Recently I was listening to an album of edits by Greg Wilson, Credit To The Edit, and one of the songs he’d created an edit of was Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah), one of the best known of Chic’s tracks. After hearing this track, it set me thinking just how hugely influential Chic were as a group. During the popularity of disco, Chic produced some of the biggest, most successful tracks. This includes Le Freak, Good Times, My Forbidden Lover and I Want Your Love. Later, when hip-hop emerged, their music was sampled on two of the biggest early tracks Grandmaster Flash’s Adventures On the Wheels of Steel and the Sugarhill Gang’s Rappers Delight. It wasn’t just hip-hop acts that found inspiration in Chic’s music. Blondie’s track Rapture, Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust and Daft Punk’s Around the World were all “inspired” by Chic’s music. C’est Chic was Chic’s second album, released in August 1978. The album was a huge commercial success, selling over one million copies and was certified platinum. It reached number four in the Billboard 200, and Le Freak, one of the singles from the album, sold over six million copies, making it Atlantic Records biggest selling single ever. However, who were Chic, and what does C’est Chic sound like?
Chic were formed in 1976 by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. They’d originally met in 1970, forming a rock band The Boys, and later, they became The Big Apple Band. The band played throughout the New York area, but never got a record contract, even though record companies expressed an interest in their music. By 1977, Rodgers and Edwards had formed LaBelle, and they were joined by Tony Thompson, drummer with Ecstasy, Passion and Pain. On his recommendation, Raymond Jones joined to play keyboards. All they needed now was a singer. Norma Jean Wright became the band’s singer. However, they also allowed her to work as a solo singer. Now the lineup was complete, they started recording a demo tape. Bob Clearmountain, then a young record engineer agreed to help the band record their demo tape. On the resulting tape, were two of Chic’s best known tracks Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah) and Everybody Dance. Next the band started playing concerts, supporting bigger acts.
The following year, 1977, Chic released their debut the eponymous album Chic. This was, in some ways, an extension of their demo tape, with group recording some new songs. Featuring Everybody Dance and Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah) Chic was released in November 1977 reaching number twelve in the US Pop charts, selling over 500,000 copies. One problem Rodgers and Edwards realized the band had was recreating their studio sound live. To solve this problem, they decided to add another female vocalist. Luci Martin, a friend of Norma Jean Wright, joined the band during early 1978.
Having just added a new vocalist to the band, they lost Norma Jean Wright. Not long after recording their debut album Chic, they recorded Wright’s debut solo album Norman Jean. To allow her to have a solo career, they’d allowed her to sign with a different record company. Legal problems meant she couldn’t continue as a member of Chic. However, before she left the band, she took part in the recording of Sister Sledge’s debut album We Are Family. Wright was released by Alfa Anderson, who sung backing vocals on Chic’s debut album.
C’est Chic, which this article is about, was released in August 1978, reaching number four in the Billboard 200. The album sold over one million copies in the US alone, and was certified platinum. This was the beginning of a rich vein of form for Chic. Their next album Risque, featured Good Times and My Forbidden Lover. Like their two previous albums, Risque was a huge commercial success, reaching number five in the US Pop charts.
It wasn’t just Chic that Rodgers and Edwards were recording, writing and producing during this time. They were also involved in writing, arranging and producing albums for Sister Sledge, Diana Ross, Sheila B Devotion and Carly Simon. One other artist whose career they helped launch, was Luther Vandross. He’d previously sung on several of Chic’s albums, and Rodgers and Edwards helped launch his career as a solo artist.
In the early 1980s’, disco became hugely unpopular. In the US, there had even been organized campaigns against the music. Suddenly, Chic’s music, like that of other similar artists, was no longer receiving airplay on the radio, and sales dried up. This lead to the group disbanding in the early eighties. The four albums they released between 1980 and 1983 failed to achieve commercial success. Real People released in June 1980, only reached number thirty in the US Billboard 200. Take It Off, released in November 1981, only reached one-hundred and twenty-four and Tongue In Chic, released in November 1982, only reached one-hundred and seventy-three. Believer, released in November 1983, failed to even chart. By now, it seemed, the love affair with both Chic’s music and disco, was over.
