Back in 1977, when I was growing up, one of the many sounds that immediately, grabbed my attention, was Chic. Not for me the angry, desolate sound of punk, that to me was a depressing, ugly sound, the anathema of what music should sound like. Instead, I’d become accustomed to The Sound of Philadelphia, soul music, disco music and now, Chic. I first became aware of their music when they released their eponymous album, Chic on Atlantic Records. This to me, was what music should sound like, a fusion of the best of R&B and the nascent disco sound that suddenly, was sweeping the US and UK.
Their debut album Chic was released in December 1977, and like myself, it was a sound that many people fell in love with. On the album’s release, it reached number twenty-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number twelve in the US R&B Charts, selling over half a million copies, and being certified gold. The singles released from the album fared just as well. Dance, Dance Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah) which was originally released on Buddha Records, reached number six in the US Hot 100, US R&B Charts and here in the UK Singles charts. Everybody Dance the other single released from the album, reached number thirty-eight in the US Hot 100, twelve in the US R&B Charts and number nine in the UK singles charts. Quickly, the phenomenon that was Chic became one of the most popular groups of the late seventies and beyond. Now nearly thirty-four years after guitarist Niles Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards produced Chic’s debut album, their music is held in the highest esteem, proving hugely influential to later generations of musicians. Although there are just seven songs on Chic, they’re seven great songs, which I’ll now tell you about.
Chic opens with their debut single Dance, Dance Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah), which reached number one in the US dance play charts and features a young Luther Vandross singing backing vocalists. Many people have puzzled over the meaning of the phrase Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah, which was a phrase popularized by Beb Bernie, an American jazz violinist and radio star of the twenties. It was later used in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? a 1969 film about a dance marathon during the depression. Niles opens the track with a furiously, fast and funky bass, with Bernard’s chiming, shimmering guitar accompanying drums and percussion before a male vocal enters. When it does, things move up a gear, before Alfa and Norma Jean help increase the joyful sound that’s already unfolding, with their sweet, melodic voices. It’s a combination of funk laden rhythm section, lush, sweeping strings and some fast, accurate chiming guitar playing from Bernard. Braying horns, keyboards, percussion and handclaps punctuate the track, the horns a contrast to lushness of the strings. As the track progresses, it just seems to get better and better, the sound a mixture of funk, soul and disco. One thing that’s noticeable is just how tight and talented a band Chic are. Their hook laden, joyous, feel-good sound that’s unfolding, is just irresistible, and it’s hard to believe that this is a debut album I’m listening to. It has such a polished sound, no rough edges, just the smoothest production, with the sweetest sound you could wish to hear, lasting eight and a half magnificent minutes. An absolutely brilliant way to start any album, never mind a debut album.
Sao Paulo has a very different sound to the opening track, with Chic seemingly trying to recreate the laid back sound and atmosphere of an exotic, warm and beautiful faraway place of Brazil. The sound of crashing waves, acoustic guitar, percussion and piano open this instrumental track, before the rhythm section enter. After that, a subtle flute plays, against the mid-tempo arrangement of strings, piano and rhythm section, with occasional, brief bursts of percussion. There’s a real jazz funk and Latin influence to the track, that features sudden short dramatic peaks, before normality is resumed, the arrangement returning to a quite beautiful, gentle sound. Although, It’s a very different sound, far removed from the joyful disco sound of the opening track, but again, it allows Chic to showcase their considerable talents, majestically.
After a change of direction on the previous instrumental track Sao Paulo, You Can Get By sees Chic return to the feel-good sound of the opening track. Here, both the arrangement and vocal are just so catchy, they’re almost infectious. It’s a combination of loud, rounded drums, another funk masterclass on bass from Bernard before blazing, joyful horns and a some fast paced, chiming, shimmery guitar playing from Niles before the vocal enters. The vocal is a deep, sultry, male lead, with Alfa and Norma Jean supplementing the lead vocal, their voices high and joyous, a perfect contrast. Here, there’s some great interplay between the fast, melodic and chiming guitar and the strings, which sweep grandly and lushly. The way they’re arranged, they just feed off each other, encouraging the other to greater things. Add in some hugely funky bass playing to the mix, and you’ve the recipe for the sweetest, smoothest track, one that would grace any dancefloor, from Sao Paulo to San Francisco.
