By Pete Clemons
The 70s UK disco era, an import from America, covered a broad brush of music styles. I wasn’t the keenest of fans but, like many, I admit to spending time in the many clubs around Coventry back then that played ’disco’ music. Not only that, I also admit to enjoying some of the records that those venues introduced you to.
The Detroit Emeralds, Al Green, The Delfonics, The Detroit Spinners, Billy Paul, Donna Summer, Rose Royce, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes were just some of the names, off the top of my head – there were many more I’m sure – that I listened to and genuinely enjoyed.
And a lot of those clubs, along with others around the Midland’s, would occasional play host to those names and put them on for a night or more. Mr Georges, The City Centre Club, Baileys in Leicester and Romeo and Juliet’s in Birmingham immediately spring to mind.
The late 70s saw the disco genre hit its peak having been boosted by the incredibly successful film and soundtrack, ‘Saturday Night Fever’, which was set around and based upon what was happening within the New York culture at that time.
But that period also seemed to be the springboard for another huge wave of music that was quickly seized upon by the disco fraternity. And this was a kind of funky rock sound that was very danceable and endeared itself to the whole disco scene.
And one of the pioneers of this new sound was a band called Chic. And Chic took the disco to a whole new level. They were incredibly innovative and brought with them a whole new fresh sound.
Chic were Nile Rodgers on guitar and bass player Bernard Edwards who had originally both met as session players during the early 1970s. Apparently inspired by the music of Roxy Music Nile, along with Bernard began the process of forming Chic during 1976.
In fact Nile Rodgers had been involved in a minor UK hit with a band called New York City and a song called ‘I’m Doin’ Fine Now’. It even led to his first Top of the Pops appearance.
Firstly the pair brought in drummer Tony Thompson and then vocalist Norma Jean Wright who was the primary singer on the first Chic album that included the band’s first major hits ‘Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)’ and ‘Everybody Dance’ during 1977. Incidentally these songs also saw Luther Vandross providing backing vocals.
Norma then left soon after to per-sue a solo career and this saw the band enlisted the services of Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin as replacements.
Chic had signed to Atlantic Records who, at that time, had bands like Led Zeppelin and Yes on their label. The powers that be at Atlantic thought that the next idea for a single ‘Le Freak’ was not particularly good and suggested it would not sell. ‘Le Freak’ turned out to be a massive hit. It was energetic and sharp. It had a melody that seemed to cross over to other genres and took its place as one of the biggest ever selling songs for the label.
1979 was a huge year for the band. It was also the year that saw the highest number of singles sold in the U.K. during a calendar year. And four of those hits belonged to Chic. And those hits led to several Top of the Pops appearances in front of upwards of 20 million viewers which equated to almost a third of the population.
At the same time Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards were collaborating with other bands including Sister Sledge and Sheila B Devotion who a year earlier had had a minor hit with a not so inspiring version of ‘Singing in the Rain’.
In the words of Nile ‘I gave my time and effort to either revive flagging careers or to begin others’.