With Nile Rodgers, it is always bound to be Good Times
As New Year’s Eve playlists go, it would take some beating – Sister Sledge, Duran Duran, David Bowie, Madonna, Grace Jones, Daft Punk, Queen and Chic. Always Chic.
The common thread running through all these classic artists is, of course, Chic’s Nile Rodgers, the musician and composer whose trademark, high- strung “chucking” guitar licks soundtracked the disco years – from Everybody Dance through to Good Times – and beyond. A full 35 years later, his work on Daft Punk’s Get Lucky gave Rodgers the critical renaissance he fully deserved.
Quite a good man to see in the New Year with, then – and anyone with a ticket to New Year’s Eve Masterjam at Dubai’s Media City Amphitheatre gets exactly that chance on Wednesday when Rodgers appears with Chic in a disco line-up that also includes Chaka Khan, The Jacksons and Gloria Gaynor.
“It’s perfect, because disco is very celebratory music,” he says. “And because of that, it allows you to relax, it makes you feel you’re not being judged.
“Once you’re playing disco everything is OK, and nothing is off limits. It’s an amazing, liberated art form where the rules are pretty open and anyone can join. There is nothing like it, really.”
That sense of fun is shot through Rodgers’s attitude to life. Other songwriters might have been unimpressed by the fact that the Sugarhill Gang took Chic’s 1979 hit Good Times, sampled it on Rapper’s Delight and basically invented hip-hop. Not Rodgers.
“Oh, and by the way, it wasn’t just hip-hop,” he says with a laugh. “Listen to Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust, The Clash’s Radio Clash, Need You Tonight by INXS or Rapture by Blondie. The similarities are obvious.
“But that’s amazing, the very highest form of flattery. I did the same: Good Times is a variation of Kool & The Gang’s Hollywood Swinging. When I was young I studied classical music and Giuseppe Verdi has this wonderful quote: ‘Good composers borrow, great composers steal.’ So all these songs that are derivative of my music ... I consider those people great composers.”
One of those is Daft Punk, whose 1997 hit Around The World referenced Chic. Sixteen years later, the French duo were working with Rodgers and Pharrell Williams on Get Lucky, which Rodgers says “could easily have been on the same album as Le Freak [Chic’s 1978 hit].”
The fact that it had similar success must have been a great thrill.
“Although, we had no idea Get Lucky was going to be so popular,” he says. “Honestly, we thought the big hit was going to be another song, Lose Yourself to Dance. That’s how hits work: you write a song that you hope and believe is a good composition, and you have a certain sense of timing and fashion, but you can never really predict how it will be received.”
What’s certain is that it will receive an ecstatic reception when Rodgers plays the opening chords on December 31. Chic gigs have embraced Rodgers’s spectacular career as a songwriter and composer for others and now feature I’m Coming Out by Diana Ross, Sister Sledge’s We Are Family, Madonna’s Like A Virgin, David Bowie’s Let’s Dance and Duran Duran’s Notorious. Does he feel like they are now his songs?
“Of course I do – and I am not saying in an egotistical way,” he says. “But those hits would not have sounded like that if I didn’t play on – or produce – them. If they’d credited people for songs like they do now, I would be down as the co-writer of Let’s Dance. Back then you just got paid a fee and that was it.”
Still, if you ask Rodgers what is his favourite, it’s a Chic track.
“Good Times has the chorus, the groove, the breakdown, the double entendre lyrics ... every single thing that makes Chic in one song,” he says. And that sense of longevity has enticed Rodgers back into the studio to make another Chic album.
“It’s resonating heavily with me right now,” he says. “An old Chic song I wrote 35 years ago turned up in a box full of tapes I thought was lost forever, and everybody who was on the very first recording – Luther Vandross, Bernard Edwards, Tony Thompson, Raymond Jones – is on this track which I’ve re-recorded. Those guys have all passed away and I can’t play this new track without the pre-chorus making me cry.”
It must be that weight of incredible music history – the memory of, literally, Good Times.
“Maybe. Maybe it’s because I feel like I’m in the room again with these people,” he says. “What I do know is that it’s great that music can still provoke that reaction in me.
“That’s what’s amazing about disco.”
Published: December 28, 2014 04:00 AM