CHIC-TAKE IT OFF.
CHIC-TAKE IT OFF.
It never ceases to amaze me how quickly a group or artists’ star can wane. In some cases, this is because the quality of their music is no longer as good as it once was, or it can be because their music is no longer fashionable. With Chic, the demise in popularity of their music certainly wasn’t caused by a drop in quality of their music. Instead, their suffered due to the backlash against disco. Chic’s music suffered because of the backlash whipped up by the Disco Sucks movement. This cumulated with Disco Demolition Night on July 1979 when at Comiskey Park Chicago, when a group of disgruntled rock music fans decided to blow up a quantity of disco records. These “good ole boys” not only blew up the records, but very nearly blew up themselves and the stadium. Following this display of intolerance and hatred, suddenly disco music became persona non gratis on radio stations. After this, Chic’s music declined in popularity. Risque, Chic’s third album was released just after Disco Demolition Night, but still matched the popularity of their two previous albums. It reached number five in the US Billboard 200 and number two in the US R&B Charts, resulting in Chic’s third platinum album. In the UK, Risque didn’t fare as well as C’est Chic, which was certified gold, reaching number twenty-nine, resulting in a silver disc for Chic. The album that followed Risque was Real People, released in June 1980, and sales suffered due to the disco backlash. Real People only reached number thirty in the US Billboard 200 and number eight in the US R&B Charts, while it failed to chart in the UK. Sadly, worse was to come when Chic would release their fifth album Take It Off in November 1981.
1981 was a busy year for Niles Rogers and Bernard Edwards. As well as writing and recording Take It Off, Niles and Bernard wrote and produce two other albums. These were Debbie Harry lead singer of Blondie’s debut solo album Koo Koo and Johnny Mathis’s album I Love My Lady, which was never released. Of this trio of albums, Debbie Harry’s would be the most successful, reaching number twenty-five in the US Billboard 200. However, how would Take It Off fare?
Recording and mixing of Take It Off took place during 1981 at the Power Plant in New York, Niles Rogers favorite recording studio and where every Chic album was recorded. With Niles playing bass, Bernard guitar and Tony Thompson drums, this was the classic lineup of Chic. Add to this the vocals of Alfa Anderson, Fonzi Thornton, Luci Martin and Jocelyn Brown and Randy Brecker contributing trumpet and flugelhorn and this was the recipe for some wonderful music. In total ten tracks were recorded, and Take It Off was scheduled for release later in 1981.
Take It Off was released in November 1981 on Atlantic Records, only reaching number 124 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-six in the US R&B Charts. This was easily Chic’s least successful album at this point. Like Real People, Take It Off failed to chart in the UK. Worse was to come though, when Stage Fright became the first Chic single to fail to enter the US Billboard 100, while it only reached number thirty-five in the US R&B Charts. Obviously, this was a huge disappointment to Chic, given the quality of music on Take It Off. However, should Take It Off have fared much better? That’s what I’ll now decide.
Opening Take It Off is Stage Fright, the only single released from the album. Opening with short, sharp bursts of Alfa and Fonzi’s vocals, they give way to Bernard’s quick chiming guitar, Bernard’s funky bass and keyboards. Tony Thompson’s drumming provides a steady backdrop as the lead vocal is powerful and emotive. Later, Niles and Bernard combine during a breakdown, contributing some funky classic Chic licks to this mid-tempo track. Like Alfa and Fonzi’s vocals, there’s no drop in quality, with Chic still a group of hugely talented and creative individuals. One thing that’s missing however, are The Chic Strings. Their lush sound doesn’t grace this album. This makes the sound quite difference.However, Stage Fright is still a quality track, with punchy vocals from Alfa and Fonzi and a real funk influence, thanks to Bernard, Niles and Tony.
Although there’s no Chic Strings on Take It Off, Burn Hard features some great horn playing. Here, the tempo quickens, with Alfa and Fonzi contributing energetic and punchy vocals while the rhythm section of Niles, Bernard and Tony drive the track along. Niles’ guitar playing is really fast, accurate with a jazzy sound. Meanwhile Bernard contributes some slap bass, while keyboards augment the sound. As the track progresses, the guitars soar and sear, while the vocals become even sharper and punchier. This is very different from Chic of old, and demonstrates change in style and sound. It’s almost a post disco sound, augmented by elements of jazz, soul and even a rocky sound to the guitar. While the rhythm section play with aplomb, I’m not sure the quick-fire and snappy delivery of the lyrics works. However, it’s still a decent track, if not vintage Chic.
So Fine sees the Chic rhythm section roll back the years. With Niles demonstrating his flair and talent as guitarist, while Tony and Bernard and contribute to the looser and much more laid back style of the track. Even the vocals are much more gentle and subtle. Keyboards feature throughout the track, with electric piano and gently soaring backing vocalists. It’s very much Niles’ guitar playing that steals the show. He effortlessly plays a jazz tinged solo, while everyone else is left to provide his backing band. Like the previous track, it’s very different to the old Chic sound, but is a much better track than its predecessor, one with quality stamped all over it, thanks to Niles’ guitar playing.
