Sunday, December 13, 2015

Chic: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Justifications and Excuses, Part XIII

As I mentioned in the essay for Nine Inch Nails, we are given very little direction in how or why we should cast our ballots for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. We're not asked to weigh cultural impact against chart success or anything like that, and neither are we asked to which parts of an artists' contributions we are to consider. If we were voting on, say, Johnny Rivers, should we account for the fact that he started his own label and discovered the Fifth Dimension? I honestly don't know, and can see both sides of that argument. If you're wondering whether to vote for the Drifters, do you include in your consideration Clyde McPhatter's solo career? Do the contributions made by Foxboro Hot Tubs add to the dossier of Green Day?

These questions weighed heavily on my mind when I was considering the candidacy of Chic. Chic had a fairly short but hugely successful career: Between December 1977 and July 1979, they had four Top Ten hits, including the Number Ones "Le Freak" and "Good Times." Along with the work of the Bee Gees, those were the preeminent disco hits of the era, with tougher and more memorable instrumentation on the Chic hits.

This hits dried up after that, and Chic broke up (albeit temporarily) after 1983's album Believer. But at the same time, under the name the Chic Organization, the key members of the band wrote and produced some of the most prominent dance hits of the late 1970s, including "We Are Family" for Sister Sledge and "Upside Down" and "I'm Coming Out" for Diana Ross. Those credits, I believe, definitely should be part of Chic's claim on the Hall of Fame.

Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers went on to be one of the most important producers of the 1980s: David Bowie's Let's Dance, Madonna's Like a Virgin, the B-52's Cosmic Thing, Duran Duran's Notorious. The group's bassist Bernard Edwards, produced Robert Palmer's Riptide and The Power Station, and ABC's Alphabet City, which spawned the hit "When Smokey Sings."

Does Chic deserve credit for that work? I don't honestly know, but I can't quite get it out of my mind when I'm evaluating their candidacy. If nothing else, it represents how important Chic's influence was on the pop music of that entire generation. For another thing, I think that Chic would have carried on longer if Rodgers and Edwards hadn't been so busy producing other people's records. (Their own last few albums might have had more hits, too, if they had been more focused on them.)

In addition to their production work, Edwards' bassline for "Good Times" may be the most influential ever, leading directly to both Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" and the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight."  As it was, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, the heart of Chic, basically owned dance-pop music for a decade.  Much of that was because of their own records as Chic, much of it was because of their production work as the Chic Organization, and much of it was their individual solo work.

I see a continuum there that I think the Hall of Fame is getting at as well; their bio in the Hall of Fame voting guide mentions their "careers as top-flight producers for A-list megastars." (The bio doesn't mention this, but Edwards and Rodgers met while they were touring with a Sesame Street stage show, which I find adorable.) The work done by Chic as Chic puts them into the conversation, and the remainder of their resume puts them over the top. I vote YES for Chic.

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