Recently I’ve going through my music collection and listening to a some of my favorite older music. This has included some old soul and funk from the sixties and seventies, especially, Southern Soul, early acid house and some of the best disco music from the seventies. This is something I do a lot, and sometimes, you find an album that you’ve either forgotten about, or forgotten how good it is. This was the case when I rediscovered Chic’s third album Risque, released in 1979. Risque was a huge success for Chic, reaching number five in the US Billboard 200 and number two in the US R&B Charts. Previously, I’ve written an article on their second album C’est Chic, which they released in 1978. That was one of their finest albums, and since buying that album, it’s one that I’ve constantly revisited. The same can be said of Risque, but because I spend so much of my time listening to music, sometimes, I forget about certain albums. It was only when I started listening to some old stuff, that I came across Risque. Since then, I’ve been smitten by it again, with it being one of the albums I’ve played the most. To me, Chic were one of the best bands of the disco era, releasing some hugely dance-floor friendly tracks. Who can forget Good Times, Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah), Le Freak and Everybody Keep Dancing? However, there was more to Chic than disco. They were also a great funk band, who released some really soulful music. Much of their success was due to the combination of a brilliant rhythm section, in bassist Bernard Rodgers and drummer Tony Thompson, plus Nile Rodgers fantastic guitar playing. Add in some lush, sweeping strings, brass section and sweet, soulful vocals, and you’ve the recipe for some incredible music, which I’ll now tell you about.
Risque opens with Good Times which became one of the most influential and important songs of that time. It was released as a single, and reached number one in the US Billboard 100. The track was used by Grandmaster Flash as the basis for their track Adventures On the Wheels of Steel and was sampled by the Sugarhill Gang on their hit single Rapper’s Delight. It also inspired Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust and much later, the bass line was used by Daft Punk in their track All Around the World. Since the track’s release, it’s one of the most sampled tracks in music. Good Times opens with a flourish of synth, before Bernard Rodgers quick, accurate and hugely funky bass line enters, followed by piano, and guitars before the vocal enters. When it does, it’s a joyous, uplifting and feel-good sound, backed by rhythm section, guitars, piano, strings and handclaps. As the track progresses, it just gets better and better. Bernard gives a career defining performance on bass, producing one of the most influential and famous bass lines in music, Niles’ guitar playing is among the best on the album and Tony’s drumming dynamic and funky. Lush strings sweep in, stabs of piano and of course, the dual vocals, sweet, joyous and melodic. The track has everything and more, and over eight minutes, Chic produce one of their ever tracks, one that’s funky yet soulful, has hooks in abundance and to me, is one of the best tracks of the disco era.
Although A Warm Summer Night is the polar opposite of Good Times. Whereas Good Times was faster track, this is a really slow song, that shows another side of Chic. Guitar, piano and percussion combine to produce a lovely subtle, lush sound as the track opens. When the vocal enters, it’s quiet and tender, with an almost breathlessness present. Between the vocal and the arrangement, a really beautiful track is unfolding. Behind the vocal, the rhythm section, piano, guitar and percussion combine masterfully, producing a beautiful meandering arrangement that matches the vocal. The tenderness of the vocal matches the beautiful lyrics about love. This track is a complete contrast to Good Times, and that’s no bad thing. If this had been a faster track, it would’ve drawn comparison with Good Times, whereas being totally different in style and tempo, comparisons can’t be drawn. However, it’s a beautiful, lush, track, thanks to Niles and Bernard’s arrangement and some tender and subtle vocals. Personally, this very different style of track is one that I really like, and would like to see much more of.
Normal service is resumed with My Feet Keep Dancing another faster track, and one that was released as a single. Unlike Good Times, this wasn’t a hugely successful single, only reaching number 101 in the US Billboard charts and forty-two in the R&B Charts. This I find strange, as it’s another great track, melodic, full of hooks and dancefloor friendly. It begins with the rhythm section, guitars piano and strings sweeping in. Straight away, the track grabs your attention, with some playing from the rhythm section. Both Bernard on bass and Tony on drums provide the tracks heartbeat, while the strings lushly sweep behind them, accompanied by occasional subtle piano playing The vocal is wonderfully repetitive, and is much stronger and louder than the previous track. Later while Bernard gives a virtuoso performance on bass, he’s accompanied by a myriad of handclaps, and the strings dramatically take over, helping drive the track along. By the end of the track, you can’t help but be seduced by this infectious, sweeping and dramatic track, that demonstrates just what Chic did best, make music to dance to.
