Written By: Ethan Griggs
My Music: ethangriggsmusic.virb.com
Disco is as illusive as the players who conceive it. Before it became a national phenomenon among American youth in the late-70’s, folks had to dance to funk, blues, or rock, whether they liked it or not… that is, until Chic burst on to the scene. Formed by New York session musicians Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, the group’s name has become synonymous with the disco and dance era. Here are their five best songs.
1. “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)” from Chic (1977) Chic’s debut single is basically a crash course to disco, which is crazy to think about considering we’re talking about a brand new band. The sonic slickness of the 70’s is splattered all over the production of this record: a groovy baseline and tight drum beat intro the song before Rodgers’ seminal guitar playing makes its entrance. The refrain sung by Norma Jean Wright is immediately etched into your brain, shielded by a towering string arrangement. The verses follow up the argument: “Rhumba and tango, Latin hustle, too/Yowsah yowsah yowsah, I wanna boogie with you”. “Yowsah” is a reference to both the Dixieland-era violinist Ben Bernie (who popularized the term), as well as term’s usage in the 1969 film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? about a dance marathon during the Great Depression. Listen carefully and you can make our a young Luther Vandross still cutting his teeth as a session vocalist.
2. “Everybody Dance” from Chic (1977 Another one of the group’s most popular songs opens the second side of their eponymous 1977 debut. “Everybody Dance” very much serves as a promotional counterpart to its predecessor. While playing as another anthem for the dance floor, it’s also one of the more lyrical Chic songs: “Spinning all around the floor/Just like Rodgers and Astaire who found love without a care/Stepping to our favorite tune/The good times always end too soon”, are lyrics sung by Wright in a delicate ember of soul. Now two-for-two on number one singles, the success of this disco number threw the young Chic into the beginning stages of pop superstardom.
3. “Le Freak” from C’est Chic (1978) Once Wright released her own self-titled debut, she was legally forced to end her partnership with Rodgers and Edwards. They still collaborated on the classic Sister Sledge album We Are Family, and with their backup singer from the first album Alfa Anderson, Chic also began working on the follow up to their own debut. “Le Freak”, the first single from the monstrously influential C’est Chic, is the mission statement of disco. Conceived by the band during a jam session following a failed attempt at meeting dance pioneer Grace Jones, “Le Freak” catapulted the band to international stardom. The song’s famous refrain was originally played and practiced as “aaah, FUCK OFF” in response to the bouncer that didn’t let them into Jones’ room, before the group changed it to “FREAK OUT”. Go ahead and tell me you’ve never heard this song…
4. “I Want Your Love” from C’est Chic (1978) Another huge single off the second album is arguably Chic’s most sentimental song. While still a primal dance floor track, “I Want Your Love” features an element of romance that is absent from other Chic songs. It features the sound of bells, which absolutely heightens the themes of love and relationships. Aside from being just a great pop tune, Rodgers is also at his absolute best as a guitarist. The double-tracked rhythm guitar parts harmonize and eat up the mix at the end of the song in order to create a cascade of shiny 70’s rock and roll.
5. “Good Times” from Risqué (1979) Now here comes the kicker: even after the success of the singles from C’est Chic, the band still had one more incredibly popular and influential song. What I said above about “Le Freak” being the essential disco track? Scratch that, the accolade definitely belongs to “Good Times” off of Chic’s third album. Without question, this is one of the most influential and most sampled songs of the dance/disco era. Queen has cited it as the basis for their smash hit “Another One Bites The Dust”; the song’s unforgettable bassline was sampled as the backbeat for both Grandmaster Flash’s “Adventures On the Wheels Of Steel” and the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” (arguably the first commercial hip-hop record). Chic would never see success like what “Good Times” gave them again, but it enshrined the band as “rock gods” of the late 70’s disco movement, and it would open the door for its members to peruse worthwhile solo careers… Rodgers wold make music history again in 1983 when Let’s Dance, an album he co-produced with none other than David Bowie, became a smash hit.