Chic certainly made the good times roll. This was the band the defined disco, but what also can’t be denied is the impact that the group, headed by Niles Rodgers and the late Bernard Edwards, had on popular music.
Chic brought into vogue a lot of the elements that are used in today’s musical landscape, and many of the pop artists who have followed since the demise of the original band, from Madonna to Taylor Swift, has incorporated the same techniques Chic used to dominate the music world during the late ‘70s.
The origins of what would later be known as Chic lay with Niles (guitar) and Edwards (bass), who after spending years as session musicians decided to form their own band. But the problem was that the duo was unsure of which genre to conquer. Their first band was a rock band, “The Boys,” which flopped as nobody at the time believed that African-Americans could be “rockers.”
After that disaster, the two formed “The Big Apple Band,” a jazz band which was a lot more respectable than their quasi-laughable attempt at rock. Though The Big Apple Band got some attention, it didn’t land them that coveted record deal.
Now done (at the time) with trying to run their own band, Niles and Edwards jumped ship and joined the band New York City, which manage to scrap up a (British) hit in 1973 with “I’m Doing Fine Now.” But sadly, New York City wouldn’t make it to see disco at its most decadent stage, breaking up in 1976 and leaving Niles and Edwards once again without a band to call home.
But Rodgers got a brilliant idea. Inspired by a Roxy Music concert he attended in 1977, he went back to Edwards with the idea of creating a band that wouldn’t be conformed to just one single genre, but a band that could transcend seamlessly through music’s lush interludes.
Throughout the early half of ’77, Niles and Edwards recruited Tony Thompson (drummer), and in turn, Thompson recommended that the duo pick up Raymond Jones (who was just 19 at the time) to play keyboards for the new band. Realizing that they needed a powerful belter to round things out, they recruited Norma Jean Wright, with whom Niles and Edwards made the unprecedented move of assuring her a solo career while she worked for the band.
With their new band now completed, they needed a name, and not just any old name, but one that would be attractive to listeners. The name the band would come up with was “Chic,” and in the summer of ’77, they went into the studio to record their first demo, “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah).”
The demo caught the attention of Atlantic Records, who signed the group and issued “Dance, Dance Dance” as a ’12 inch single. The track blew up in the disco clubs and would be a surprising hit on the Billboard charts, going to number one on the Dance charts. Looking to capitalize quickly on that success, the group released “Everybody Dance” (#12 R&B/#38 Hot 100) the following year, which wasn’t as big of a hit as “Dance, Dance, Dance,” but it still performed well.
Buoyed by their two hits, Atlantic rushed out their debut album (#12 R&B/#27 Billboard 200), which in reality was their entire demo tape. But Niles and Edwards still wasn’t satisfied. They wanted to sound just like they were in the studio when they performed live, and for that to happen, they needed a second female single.
Enter Luci Martin, a friend of Wright, who joined the growing group in the spring of ’78. As what was promised in her contract, Niles and Edwards proceeded to work on Wright’s self-titled album (the first album they would produce outside of Chic) that same year. But thanks to a minor blunder (singing her to a separate record label, thus creating a conflict of interest), Wright had to part ways with the group. But all was not lost, however, because the duo had a backup waiting in the wings, Alfa Anderson, who did some backup work for another growing disco group, Sister Sledge.
This would be the group that would carry them through their commercial apex, starting with their sophomore effort, C’est Chic (#1 R&B/#4 Billboard 200), which produced “Le Freak,” (#1 R&B and Hot 100) Atlantic’s best-selling single ever, and would be considered by many music purists as the best disco album ever made. C’est Chic went Platinum, as did their third LP, 1979’s Risque (#2 R&B/#5 Billboard 200), the album that would produce the band’s personal best-selling cut, the feel good and ever-lasting “Good Times,” which topped both the R&B and Pop charts.
But unlike the song, the “Good Times” for Chic, and disco as a whole, was about to come to a tragic end.
Shortly after the ‘70s became the ‘80s, many music fans and critics were beginning to revolt against the disco sound, and since Chic was “the face” of this genre, most of the ire was directed at them. Fortunately, Niles and Edwards already foresaw this, and around this time, they were beginning to put their stamp on popular music as producers, starting with Diana Ross’ career-saving 1980 LP Diana. As for Chic itself, that same year, the group managed to squeeze out a Gold album from Real People, but after that, they flat lined commercially.
It wasn’t that they didn’t make good singles in the early ‘80s, most of it was OK. But the “Great Disco Backlash” of 1980 took a fatal toll on Chic, and after they tried to update their sound for 1983’s Believer (which contains one of the worst rap’s you'll ever hear), it was too late. The group couldn’t get their singles played on the radio nor could they sell records. They were lame ducks, and Niles and Edwards knew it, which is why in 1984, they disbanded the group.
The Good Times was officially over. For Chic anyway.
So, how did Chic change pop music forever? After the duo broke up the band, Niles and Edwards applied the same production techniques that they used with Chic to mold some of the biggest names in pop. Madonna? She wouldn’t have been a worldwide phenomenon of it wasn’t for Niles, who was the mastermind behind her 1984 coming out album Like a Virgin. In addition to saving Ross’ career, he rescued David Bowie’s as well, as 1983’s Let’s Dance was one of the biggest albums of the year. And even to this very day, Sam Smith, Adam Lambert, and Daft Punk among others, have received Niles’ magic touch.
And let’s not leave out Edwards, who produced huge hits for Robert Palmer, Jody Watley, Rod Stewart, and ABC. Sadly, Edwards would pass away in 1996, but Rodgers is soldiering on, both due to his own success and in the memory of Edwards.
So yes, don’t discount Chic as “just another disco band,” because they were more than that. They were hip, funky, and used the latest techniques to create a music that everybody could dance to, everybody did dance, and everybody still dances to through the sound of other artists. They changed the face of popular music forever, and for that, the industry owes them a big thank you.