Music

Have Fun: A Tribute to Diana Ross, Nile Rodgers, and the CHIC Groove of 'diana' (Parts 7-9)

Nile Rodgers

While Broadway gets Motown and Daft Punk gets lucky, more than 25 artists and producers explore why Diana Ross and Nile Rodgers still turn us "inside out".

Read Parts 1 - 4

Read Parts 5 - 6

Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards began the 1980s on top. diana was a cross-format smash, an international sensation that delivered hits in major territories around the globe and would eventually sell upwards of ten million copies worldwide. Though the producers were initially distraught over Motown's remix, they couldn't deny the album was doing exactly what it was supposed to do: bring Diana Ross back to number one and raise their profile as credible producers who could generate hits for artists outside the CHIC organization. The industry anxiously awaited their next move.

In the world of CHIC, 1980 also witnessed the producers' work on Real People (the group's fourth album), plus Love Somebody Today by Sister Sledge and King of the World by French outfit Sheila & B. Devotion, but all three albums scarcely replicated the seven-figure units of diana. Ironically, the biggest success Rodgers and Edwards had in 1980 beyond the diana album was with records that weren't even CHIC releases: Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" brought the bass line of "Good Times" back to the summit of the pop charts (one week after "Upside Down" hit number one), Rodgers' guitar riffs inspired Blondie on "Rapture", and the Sugarhill Gang sampled the rhythm track of "Good Times" on "Rapper's Delight" -- a crucial moment in the mainstream's introduction to rap and hip-hop.

The next couple of years would be marked by trial and error. After diana, Rodgers and Edwards produced Debbie Harry's solo debut, KooKoo (1981), an album that went gold and earned critical acclaim even though it confounded some fans of both Blondie and CHIC. They also shopped tracks for Fonzi Thornton and produced an entire album for Johnny Mathis that was ultimately shelved by Columbia. (Over the past few years, a few tracks from the latter project have surfaced on both CHIC and Johnny Mathis compilations.) A one-off single with Carly Simon called "Why" shot to the U.K. Top 10 and appeared on the Soup for One (1982) soundtrack, which featured the producers' work with Teddy Pendergrass ("Dream Girl") and a cut from the Thornton sessions ("I Work for a Livin'").

Beginning with Real People, CHIC's record sales declined with each successive release. Take It Off (1981), Tongue In Chic (1982), and Believer (1983) got lost as dance music and R&B reshuffled and grew into new forms during the early-'80s. By the end of 1983, Rodgers and Edwards would dissolve CHIC as both a group and a production entity, even though much of the pop music that was beginning to hit the charts was unequivocally CHIC-influenced, from Culture Club to Duran Duran to Madonna's eponymous debut.

However, the CHIC story was far from over. The producers re-united in 1992 for CHIC-ism while hip-hop artists who were raised on CHIC began excavating the group's catalog for samples. Both MC Lyte and Salt-N-Pepa sampled "Upside Down" in 1996 on "Cold Rock A Party" and "Upside Down (Round 'N Round)", respectively. A year later, "I'm Coming Out" powered the chart-topping success of "Mo Money Mo Problems" by The Notorious B.I.G. 20 years after "Le Freak" hit #1, Will Smith brought the CHIC sound to number one with his sample of "He's the Greatest Dancer" on "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It". Through samples, a younger generation of acts brought the brilliance of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards to a new audience. "I can only presume that they were looking for the best sources of hot grooves," says Patrick Adams about the prolific sampling of CHIC by hip-hop acts. "After James Brown it doesn't get much better than Nile, Bernard, and Tony." In a 1979 interview with Rolling Stone, Rodgers made a stunning prophecy, "Fifteen years from now, maybe CHIC will be thought of as really innovative" (18 April 1979). Over the past three decades, the consensus that Rodgers and Edwards were innovators has only proliferated across all factions of the global music community.

CHIC

Dionne Farris: What’s real always is, what’s not real, never was. Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards had the archetypal disco sound. Their sound stood apart and held its own. Moreover, "Good Times" as used by the Sugarhill Gang was the introduction to hip-hop for most people. With what hip-hop means to the world today, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards' work is required knowledge for all music enthusiasts.

Vincent Henry: Once each generation goes through whatever social, creative, or artistic phases they go through, they reach a point where they want to get another level of sophistication. They look back to the previous generation. Nothing represented that funky sophistication better than CHIC.

MC Lyte: Outside of it being great music and bringing back great memories, CHIC definitely influenced so many of us in the generation that I come from. Puff and his whole entourage were able to tap into all of these songs that felt really good to our generation and to others. I would attribute it to classic music that stands the test of time and then also the Bad Boy collective of producers tapping into it.

Kathy Sledge: Some things you don't even need to try and do over. It's a huge compliment when you hear your music or your voice used for another plane. In Will Smith's case, he took a groove that he thought was the epitome of a clean groove and used it in his record. I'm sure that whole new market that never heard "He's the Greatest Dancer" said, "Where did that come from?" It reintroduced my sisters and myself and Nile, and my voice. It's funny how things come around full circle.