Flash Back opens with a loping bass and slow drums playing, giving the track a slightly moody sound. Then keyboards enter, lightening the sound. When Niles’ thoughtful vocal enters this suits the slower temper. What I really like are the gospel influenced backing vocals that appear is short bursts. Later, when Niles’ vocal drops out, they take over, before Niles vocal reenters. During the track, Bernard’s bass and Tony’s drums provide the track’s heartbeat, although Niles gets an opportunity to contribute a searing solo. Overall, it’s a track that demonstrates a new side to Chic’s music. Gone are the lush strings, in is a thoughtful and slightly moody sound, with Niles contributing a considered vocal. Although this is quite a departure from the disco sound we all know and love Chic for, but it demonstrates the group’s versatility and determination not to be remembered as just a band who prospered during the disco era.
Closing Side One of Take It Off is Telling Lies, which has an electro influenced introduction, where synths combine with the rhythm section. This gives way to an arrangement that has the typical Chic guitar sound. Above the arrangement is an emotive and strong vocal, while Alfa and Fonzi contribute backing vocals. Taking the track in a funky direction are the rhythm section, guitars and keyboards, while the vocal has a really soulful quality.
Side Two opens with Your Love Is Cancelled. Again it’s a departure from the old Chic sound, with a piano, finger-clicks and slap bass combining with a soaring, searing guitar before Niles’ vocal slightly dramatic vocal enters. The track has a loose and funky sound, with the bass key to the this, while guitar, drum, percussion and keyboards augment the vocal. It’s another track with a quite different sound, one that’s unlike anything else on Take It Off. Having said that, I enjoyed the track, with its looser style and sound.
Would You Be My Baby sees Alfa and Fonzi return, their vocals delivered first in short, sharp bursts before giving way to an emotive, dramatic style. Meanwhile, the rhythm section, guitar, piano and percussion provide the perfect backdrop for their vocals. It’s a mid-tempo arrangement, that features elements of funk and soul, while the vocal is again, soulful and delivered beautifully, resulting in one of the best tracks on Take It Off.
The sound and style changes on the title track Take It Off. There’s more of a funk influence with keyboards, rhythm section and blazing horns combining with Niles’ breakneck chiming guitars. They give way to Alfa’s vocal, which is accompanied by soaring, powerful backing vocalists. Niles takes over the vocal, before it changes hands again. Meanwhile, bursts of a funk laden rhythm section, braying horns and keyboards combine to produce the funkiest of backdrops for the rhythm section. This proves that there was much more to Chic than disco music, with the group capable of producing some fantastically funky music.
Just Out of Reach is the fastest track on Take It Off. It opens with just keyboards playing, before Niles’ ups the tempo with his guitar playing. He plays quickly, before the rhythm section join in. They give way to a beautiful and heartfelt vocal from Alfa, before Niles delivers a gentle and equally beautiful vocal. Here, we see a more soulful side of Chic, which is made even better by Lenny Pickett’s alto saxophone solo, which soars and drifts high above the arrangement, adding to the track’s drama and beauty. He gives way to the much more subtle sound of the vocals, before this beautiful, romantic track comes to an all to quick ending.
Closing Take It Off, is Baby Doll a much slower, funky track. With the rhythm section adding some funky licks and tricks, the horns enter, while keyboards add an atmospheric sound. By now, the track resembles a jam, where funk and jazz are the two predominate influences. Again Lenny Pickett contributes alto saxophone, blowing a stunning solo, as Chic are let of the leash, allowed to take a magnificent journey into jazz funk that’s quite brilliant, demonstrating the group’s talent and versatility. This seems the perfect way to close Take It Off, with a track that shows there was much more to Chic than disco.
Take It Off was a very different sounding album from Chic. Gone were The Chic Strings, gone was the disco of previous albums and in was a very different sound. The album saw Chic combine elements of soul, funk, jazz and even rock. However, it still had the same quality you’d expect from Chic. Maybe becase the album was quite different in sound and style, that’s why Take It Off wasn’t a commercial success. Some of the songs like Your Love Is Cancelled have a looser sound, while Take It Off and Baby Doll have a funk drenched sounds. Baby Doll even sees Chic take a journey into jazz funk, during what is essentially a funky jam. On So Fine, you hear a jazz influence, which can be Although Take It Off has a funky side, there’s still a soulful side to the music, with Telling Lies and Would You Be My Baby proof of this. During Take It Off, there’s a jazz influence, with So Fine, a track where you hear this jazz influence. Overall, I really enjoyed Take It Off, although I must admit I did miss the lush and beautiful sound of The Chic Strings. However, while strings and disco were but a distant memory, we hear just how versatile and talented musicians Chic were, with Take It Off combining soul, funk and jazz effortlessly. Sadly after Take It Off, only 1982s Tongue In Cheek entered the US Billboard 200, reaching just number 173 and number forty-seven in the US R&B Charts, while 1983s Believer failed to chart. Even Chic’s comeback album Chic-ism released in 1992, only reached number thirty-nine in the US R&B Charts. This was a long way from Chic’s first three platinum certified albums. If however, you’ve never heard Take It Off, it’s an album that’s well worth exploring, although don’t expect disco and The Chic Strings. To me, it’s a compelling album, full of quality music that crosses the musical genres, demonstrating Chic’s talent and versatility. Standout Tracks: Stage Fright, Telling Lies, Take It Off and Baby Doll.
CHIC-TAKE IT OFF.