Like the previous track, My Forbidden Lover was also a single. It was more successful though, reaching number forty-three in the US Billboard 100 and thirty-three in the US R&B Charts. Again, why it wasn’t a more successful track baffles me, given that it’s one of the best tracks Chic released. Guitars, rhythm section, strings and piano combine before the vocal enters. Of that combination, it’s Bernard on bass and Niles on guitar that produce the sound that makes this such a catchy track. Throughout the track, both play brilliantly, with Bernard’s bass playing lightning fast and intricate, as Niles’ guitars chimes brightly, as his playing is similarly fast andintricate. The vocals meanwhile, are joyous as the sing the lyrics, with the dual vocalists uniting perfectly. Behind them the strings sweep confidently, accompanied by piano, rhythm section and guitars. Together with vocal they combine to produce another classic slice of disco music, that’s melodic, full of intricate rhythms and hooks plentiful.
Niles’ guitars soars and screams when he plays a solo as Can’t Stand To Love You. He’s accompanied by the rhythm section and piano before the vocal enters. It’s a very different sounding introduction to the track, with more of a “rocky” sound apparent. Quickly, things are back on track, when Bernard’s bass takes the track into more familiar yet funky, territory, and the rest of the band join in with what becomes a great funk track. Piano, guitar, rhythm section and even the vocalists take the track further into the land of funk. Alfa and Luci play their part, singing the lyrics clearly, yet dramatically and as usual, give a great performance. However, it’s the rhythm section that are responsible for driving the track along, producing a slice of funk par excellence.
Will You Cry (When You Hear This Song) sees Chic drop the tempo again, in a track that’s slow, yet laden with emotion and drama. The rhythm and string sections are responsible for setting the scene, one that’s dramatic and atmospheric. When the Alfa and Luci sing, the drama increases, thanks to their tender and impressively dramatic vocal. Behind them, waves of string rise and fall, punctuated by the rhythm section, guitars and piano. However, it’s a combination of the vocals and waves of strings that are responsible for making this such an impressive, dramatic yet heartfelt and tender song. The strings provide the dramatic backdrop for Alfa and Luci’s vocal. Their delivery is perfect, they bring out the emotion and tenderness in the lyrics. This much slower tempo works really well, and like I said before, this is a side of Chic I wanted to see more of. Here they demonstrate again, that there was more to Chic than great dance tracks, by producing a song that mixes drama and emotion brilliantly,
Risque closes with What About Me, a track that burst brightly into life a combination of guitars, piano rhythm and strings sections combining to produce an arrangement that’s much fuller, and mixes funk and soul. Bernard’s funky bass, Niles’ bright, chiming guitar and sweeping strings provide the backdrop for Alfa and Luci’s vocal. Here, their vocal is quick, singing in short burst, but sounding happy, joyous even. Like the previous track, dramatic waves of lush strings sweep in, while piano, guitars and rhythm section brightly punctuate the track, this time producing an infectious, uptempo arrangement with a joyous, feel-good sound. Again, it’s a perfect track for the dance-floor, one that possesses a melodic and timeless sound. What About Me sounds as good in 2011, as it did when I first heard it in 1979, and is the perfect way to end one of Chic’s greatest albums.
When I reviewed C’est Chic, I said that it was one of their best albums. Now that I’ve reacquainted myself with Risque, I can confidently say that this was the best album the released, with C’est Chic coming a close second. On this album, it seemed that Chic were in their prime and they could do no wrong. There are seven songs on the album, four that are perfect for the dance-floor, and wouldn’t be out of place in any club today, one was a funk track and the other two were lovely slow tracks. One thing they had in common was quality. Each song is of the highest standard, the standard on songwriting, musicianship and vocals fantastic, and made all the better by Niles and Bernard’s production. It seemed that on this album, they were able to write and record hugely, melodic songs where hooks were plentiful, and this resulted in some infectiously, catchy music. Nowhere is that better demonstrated than on Good Times, easily one of the greatest and most influential dance records ever recorded. If you’ve never heard any of Chic’s album Risque, like C’est Chic is a great album to start with. It features seven fantastic songs that demonstrate what a great group Chic were. Standout Tracks: Good Times, A Warm Summer Night, My Feet Keep Dancing and My Forbidden Lover.