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The Chic Choice

Hey Soul Mates,
it's been a while since I just chimed in with a big opinion on something and wrote about it. Well, I've got something I want to say. Le Freak, C'est Chic!

Put CHIC in the Rock Hall. Recently, the list of nominees for the 2006 class for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was announced. There were some deserving hold-overs from last year (Grandmaster Flash, John Mellencamp), some no-brainers (Blondie, Dave Clark Five) and some head scratchers (Miles Davis, Sir Douglas Quintet). But one name popped off the page and gave me goosebumps: Chic.

Most people only know Chic for one thing. "One. Two. Aaaaaaaaaahhhwwwwww, Freak Out!" and if that was all I was known for I'd jump for joy. Chic was nominated once before in 2002, when they first hit the 25 year mark. This is a well deserving group that represents an underappreciated and underrated genre. Disco. Or dance music. Whatever offends least. Plus, there is a direct link between Chic and the best pop music of the 80's and more specifically the global rise of the hip hop nation. But let's simply start with their own merits.

This was a band. And they were funky. Pure and simple. In an era when most dance artists were anonymous groups (Heatwave, Hot Chocolate), acts updating their sound (the Jacksons, Rod Stewart) or manufactured (take your pick), they wrote and recorded their own productions. Chic had personality, savoir faire and musical chops to burn. Chic stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Earth, Wind & Fire as the standard-bearers for quality dance music. But EW&F wasn't even the chart-smashing juggernaut that was Chic. And Chic was certainly alone when you boil it down to disco only.

When Le Freak was released in1978, it became the biggest selling single in Atlantic Records' history. We're talking about the label of Aretha, Ray and Led Zeppelin. It held down the top spot for 5 weeks. I still get that surge of excitement upon hearing the intro to Le Freak. That was my jam, long before I knew what that phrase meant. I never owned a vinyl copy of the Le Freak 45 and had to be satisfied with hearing it on the radio. Nowadays, Chic is never too far from my CD player, specifically so I can hear that track. I'll go on record that Le Freak is one of the 10 most exciting recordings of all time. To this day, I don't know what the Freak looks like. Imagination is powerful, 'cause I envision it as the baddest dance move of all time.

Chic had this irresistible rhythm section of Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson on drums. Nile Rodgers' guitar playing was taut and angular, as much new wave as chicken scratch R&B. Then there were the beautifully layered vocals urging us to dance, dance, dance. Their choruses were dance floor battle cries. Valhalla!! Norma Jean Wright and Alfa Anderson (much like Sister Sledge) were perfectly suited to Nile and Bernard's songs. I mentioned in an earlier blog about Luther Vandross' contribution to the Chic voices. Sweet.

The level of sophistication in everything Chic did was unsurpassed. No band sounded more uptown, no band looked more GQ. Their lyrics were all about the Savoy, clams on the half-shell and rollerskates. Say what?! Their music is catchier than anything else that has survived the disco era. The reason being, this wasn't just a producer trying to sell his latest song. This was a band trying to get over with the complete package. I certainly am influenced by what they did with their stage image and their musical purity. Tracks like I Want Your Love, Everybody Dance and Le Freak are classics. And I haven't even gotten to Good Times... yet.

Okay, you're saying 4 songs doth not a Rock Hall inductee make. But what about the Chic legacy and their historical impact? Here's where Chic wallops the shit out of all-comers for the next 20 years. Chic's own sound defined the late '70s. The core members' contribution as producers was unparalleled at the time. They gave the nation a theme song, We Are Family performed by Sister Sledge. They resurrected careers. Nile and Bernard single-handedly brought Diana Ross (Upside Down) and David Bowie (Let's Dance) back from the dead. Or at least back into the public conciousness.

Nile with Madonna @ Live Aid, 1985

Much like the Neptunes' sound, you could spot the Chic effect within 2 measures. The loopy bass playing, the sparse guitar and a hook that would drag you around the block. Nile Rodgers went on to produce the first massive Madonna hit (Like A Virgin) and Duran Duran's first number 1 (The Reflex). The rhythm section of Tony and Bernard were busy, too, cranking out hits in Power Station with Robert Palmer. Ok, ok, you can't be selected based on extracurriculars. But...