In 1989, after the band met at a birthday party, and started playing some of Chic’s old music, they decided to have a reunion. They recorded their final album, Chic-ism , which was released in March 1992. However, although the two singles Chic Mystique and Your Love both sold well, the album failed to chart. After the release of the album, the Rodgers and Edwards, complete with a new line-up embarked upon a tour.
Today, Chic’s music continues to influence a new generation of artists, and is just as popular as ever. Sadly, Bernard Edwards died in April 1996 just aged forty-three, while on a tour of Japan. His partnership with Nile Rodgers produced some of the greatest dance music of the seventies and eighties, not just with Chic, but with many other artists, including Sister Sledge. Drummer Tony Thompson died in November 2003, aged forty-eight. Tony played a huge part in the sound of Chic, and his influence and contribution must never be underestimated. He was a hugely talented drummer, and part of one of the most famous rhythm sections in dance music. Having told you about Chic, I’ll tell you about their second album
C’est Chic opens with Chic Cheer, a track that must be good because it opens with applause. Keyboards then play a lengthy solo. Then for the first time, Bernard Edwards’ trademark bass enters, accompanied by backing vocals. Straight away, you get the feeling that really great piece of funky dance music is emerging. You’re right, rhythm section, guitar and backing vocalists combine to produce a fantastically funky and repetitive track. It’s full of hooks that worm their way deep into your brain. They’re so catchy they’re almost infectious. As the track ends, Chic are greeted by thunderous applause yet again. No wonder, Chic Cheer is an infectiously funky dance track, that gives a taste of what’s to come.
When Le Freak was released as a single, it sold over six million copies in the US alone. If a single sold that many copies it must be good? It’s not just good it’s brilliant. From the familiar opening bars when the bass and vocal combine, accompanied by handclaps, the track bursts joyously into life. Strings sweep beautifully throughout the track, Tony Thompson’s drumming is excellent and Bernard’s plays one of the best bass solos ever recorded. His playing is fast and intricate, as he slaps and plucks his bass. Alfa Anderson’s vocal is a joyous, celebratory call to dance. Later in the track, Tony Sabino’s piano playing adds the finishing touches to one of the greatest dance tracks ever recorded. Brilliant.
Lush strings and percussion open Savoir Faire, before Nile Rodgers plays the sweetest guitar solos. As the track progresses, it just keeps getting better. Bernard’s bass is subtle as he lets the strings and Nile take centre-stage. Savoir Faire is very different from the opening tracks, it just sweeps along, a beautiful combination of strings, guitar and rhythm section. Even without a vocal, the track is outstanding. This is due to one of the best guitar solos you’ll hear courtesy of Nile Rogers. It’s made all the better with addition of the strings, and is five minutes of the sweetest, lushest and most beautiful music your ears will ever hear.
Bass, drums and strings combine at the start of Happy Man. Before the vocal appears, the track sounds like several Sister Sledge tracks, including We Are Family. This isn’t a surprise as Nile and Bernard were responsible for their sound too. When the vocal enters, Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin sing backing vocals while Bernard sings lead. The lyrics are joyous, uplifting and have a feel good factor. While the vocal is sung, a great arrangement is unfolding. Strings sweep sweetly, a throbbing, metronomic bass sits at the bottom of the mix and yet another fantastic guitar solo from Nile appears. Meanwhile, Tony Thompson’s drumming provides the track’s heartbeat. Layer upon layer, of the most melodic music emerge from your speakers, as the track that sweeps and shimmers along, a combination of magnificent melodies and rhythms.
