Friday, March 21, 2008

Disco needs you -Chic and Donna Summer

In their 1992 40th birthday issue, NME commented that Chic's single 'Good Times' had an effect on artists as diverse as Public Enemy and Queen. That would have been claim enough for any band, but given just how fantatsic the tracks are, it may also be something of an understatement. The Smiths' Johnny Marr claimed them as a major influence, and Orange Juice were initially derided for having the cheek to say that they wanted to mix Chic with The Velvet Underground. (Considering how influential Orange juice continue to be today, I think we know who had the last laugh). Formed by guitarist Bernard Edwards and bassist Nile Rodgers in 1976, Chic are arguably just as influential as Kraftwerk on Hip-Hop and Dance culture over the last thirty years.

In terms of Hip-Hop and the Public Enemy influence, the first Hip-Hop track, The Sugarhill Gang's 'Rapper's Delight' used Good Times as its' basis (as did Coolio in 1995 on '1-2-3-4 (Sumpin' New)'). Whatever you make of Queen, their biggest selling single worldwide was not 'Bohemian Rhapsody' but 'Another One Bites The Dust' which showed that Chic was a huge influence on bass player John Deacon. As Hip-Hop culture evolved and Grandmaster Flash's 'Adventures Of Flash On The Wheels Of Steel' set the tone for cut and paste hip-hop, 'Good Times' featured prominently there too. As did 'Rapture' by Blondie, which is as much a tribute to Chic (who would go on to produce Debbie Harry's solo debut Koo Koo) as the rappers and DJ's namechecked in the song.

And after the band split in the early eighties, the production skills of Edwards and Rodgers were in demand by many. They had wisely turned down the chance to produce Aretha Franklin's disco album, but they worked with Diana Ross producing hits like 'Upside Down' and 'I'm Coming Out', produced David Bowie's Let's Dance, Duran Duran's Notorious and perhaps most famously, Madonna's Like A Virgin. Even allowing for Madoona's utter determination to get to the top, it's quite unlikely that she would have done it without their help.

Of course, Disco came from other areas too. Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love' was produced by Germany's Giorgio Moroder. Released in 1977, this track can still slay dancefloors today, more than thirty years after its release, and its' influence can be tracked in many areas. Put it this way, without 'I Feel Love,' New Order's Blue Monday would have sounded hugely different (and might not have got beyond that rough demo sound that you hear in 24 Hour Party People).

Not everyone loved Disco, especially people who were uncomfortable with the blacks and gays associated with the scene. A 'Disco Demolition Night' got wildly out of control, and the 'Disco Sucks' phrase was common amongst rock fans by the late seventies. Interestingly, about this time in the UK, Wah! Frontman Pete Wylie coined the phrase 'Rockist' which sneered at those obssessed with Rock.

Punk and Disco's relationship was uneasy. Some punks sneered at it, but there were points where it mixed, most famously Blondie's 'Heart Of Glass.' The No-Wavers in New York incorporated it into their sound -for example, James Chance knowing that it would annoy hardcore punk fans. The Dead Kennedy's Jello Biafra, however, likened Disco to the Cabaret music of Weimar Germany, for its escapism and apathy towards government policy.

But maybe records don't always need to be overtly political to get their point across. Sometimes actions really do speak louder than words.

Chic -'Good Times 12".' mp3

Chic -'Le Freak 12".' mp3

Chic -'I Want Your Love 12".' mp3

Donna Summer -'I Feel Love 12".' mp3 (Thanks to Davy H at the Ghost Of Electricity)

POSTSCRIPT: In view of what I had written about, I felt it only right to include this track too:

Grandmaster Flash -'Adventures Of Flash On The Wheels Of Steel.' mp3

Chic at Wikipedia


dickvandyke said...

Nice work Ed. Enlightening too.

Thank you

Ed said...

You're welcome sir. What I also meant to include in the post was that I feel records like 'I Feel Love' 'Good Times' and 'Adventures' are just as important as 'Anarchy In The UK' or 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'.

Glad to be enlightening!


Anonymous said...

It' would be a crime not to discuss the utter fusion of Punk and Disco in the band Gang of Four, and all the subsequent bands which used the record Entertainment! as the prototype to an entire Genre.


Ed said...


I was primarily focusing on Chic here, but Entertainment! was and is a seminal record, but by no means the first 'post-punk' LP, being released in 1980; my money would be on Wire's Pink Flag, released in 1977.

And then, of course, there's the matter of the Scroggins sisters -ESG.


Anonymous said...

What great memories! Back in the day, I worked as a radio and club DJ at the Back Door in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Chic and Donna Summer were absolute staples. Drop the needle on Chic, and the dance floor would fill immediately. I grew tired of playing the stuff then, but it sure sounds great now. At 52, you're really aging me in a hurry, but thanks.

Ed said...

No intention to age you, but glad you enjoy the tracks!
I love the way they still osund fresh today.