Jeez! Plain Or Pan used to be all about Beta Band outtakes and multiple versions of La’s demos, the odd foosty soul survivor and long-forgotten obscurios by long-forgotten oddballs. It still is, of course, but just not today.
I have a long-time love of disco. To these ears, it doesn’t matter that it’s considered kinda naff and uncool, which, when placed next to any amount of other musical bits n’ pieces, it may well be. In the mid-late 70s, when straddled by the ugly, oiky twin-headed monster of glam and punk, it was certainly the musical choice for the straight-laced amongst society. Folk who bought one single a year bought Saturday Night Fever. Folk who bought one single a week owned the entire back catalogues of The Sweet and Sham 69. What I like about disco is the musicality of it all. If the Floyd (man) and Can (man) are head music, disco is most definitely music designed for below the waist. Rock music is, they say, ‘proper’ music. But so is disco! Made on proper instruments and played as well as or even better than the patchouli-smelling long hairs in afghan coats from bygone eras, disco is all about a slick riff, a fluid bassline and a four-to-the-floor, hi-hat enhanced beat that never lets the lyrics get in the way of a good groove.
The difference between rock and disco is that rock music has the virtuosos, the soloists and the guitar heroes. Who’s Pink Floyd’s guitarist? Easy, eh? But if I asked you to tell me who played the slick riffs on Night Fever or Rock Your Baby, chances are you’d be struggling. You could probably have a good stab at naming half the members of Can. But asked to tell me who played the fluid basslines on Car Wash or Young Hearts Run Free and chances are you’d be asking the audience or phoning a friend who answers to the name of Mr Google. Disco, for one reason or other has been ridiculed and put in its place as someway unimportant. Of course there are exceptions to the rule.
Nile Rodgers was developing serious Class A substance abuse at the age most of us are just getting to grips with the technicalities of Eagle-Eyed Action Man. Passed back and forth at a young age from East Coast to West Coast on a succession of Greyhound buses between his drug-addicted prostitute mother and far-off, far-out aunts and uncles on the other side of America, it’s a wonder he thrived at all. But thrive he did. Playing in a variety of covers acts, reputation enhanced by his ability to read music, fate lead him to Bernard Edwards and eventually Chic were born. It was watching an early Roxy Music show that gave Nile his band’s manifesto: The clothes were as important as the music. The women on the record sleeves would give the band glamourous identity. Chic would be a company. An organization. Singers would come and go, but the core of Rodgers and Edwards would remain the constant. They’d write songs for other artists. They’d discover knew ones. Like an East Coast Family Stone, in sharp suits rather than hippy garb, but fuelled by the same high grade white powders, Chic and their music would rule the world. You know the songs. You know the stories. You can read all about it in Nile’s excellent ‘Le Freak‘ autobiography.
It’s worth noting that the Nile Rodgers’ guitar sound has been appropriated by the musos that form white rock’s guitar untouchables. Edwyn Collins’ blatant homage to the sound can be heard all the way from the opening bars to the fade out of Orange Juice’s Rip It Up (perhaps even more so on the strangulated none-more-80s 12″ mix). Johnny Marr was so enraptured by Nile that he based his guitar line on the second verse of The Boy With The Thorn In His Side on those wee choppy rinky-dink Chicisms. Johnny turned up earlier on in the year playing Le Freak on stage with Nile. And just in case you missed the point, he even named his son Nile. Dance records over the past decade or so, proper dance records, made by machines and everything, often stray close to the Chic sound. Modjo’s Lady for one. Spiller’s Groovejet another. And Stardust’s The Music Sounds Better With You. Chicesque, the three of ’em. Even Da Funk by Daft Punk is built around that clipped guitar sound. Ubiquitous. Is that not what they say?
Here are some of the Chic Organization’s wonderful world-ruling results. Every one features Bernard’s ripe-for-sampling, slap-happy, fluid-as-mercury bassline and Nile’s trademark 3 string rinky-dink guitar, chattering away incessantly in the background like a couple of old ladies clacking their false teeth at one another down the Mecca on a Saturday night. It might just be my favourite sound in music.
Chic – Good Times
Norma Jean – Sorcerer (12″ mix)
Diana Ross – Upside Down (original Chic mix)
Sister Sledge – Thinking Of You (Dimitri From Paris mix – officially sanctioned by Chic, it’s a cracker)
Carly Simon – Why (12″ mix)
And the influence of Good Times et al lives on, seemingly forever…