We Are Family, The Greatest Dancer, Like A Virgin, Notorious, Let's Dance, I Need Your Love, Good Times, I'm Coming Up, Upside Down... What do all these great dance hits have in common? They were written and produced by the incomparable Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic, back in the days of Disco.
I hated Disco when I was growing up. I thought it was tacky and stupid. Of course, now I love it, but then I turned up my nose at it. However, as soon as I heard the unmistakable sound of Chic, I thought: this is good. This is good Disco. A funky, classy, robust, pared down sound (no tacky oingo boingos) that made me want to get down. It boils down to this: the fantastic baselines of Bernard Edwards (may he rest in peace) and the urgent, buoyant, contagious signature rhythm guitar of Nile Rodgers. Plus excellent arrangements (listen to that piano in We Are Family, or the horns in I'm Coming Up or I Want Your Love) and the cool female voices. The best Disco music in the history of the cosmos. Period.
Rodgers is one of the greatest producers of hit songs ever.
Chic is chic.
Yesterday, the free concert by Nile Rodgers and The Chic Corporation, as it is now called, at Lincoln Center Out Of Doors was the most delightful concert I've ever attended. There was no drama to get in, as is increasingly the case in other free Summer concerts in the city like the ever annoying Summerstage and the perpetually mobbed series in Prospect Park. This was a breeze. I've seen the Stones, U2, Pink Floyd, Springsteen and many others. They have been awesome, but this was sheer joy.
Mr. Rodgers showed up, amiably taking pictures of the crowd before the show, clearly happy to be there, impeccable in a white suit and dreadlocks, with his backup band all in white. Remarkably humble, he seemed to me, perhaps a sign of the consummate musician that he is, more of a session magician than a star performer. He delivered absolute dancing heaven.
At one point, he stopped playing to let us know, as he pointed to a tall round building in the back of us, that there many of his greatest hits were composed, with Madonna, with David Bowie and with his musical partner Mr. Edwards, one of the greatest electric bass players of all time. He let us know that Chic was NEVER a cover band. They wrote and arranged many amazing hits sung by Diana Ross, Madonna, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Sister Sledge and many others. But we knew that. Or we should have guessed by the ineffable elegance of most of them. The odd man out is Like A Virgin, which seems to have been composed by Minnie Mouse. Still, it does have its catchy hook.
Rodgers was charming, easy going and youthful looking, even as he confessed about bouts of ill health and taking a walk with a member of Duran Duran on the beach at Ibiza recently, both almost crippled and coughing. He said if he had known he would last so long, he would have taken better care of himself. I can only imagine how Chic partied.
The audience was a great mix of young and old, black and white, lucky tourists and people who got down to dance to those amazing tunes. Had you never known what the hell is Chic, you would still recognize all of them incredible dance tunes. In contrast to some of the pop crap we hear today, these songs deserve to be monster hits. Their influential riffs and baselines have been appropriated by countless artists.
Chic has been nominated four times to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It's about time it gets in.