On the original album, Everybody Dance was the opening track of the second side, and was the second single released from the album. Looking back at the chart positions of the single, it seemed to be a much more popular track in the UK, reaching number nine in the singles charts, while it only reached number thirty-eight in the IS Billboard Hot 100 and twelve in the US R&B Charts. That seems strange, given how highly regarded the track is now. In 2010 the Manic Street Preachers (yawn) sampled the track on their sing (It’s Not War) Just the End of Love. Like Dance, Dance, Dance, (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah), it epitomizes everything that’s good about Chic’s music. Tony Thompson’s drumming and Bernard’s bass playing is at the heart of the irresistible sound of the introduction, which defies you to keep still. Some simple, but hugely effective chord changes on piano, give way to the vocal, which to say is musical joyfulness, is an underestimation. Alfa and Norma Jean produce some of their best vocals on the album, while the strings sweep lushly, as the group encourage you to dance and clap your hands. It really is almost impossible not to get swept away by the music. Midway through the track, Bernard decides to give yet another bass masterclass. His playing is furiously, fast and frantically funky. From there until the end, a musical masterpiece unfolds, thanks to a combination of one of the best rhythm sections of the past forty years, some of the lushest, sweeping, strings, subtle percussion, chimimg guitars and joyful vocals. Together, they make this easily, not just one of the album’s highlights, but one of the highlights of Chic’s illustrious career.
Est-Ce Que C’est Chic is a song that tests my long forgotten French to its limits, almost. Now I wish I’d payed closer attention, instead of staring out the window disinterestedly. However, one thing I do recognize is good music, which this is. The tempo is quick, with the rhythm section, percussion, chiming guitars and subtle strings combining to produce a fast paced track, funk drenched track. When the vocal enters, there’s an effective contrast between softly spoken, thoughtful lead vocal and an almost cold, fatter of fact backing vocal, which seems almost a dismissiveness, and air of tension. Meanwhile, this enchanting scenario is played out against an arrangement that’s melodic, full of the trademark Chic sounds. A combination of unusually, understated, chiming guitars, grand, sweeping strings and Tony Thompson and Bernard Rodgers, funk laden rhythm section. This combination leads to a quite different sounding track, but one that’s quite enchanting given the tension between lead and backing vocalists.
When Falling In Love With You opens the sound is one that immediately, you recognize to be full of emotion and passion. The tempo is slower, the sound tender and gentle, thanks to the combination of keyboards, subtle rhythm section and slow, expansive strings, with a piano accompanying Alfa and Norma Jean’s vocal. Their voices are sweet, gentle and full of emotion, as an utterly beautiful, slow arrangement unfolds gradually, all the while getting so much better. What makes this such is a great track is the way the arrangement has a much more subtle sound, with the rhythm section and guitars taking a back seat, and the strings and piano combining to produce a sound that’s melodic, full of emotion and has the ability to tug on your heartstrings. When you add in the sweet and tender vocal, that’s just the finishing touch to what is a very beautiful, gentle love song.
Chic closes with Strike Up the Band, a track that features some great interplay between Niles on guitar and Bernard on bass. Here, they feed off each other, almost daring the other to take things further. The track opens with blazing horns, announcing the arrival of the rhythm section and guitar, which are accompanied by a flute. It’s here that Bernard and Niles combine magnificently, with almost daring do, both egging the other on. Bernard and Niles demonstrate their wide array of talents on bass and guitar brilliantly, their playing fast, accurately and full of funk. Percussion fills out the sound, while strings sweep in, horns bray and blaze, as a flute provides another contrasting sound. Rounding off this track are vocals that are fast and joyous, as they soar in unison. When all this is combined, you’ve a fast paced, track that has a joyous sound, thanks to a majestic musical duel featuring Niles and Bernard, ably assisted by the rest of the band and some equally joyful vocals.
Every time I listen to Chic, I find it hard to believe that this was their debut album. The music is of the highest standard, both the songwriting, playing and production on each track. Bernard Edwards and Niles Rodgers were almost musical geniuses, both hugely talented musicians, songwriters, arrangers and producers. Together, they recorded, wrote and produced one of the strongest debut albums of the seventies. On that album were two disco classics, Dance, Dance Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah) and Everybody Dance. These are two of the greatest disco tracks ever, and are both tracks that sound just as good today, as they sounded in 1977. This was just the first of a series of hugely successful albums with C’est Chic in 1978 and Risque in 1979 building on the success of their debut album. Both of these albums are excellent, featuring some brilliant music, and are albums I’ve written about before. However, little did Chic know when they released their debut album, how popular and influential a group they would become. Since the release of Chic in November 1977, their music is just as popular and still inspires new generations of musicians. If you’ve never heard this album, it’s now available as part of a five disc box set entitled Chic Original Album Series, and features their first five albums. So why not treat yourself, and Dance, Dance, Dance. Standout Tracks: Dance, Dance Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah), You Can Get By, Everybody Dance and Strike Up the Band.