Fonzi Thornton: Janet Jackson sampled "I Work For a Livin'" for a song that she did called "Make Me" (2009). There was a song Luther did with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis called "Shine" where they sampled the track to "My Forbidden Lover". Everybody's been sampling CHIC forever!

Vincent Henry: When I came into Change, I realized that they were very influenced vocally by CHIC's unison singing. You hear it throughout "A Lover's Holiday" and "Paradise". Then Change became its own thing. Jimmy and Terry were so astute with Change on "Change of Heart". The Minneapolis thing is obviously there for them but they paid attention to what everybody was doing.

Don Was: Was (Not Was) had a song, "Tell Me That I'm Dreaming". I was thinking of Bernard playing that thing. The version that's on the album has got a lot of clutter to it. We were trying to mess with people in clubs. Then it was like, "Stop frightening the DJ, man, and just do a decent club record!" I used "Good Times" as a template for the 12" version. It's a different song but I used the same principles of arrangement for that. It got us onto the R&B charts for the first time ... just by applying what Nile and Bernard were doing!

André Cymone: It’s hard to say exactly how their productions influenced me, I just know they did because they were creating a sound that, before them, I had not quite experienced. I think their work as producers and musicians influenced me more in a subliminal way because I just tried to personally breathe in the music of the moment as opposed to studying the music of the moment. When I heard it I would acknowledge it but wouldn’t always check to see who it was. I'm sure it went in one ear and came out through the music I was working on at the time. What I learned from them was you didn’t have to stick by any preconceived production template -- you could create your own with guitar, synths, or horns leading the way.

Patrick Adams: Much to their credit, Nile and Bernard created their own lane of music. The sound was an incredible original mix of funk, pop, jazz, and R&B. Everybody could find something to like and it made you move.

Irene Cara: They had a groove that was just the bomb. They had a fusion of dance, funk, R&B, pop, and rock. A lot of bands copied that sound and had hit records because of it. I even think Prince got a little bit of them. By the time he came on in the '80s, he had his own unique way of interpreting it, but as far as that fusion that Nile and Bernard had, Prince also had it in terms of punk, rock, funk ... all of that.

Ray Chew: Nile and Bernard are great producers and songwriters who were able to have a great impact on that period of time that we call disco. In a unique way, they added the soul and funk style to disco so it wasn't wooden. The records that they did will last forever.

Derek Bramble: They captured a city. They made New York their playground. They just ran the town from the time the first single came out. It just encompassed so much but it always derived from the music. Between the three of them, that was a hell of a rhythm section. Bernard was a quiet guy. He wasn't very in your face. Nile was a great guy with a great smile and was great fun. Tony was just a wonderful, lovely lunatic. I loved him. They all had a sound that was amazing and wonderful.

Kathy Sledge: Bernard seemed to be the glue of CHIC. Nile had a sense of freedom and playing and creativity. Tony just exuded a coolness. Tony was a huge part of that pocket, that groove. All of those were essential puzzles pieces to what made CHIC. Time will move on and I do believe that some things will keep going. Nile and Bernard's music will do that.

Alfa Anderson: I realized that what we were doing, the diana stuff and the CHIC stuff, was cutting edge because it brought people together in a way that people had not been brought together. It's a part of my history. It signifies that I've been here, that I've contributed, and that I've left my mark, however small or however great. My energy is there.

Fonzi Thornton

Fonzi Thornton: When I hear these songs today, I am so proud of what we did. I'm proud of Nile and Bernard and I'm proud of Alfa and Luci, I'm proud of Michelle Cobbs. We had a wonderful opportunity to create something that's probably going to outlive all of us. These songs are like towers and we built them.

Sandra St. Victor: They had a recognizable sound, a strong formula, that simply worked. Their hooks were immediately memorable, strong unison melodies accentuated by Bernard's bass lines and Nile's funky guitar riffs. Instant hits. Their music and production work spans genres and defies definition. They've left an indelible mark on the industry. They'll be remembered as kings of disco, princes of pop, and hitmakers of everything.

John Oates: They're great producers, everything from disco to R&B to rock and roll to funk. That's a unique ability that's not easy to do. There's a million different qualities that it takes to be a great producer. It ranges from getting out of the way to imposing your will on the artist and everything in between.

André Cymone: I think they were true artists who made it a point to step outside the lines and create their own sound and they achieved that. They basically gave birth to the cutting edge approach to the modern day rhythm section and they deserve credit for that. It’s a formula that has had a lasting and enduring effect on music that I think will always remain, in some form or fashion, part of our musical consciousness.

Tomi Jenkins: Nile and Bernard, God rest his soul, brought elements to music never heard before. The marriage of bass and guitar was sacred. The lyrics, the inventiveness of the productions were always top-notch. They were, and remain, greatly respected for the musicianship they displayed. They will never go out of style.

Next Page

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image