Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Chic was put together in 1977 by guitarist Nile Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards, two session musicians who met in 1970. After recruiting former Labelle drummer Tony Thompson, they set out as a trio keeping themselves busy performing cover songs at various gigs. Calling themselves The Big Apple Band, they first dabbled in jazz/rock fusion. later on turning their attentions to new wave music, they re-named themselves Allah And The Knife Wielding Punks (a name they should have kept due to its extreme coolness). Eventually realizing their need for a vocalist to become a fully functional unit, they drew up an agreement with one Norma Jean Wright which permitted her to have a solo career while working with the band. At this point they made yet another stylistic change to dance music, shifting to original material and re-christening themselves Chic.
With the help of a young recording engineer named Bob Clearmountain, who was at the beginning of an illustrious career as a producer, the band recorded what would be their first hits, "Everybody Dance" and "Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)". Chic shopped these demo recordings around with little success until Buddah Records agreed to release "Dance, Dance, Dance" as a 12 inch in late 1977. It gained popularity due to club play and word-of-mouth resulting in a contract with Atlantic Records and the band's self-titled debut album. When Rodgers and Edwards decided to add a second female vocalist Norma Jean Wright suggested her friend, Luci Martin, joining their ranks in 1978.
"Dance, Dance, Dance", which was their first single recording, got Chic to the Top 10 on the band's first shot, peaking at #6 on both the pop and RnB charts. The follow-up, "Everybody Dance" sold more modestly though still going to a quite respectable #38 on the pop charts and #12 RnB. The band's first trip to the top of the charts came courtesy of their sophomore LP release C'est Chic. This album contained the single "Le Freak" which hit #1 on the pop, RnB and club charts. "Le Freak" was a high-energy affair that oozed funk with a mid-song vamp that not only forced the listener to move, but also was sophisticated enough to force the listener to listen. It clearly illustrated why Chic stood out among the many disco acts of the time. Although Rodgers and Edwards would become quite prolific producers, the music was not blatantly producer-driven as most disco music tended to be. Chic was a band and they approached their music as such. And, much like their contemporaries K.C. And The Sunshine Band, and unlike most other disco artists they realized that funk and soul is quite conducive to dancing and therefore kept those very qualities at the core of their music.
This served them well as another single from the album, "I Want Your Love" brought them back to the Top 10 at #7 pop and #5 RnB. This, plus the fact that "Le Freak sold six million copies in the U.S. alone, making it the highest selling single in the history of Warner Brothers (Atlantic's parent company) until Madonna's "Vogue" in 1990. Chic's status as superstars was solidified as one of the few platinum-level acts in the genre of disco.
A year later in 1979 their next album Risqué was released, which featured a single that would be one of the most influential songs of the era. This song, titled "Good Times" became the basis for The Sugarhill Gang's seminal breakthrough rap single "Rapper's Delight". It's direct influence could also be heard on the rock group Queen's "Another One Bites The Dust" and new wave group Blondie's "Rapture", Daft Punk's "Around The World" and Captain Sensible's "Wot?". As for Chic themselves, the song gave them their second chart-topper, hitting #1 on both the pop and RnB charts.
The band's music, composed by Edwards and Rodgers, would find its way via sampling to many more subsequent hip-hop releases. As a result of their success, Edwards and Rodgers were tapped to write, produce, and arrange work by other major RnB and pop artists such as Sister Sledge's We Are Family, Diana Ross' album Diana which included the hits "Upside Down" and "I'm Coming Out" Carly Simon's "Why" from her album Soup For One, and Debbie Harry's solo LP Koo Koo. Chic also gave a break to a young session vocalist on their earlier albums. This fledgling singer's name was Luther Vandross. Separately, Nile Rodgers produced David Bowie's Let's Dance, Mick Jagger's She's The Boss and Madonna's Like A Virgin among others. Bernard Edwards joined Robert Palmer's one-off supergroup Power Station with drummer Tony Thompson as well as producing Palmer's commercial breakthrough LP Riptide.
With the disco era coming to an end, Chic disbanded in the 1980s although Edwards and Rodgers kept busy writing, producing and performing with other high-profile artists. Tragedy struck in April 18th of 1996 when Bernard Edwards died of pneumonia at the too-young age of 43. The band had recently re-formed with new female vocalists Silver Logan Sharpe and Jenn Thomas.
Chic was struck a second time with a band member's death when drummer Tony Thompson succumbed to kidney cancer on November 12, 2003. He was 48.
As performers, writers, producers and an influence on artists that crossed genres, Chic left a large footprint on an industry and indeed, on the world. Just a disco group? Hardly.