Joey Negro picks five Chic soundalikes and releases new compilation
by Andrew Mason
Chic, the disco group led by guitarist Nile Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards, were so influential, both through their own releases and the production work they did for other stars (Diana Ross, Carly Simon, Sister Sledge), that they inspired countless imitators hoping to capture a little of the magic that made the New York–based outfit so successful. But what exactly was the Chic formula? Ensemble male and female vocal leads, choppy rhythm guitar, block piano chords, restrained but rhythmic strings, a shuffle hi-hat pattern over a straight kick and snare, and a propulsive bass line are all ingredients that other groups tried to incorporate, with varying success. Disco don Joey Negro takes us through five of his favorites, in anticipation of his new compilation that delves into the best of the would-be Chic.
Delegation “Heartache No.9”
In 1978, ’79, and ’80 Chic were omnipresent in the U.K., both in clubs and on the radio, which meant their sound made for a good blueprint to emulate if you were aiming to achieve a similar level of crossover success. Delegation’s previous releases were on the pop end of soul and they’d had some minor chart success. Producer Ken Gold (also the man behind the Real Thing) put together several backing tracks that mimicked the Edwards/Rodgers rhythm and string arrangements for songs like “Heartache No 9,” “You & I,” and “Darling (I Think About You)” for their second album “Eau De Vie” in 1979. Another Ken Gold produced act Ritz were maybe more blatantly Chic based in their styling but musically didn’t quite hit the mark.
Change “Heaven of My Life”
Italy’s Change were the combination of producers, musicians, song writers Mario Malavasi and Davide Romani under the management and business guidance of Jacques Fred Petrus. Their debut single, “Lovers Holiday,” was a dead ringer for the Chic sound with its precise clipped female vocal chant. Despite their European heritage, all the Change material was recorded in the USA with American vocalists and musicians, including some of the same ones who appeared on Chic’s records. I’ve chosen “Heaven of My Life” from their excellent second album “Miracles” as it features the same clipped vocals but it’s a less-known song.
Sunburst Band “Secret Life of Us”
There are loads of modern productions that sample Chic, Change, etc., but not many actual new songs, so the initial concept of “Secret Life of Us” was to write something fresh and Change-like, but by the time the bass and guitar were added it was maybe a cross between Chic and Change. I guess the two are pretty close anyway! Chic songs tend not to have any ad-libs, the vocals are another instrument with an exact part to follow. The singer and cowriter Diane Charlemagne (also of the group 52nd Street) sadly died of cancer recently.
C.H.A.D. – “Feel the Beat (C’est Si Bon…)” (feat GG Gibson)
If Chic hadn’t released “My Forbidden Lover” then I doubt “Feel the Beat” would exist, as the backing track is very similar, based around the same chords. Being an indie release the sound and playing are not as slick as you’d expect on Edwards/Rogers productions. It’s still a good record, albeit an obviously derivative one. I view it in the same way as I would a more modern track that sampled a loop of Chic over which they wrote a different song.
Ann-Margret “Everybody Needs Somebody Sometimes”
Maybe the most blatant of Chic soundalikes I included was produced by Paul Sabu. If you came across it on the radio you might have assumed it was an unreleased Edwards/Rodgers song recorded with Sheila B Devotion. The chorus is very “Lost in Music” [Sister Sledge]. Swedish born Ann-Margret had been releasing records since the early ’60s. Pop vocalists often drastically change their sound with what’s in fashion musically and easy to get on the radio, often at the whim of their current A&R man. So, be it disco, swing-beat, house, it’s just a contemporary framing for their latest release.
Queen “Another One Bites the Dust”
This isn’t on our album because it’s already very easy to find and likely would have been too expensive to license. The reason I’m mentioning it here is because it is probably the most commercially successful song inspired by Edwards and Rodgers. The “Good Times” bass line is maybe the most copied in disco, there were loads of records released over the following years which utilized a similar style groove. In some respects Queen’s bass player John Deacon (who wrote it) was their secret weapon, he came up with a few of their less “rock” hits, “Another…” coming along after he was exposed to disco hanging out in places like Studio 54. Apparently, the track only just made it onto The Game album, as some members of the band weren’t particularly into it or the idea of Queen making disco, so although was never seen as a single it has turned into their all time biggest seller.
Le Freak: Music Inspired by Chic is out now on Z Records.
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