The second single released from C’est Chic was I Want Your Love. For me, this is one of the most memorable and familiar of the tracks from this era. Drums and tubular bells combine to open the track, followed by bass and a short bust of horns. When the vocal appears, Alfa and Luci combine perfectly, as Bernard starts to play another of his famous bass solos. Like on Le Freak, it’s fast and intricate, and totally peerless. A piano punctuates the track, as Alfa and Luci give one of their best vocals on the album. It’s sweet and melodic, as the arrangement just gets better. Both the horns and tubular bells then reappear, and make further appearances during the track. Strings join the track, completing the now trademark Chic sound. The addition of the strings completes the sound perfectly. By the end of the track, you can only marvel at the arrangement on this track. What makes the arrangement and track so good, is the combination of instruments, and how, and when, they used them. Here, the strings weren’t introduced to later in the track, and the horns and tubular bells used sparingly throughout the track. It’s the combination and choice of instruments and vocals that make this without doubt, one of Chic’s best ever tracks.
Chic decide to slow things down a little with At Last I Am Free. This is a much slower song about a relationship that’s gone wrong. It opens with drums slowly playing, bass and a thoughtful guitar solo. When the vocal enters, Alfa and Luci sing close harmonies, before the lead vocal. Their close harmonies are dramatic and heartfelt, laden with emotion. Here, the arrangement is very different, it’s not as full, but still has a lovely lush sound. Everyone plays slowly, guitar, piano and rhythm section, while strings sweep behind the main arrangement. Bernard’s bass playing is slow, spacious and thoughtful, and the vocals are slow, sad and emotive. Towards the end, Robert Sabino’s piano adds to the emotional and dramatic atmosphere. Although very different to most tracks on the album, this is a really good track, full of emotion due to Niles and Bernard’s arrangement, and the vocal provided by Alfa and Luci.
After a lovely slow track, Chic resume normal service with Sometimes You Win. The Rhythm section and guitar combine before the vocal enters. When it does, it’s sung like a duet with Alfa, Luci and Bernard each taking the lead. They accompanied by backing vocals. Behind them a really full, catchy arrangement emerges. It’s driven along by bass, drums, guitar and keyboards, melodic and laden with hooks. Later on, horns play, adding a new dimension to the sound. This really lifts the track, as does the backing vocals, which remind me of the Bee Gees circa Saturday Night Fever. What I like about this track is it has a “feel good” sound, and still sounds as good today, as it did in 1978. Combined with a some really tight vocals and another great arrangement, this potent combination results in another great track from Chic.
C’est Chic closes with (Funny) Bone, which joyously bursts into life, with the sound of the type of party you really want to go to, taking place. Meanwhile, drums, bass and guitar open the track, driving it along. Strings enter, sweeping quickly along, accompanied by handclaps and the occasional whistle. This is a lovely upbeat track, with Bernard’s bass playing and Tony’s drumming is at the forefront to a track which sounds like the soundtrack to a the best house party ever. However, before you know it, this fantastic funky instrumental track is over, after four magical minutes.
Since Chic released their first single and album, I’ve been a huge fan of their music. It’s music that has stood the test of time really well, and over thirty years later, sounds as good as it did back then. Chic produced several great albums, and countless brilliant singles, including some of the best dance records ever. C’est Chic is one of their finest albums, and includes two of their best know singles I Want Your Love and the six-million selling Le Freak. On the album are lush strings, sweet, tight vocals, brilliant bass lines courtesy of Bernard and some masterful guitar playing from Niles. This music was at the cutting-edge of the disco era, and remains some of the best dance music ever produced. Their music influenced a whole new generation of musicians, from hip-hop pioneers Grandmaster Flash and the Sugarhill Gang to established recording artists including Blondie and Queen, and later Daft Punk and New Order. if you like Chic’s music, C’est Chic is a great album, one of their best and gives a good overview of what their music sounded like back in 1978. Standout Tracks: Le Freak, Savoir Faire, I Want Your Love and Sometimes You Win.