pace than the group's other hits from the album, but it's dreamy vibe and heartfelt message enables it to strut just as vivaciously. From the off stuttering strings and plucky bass lead into Kathy Sledge uttering "Everybody let me tell you 'bout my love", and form that point the captivation never relents.

Sheila B & Devotion 'Spacer' (1979)

French pop starlet Sheila had been around for the best part of fifteen years before her smash 'Les Femmes' in 1976, but she didn't broker any international acclaim until she teamed up with the duo three years later on the King of the World LP.

More than other collaborations, particularly the later ones which saw Rodgers and or Edwards adapting their style for the artist in question, this is very much a Chic record with someone else singing over it. Sheila's gloriously Gallic vocals about a galactic love interest sit atop the band's trademark staples, achingly beautiful chords, a delectable guitar riff and, as always, an unreal bassline.

Diana Ross 'I'm coming out' (1980)

Diana Ross may be the quintessential Chic collaborator, her soft and utterly beguiling femininity the perfect fit for what was becoming an increasingly more lavish take on dance music. And although shrouded in controversy - Motown rejected Rodgers and Edwards' initial version of the self-titled album they recorded with her, remixing it without their consent much to their distaste - their work together remains Ross' biggest commercial and critical success.

This remains the jewel in Diana's crown. Inspired by Rodgers' frequent encounters with drag queens dressed as Ross, the record became a gay pride anthem, in turn fuelling the rumours about the singer's sexuality. But it's lyrical poignancy was enhanced by arguably Chic's finest ever backing music.

The bassless start slowly weaves in guitar licks, scattershot drums and Ross shrieking "I'm coming" (sampled brilliantly on Notorious B.I.G's 'Mo Money Mo Problems'), close to a minute before the bassline and lyrics drop (unheard of for a pop song at the time). From then on in it's a whirlwind of triumphant euphoria, Ross giddily exclaiming at one point "I've got to show the world, all that I wanna be. and all my abilities. there's so much more to me". It's still the ultimate clarion call for being true to yourself.

'Flash Back' (1981)

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Chic's fifth studio album Take it Off was a bit of a commercial failure, failing to break into the top 100 album chart in the US and only yielding the pretty bland 'Stage Fright as a charting single. It did boast this corker though, a lovely low slung number which showed how good the duo was at producing less obvious dancefloor slayers.

Carly Simon 'Why' (1982)

Rodgers and Edward's acumen lay in reinventing iconic stars, and in the early 80s the most obvious beneficiary of that was David Bowie, who despite all his genre-bending brilliance never reached anywhere close to the dizzying commercial heights of the Rodgers helmed Let's Dance project in 1983.

Another recipient was sultry soft rock doyen Carly Simon, who collaborated with the pair on their soundtrack for film Soup for One on the majestic 'Why'. It was the only time the singer worked with the duo, a tantalising taste of what might have been had they backed her for a full album, but the song endured long after its release date. It's since been sampled by A Tribe Called Quest, and was rinsed at the Hacienda and various Ibiza clubs when reclaimed as a Balearic classic later in the decade. And it still bangs today.

Madonna 'Like a Virgin' (1984)

Madonna was already a big deal on account of her self-titled first album, but it was sophomore effort Like a Virgin which propelled her into the Michael Jackson inhabited stratosphere of mega-stardom, making her a globally renowned figure.

The titular track from it is arguably still Madonna at her apex, sexually provocative and riffing on religion, and undeniably the moment which cemented her as one of the greatest pop icons of all time. And in the background was Nile Rodgers ensuring the sound matched the attitude, with an effort much more synth-driven than any of his work as Chic. 

Duran Duran 'The Wild Boys' (1984)

Another huge act of the 80s, Duran Duran, got the Rodgers treatment in 1984, with 'Wild Boys' yo-yo-ing with 'Like a Virgin' at the top of the charts. Musically it's a complete hallmark of the 80s, powerhouse synths and guitars underpinned by John Taylor's melodic bassline (which throughout the band's career had been influenced by 70s era Chic).   

Simon Le Bon's dystopian lyrics were matched by a music video equally as exuberant, one of the first to cost over a million dollars and pretty much symbiotic of the decade's fascination with excess. It looks a bit dated now but is still proper anthemic.

Robert Palmer 'Addicted to Love' (1986)

Maybe it's the lack of involvement from Rodgers, perhaps the perception (unfairly) of Palmer as emblematic of the eighties fixation of style over substance, but this monstrous smash is rarely held up as one of the better records Chic were involved in. Which is unjust, because it's still pop music at its most pure, a giddy fusion of funk, rock and more.

Extra shout out to the iconic video, which pretty much proved to be the nadir of Palmer's aspirations to reach to the levels of fashionista panache of Bryan Ferry and David Bowie. And, in a lovely twist of fate, was paid homage to in plenty of other videos over the years, including Stardust's 'Music Sounds Better with You', the production pseudonym of one half of Chic acolytes Daft Punk, Thomas Bangalter.

Daft Punk 'Lose Yourself to Dance' (2013)

Speaking of Bangalter, the Chic revival was complete in 2013 when Rodgers played bass on the biggest track of the year, Daft Punk's monstrously huge 'Get Lucky'. But it's the other record Rodgers collaborated with the French robots on, this dreamy number again vocalled by Pharrell Williams, that shines brightest, having avoided the same overplayed omnipresence it's more famous sibling garnered.

You can find Nile Rodgers and Chic tickets for their two stately home shows below. Head here for all other Chic shows.

Nile Rodgers and Chic Alnwick Castle tickets - Alnwick, Wednesday 11th July

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