Article on CHIC in NME's rock lexicon.
Formed in 1977 Chic were the most creative and innovative of the successful artists of the 'Disco Era'. Edwards (1952-1996) and Rodgers (1952-) had worked together in The Apollo Theater orchestra moving with Thompson into The Big Apple Band, who eventually backed short-lived vocal group, New York City. Around the mid-1970s, the three musicians began to offer demo tapes around New York consisting of a stripped-down soul rhythm which incorporated elements of Motown's pop sensibility and the rawness of James Brown, mixed into the all-pervading disco beat.
Their first single 'Dance Dance Dance (Yowsah Yowsah Yowsah)' (1977) was a Top 10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic, after which Norma Jean Wright, Alfa Anderson and later Luci Martin (replacing Wright), on vocals joined the nucleus of Chic. It was 1978's 'Le Freak' that propelled the group into the forefront of popular music and firmly established a Chic sound.
Unusually for a dance act, Chic enjoyed enormous album sales - their eponymous debut album was a modest hit but the follow-up 'Cést Chic', was quickly certified platinum helped by sales of 5 million for the 'Le Freak' single. A modified version of the album including earlier hits reached the UK Top 3.
Alongside Chic, Edwards and Rodgers began producing other artists, beginning with Norma Jean Wright, who left the Chic fold and enjoyed modest success with 'Saturday'. Her success prompted Chic's record label to assign their declining girl group, Siter Sledge, to the duo, who provided them with instant hits during 1979, notably 'He's The Greatest Dancer' and 'We Are Family', both total Chic soundalikes. Also in 1979, Chic's second US chart-topper, 'Good Times', consolidated Edwards and Rodgers reputation as innovators. Its influence, particularly Edwards' bass lines, appeared in countless records over the next few months, including Queen's 'Another One Bites The Dust', and was 'borrowed' wholesale by The Sugarhill Gang for 'Rappers Delight', which launched the direction of black music up to the 1990s.
The third album, 'Risqué', also went platinum, and was a perfectly realized piece of work - highly unusual for artists working in the disco genre - which proved to be their commercial peak. The results of their production contract with Diana Ross propelled her back into the forefront, after many years of lacklustre work. 'Upside Down' topped singles charts all over the world in 1980, but it became apparent that Ross had interfered with their production - while retaining the overall feel of a Chic recording, it was not the record Edwards/Rodgers produced and subsequently they demanded - and got - full control. A project with Aretha Franklin the same year threw up similar problems, and the duo did not complete it.
By the early 1980s, Chic's albums and singles were not selling as well and their productions (Blondie [sic!], Sheila B. Devotion and the soundtrack, 'Soup For One') were disappointing. Rodgers and Edwards separated as producers, both with a desire to be accepted in the rock mainstream, an ambition they both achieved. Their individual solo albums were poorly recieved, but their production work remained solid. Edwards produced the Duran Duran spin-off, Power Station, but Rodgers achieved greater fame in 1983 when he revitalized David Bowie's career with the 'Let's Dance' album, which featured Thompson on drums (as had Power Station). He also produced Mick Jagger's solo album, 'She's The Boss', Madonna's 'Like A Virgin', The Honey Drippers' (Robert Plant) as well as Duran Duran, The Thompson Twins and the late blues guitarist, Stevie Ray Vaughan, who ironically was first brought to the world's attention by Rodgers, who used him on Bowie's 'Let's Dance'.
A Chic reunion is rumoured for the early 1990s, but even if it does not take place, the group's influence on the popular music of the 1980s is immeasurable.