Good Times. Friends, without Good Times, this would be a very different world. Some would say for the better. Ladies & Gentlemen I give you my prime faciae argument for Chic's inclusion in the Rock Hall: Good Times. Without Good Times, there is no - NO hip hop. Not as we know it. I heard this story directly from Nile Rodgers a few years ago. Nile was out club hopping and the DJ put on a familiar groove. It was that jazzy bassline to Good Times. Nile was beaming from ear to ear. Good Times was on it's way to the top of the Billboard chart. But then the vocals came in. It wasn't the luxurious female vocals singing "Good Times, these are the Good Times!" The voice was a muscular male spouting nonsense. "I said a hip hop, a hippy to the hibby da hip hip hop and you don't stop rockin to the bang bang boogie say up jump the boogie to the rhythm of the boogity beat." Nile's reaction was "what the F#$% is that?! Who F#$%ed up our song?!" He was furious. But it was explained to him that these hip-hoppers had turned their groove into Rapper's Delight, which became the first pop charting rap song. Ever. Don't be surprised if the Sugarhill Gang eventually receives a nomination for the Rock Hall on the strength of one famous song alone. And you know who they would have to thank. Everyone born after 1960 knows the basic lyric and the bass part to Rapper's Delight. The bass part? Not many songs you can say that about.

At first, Good Times/Rapper's Delight just spawned sonic imitations, like Vaughn Mason's Bounce, Rock, Skate & Roll or Queen's sublime Another One Bites The Dust [sadly, some quarters thought Chic had ripped off Queen]. History bears out a more important result. Rap was officially born. By using a well-known riff to rhyme over, the Sugarhill Gang established the idea that became the root of all hip hop: sampling. They made rapping cool and everyone on the street knew the lyrics within weeks. As kids on the playground, we would recite it to each other a cappella. The Gang's success was quickly followed by smashes by Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash and the rest is history. Hip hop culture's seed had bloomed. Our popular culture is now based on it. Immersed in it. Everything: media, clothing, language. Like it or not Bill Cosby. Blame them or revere them, Chic deserve so much of the credit. They are still sampled frequently for urban numbers, recent hits by Biggie Smalls, the Beastie Boys and Faith Evans bear that out. By the way, Good Times is still the ultimate rollerskating jam on its own.

So I leave it to you, the voter. Or at least the listener. Check out Chic's Best of Chic: Dance, Dance, Dance for musical reference. For a decade the sound of Chic was dominant. The following time has been influence by what Chic hath wrought. Betta recognize. Chic was shortlived, but revolutionary. This isn't their first nomination and they may not make it this year with too many other acts that have been previously snubbed on this year's ballot. I just hope that Chic gets their due soon. Both Tony and Edward have passed on, though Nile carries the Chic torch and continues to perform. I got to meet Mr. Rodgers just once and he passed on some sage advice and was very generous about his experiences. He's a deserving brother and I'm rooting for him. You can view Chic as a precursor to Rush Hour Soul. Their cosmopolitan R&B and upscale visual style is a distinct influence on me. I'd love to give their introduction speech next year. I shall expect an invitation. Nile, if you're out there and want to produce Rush Hour Soul, drop us a line. We're in LA.

These are this year's nominees for the Rock Hall in alpha order. No act from 1980, the qualifying year for the ballot, was named. The ones I would pick are highlighted:
Black Sabbath (8th ballot)
Cat Stevens
Chic (2nd nomination)
Dave Clark Five
Miles Davis
Grandmaster Flash & the Furious 5 (the first rap nominees)
J. Geils Band
Lynyrd Skynyrd (7th ballot)
John Mellencamp
Patti Smith Group (5th overall nod)
Paul Butterfield Blues Band
Sex Pistols
Sir Douglas Quintet
The Stooges (5th nomination)
Joe Tex

Who would you vote for if you had access to a ballot? I'd like to know. You certainly read through my stump speech for Chic. Write a comment and tell the other Soul Mates what you think.
Have a great weekend everybody. Yowza! Yowza! Yowza!
Love, Power, Peace


Xto said…
In response to your sign-off... I wanna boogie with u! Absolutely. Positively. There is NO disco worth a damned thing if Chic is not in. Extracurriculars aside, in the '80's there were many bands out there emulating that Nile Rodgers style. I read an interview with John Taylor, I think before Seven and the Ragged Tiger came out, and he was gushing over Nile Rodgers' ability to pick without a pick, how striking and unique that technique was, and how versatile that allowed him to be. And those hooks needed no bait. Bad, bad, bad. And remember the daze when hip hop actually had a beat and you could dance to it? But I digress. When I think back to the late '70's, Chic was IT. I loved all that disco stuff and the one-hit wonders, but Chic was on a plane of their own in that genre. They HAVE to go in that Hall. If I have to go in there and think, "My God, the guy who killed 'We Are the World' is up here," I HAVE to be able to look over in their little corner of the world and say, "Now THAT had a beat and you could dance to it."

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