Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, the two men behind the sublimely seductive sounds you’ll hear on this boxset, have always been guilty by association. In their prime, Nile and Nard were widely regarded as the best practitioners of their style of music, but since disco has never been looked upon favorably as a credible form of music from U.S. music critics, They tend to be undermined in terms of the quality of their work and the influence they continue to have today on modern dance music. Case in example, Nile Rodgers group Chic has been nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 10 times, but has yet to be inducted- yet interestingly enough, their peer Donna Summer was inducted posthumously in 2013. From a historical context in U.S. pop music, the sounds of Nile and Nard is a footnote in a genre that continues be dismissed. But if they’re ashes of a forgone musical era in the states, Nile and Nard remains star troopers internationally. The duo’s work has maintained a long and enduring following who continues to play and celebrate their classic songs years later. What I’ve always admired about Europe, Japan and the U.K. is that they’ve always been receptive to the sounds of classic dance music. Music fans there never appeared to be judgmental towards the style and openly embrace it. This extensive boxset in fact was released through the Warner Music’s subdivision in France in collaboration with Nile Rodgers. Seeing them receive a boxset treatment is surprising by U.S. standards since boxsets are typically reserved for artists who are household names of legendary status- Rod Stewart, The Temptations, The Rolling Stones, etc. But for international music fans, A boxset for will make perfect sense given the level of admiration and respect they receive overseas.
While Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards are immediately remembered for the hits they produced with their parent group Chic, the boxset at hand focuses more on their production talents as it spotlights all of their best moments with Chic as well as some of their most essential moments outside of the group. Their production company, Chic Organization, has a name that could easily pass for a modeling agency, but when one listens to their music, the exquisite presentation of their sound fits its name like a pair of Prada shoes. Their instantly recognizable sound powered by Bernard Edwards tunefully smothering slap basslines and Nile Rodgers James brown styled guitar licks, reeks with class. Throw in Tony Thompson’s solid pocket drumming and some obligatory string arrangements and you have a luxurious musical experience. Bernard Edwards in particular was a distinctively different bass player from others in his era as it relates to dance music. Whereas much dance music in this era were completely beat driven with its 4/4 high hat drums, within the Chic Organization, Bernard Edwards basslines is propelled out into the forefront with its funk influenced style. Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers brought a more musical approach to dance music where instruments and vocalists is given their respective space to shine-unlike other styles within their genre where the instrumentation plays a supporting role to the beat. Even the stiff and robotic vocals of Luci Martin and Alfa Anderson brings life into the tracks since they sing short ended melodies that doesn’t involve wailing over a rhythm arrangement in a manner that Loaetta Holloway would’ve during that time.
Nile and Nard’s recording legacy lies within the material they recorded with their parent group Chic, and naturally, Chic songs occupy over half of the tracks on this 4 cd boxset – with the other half containing well known classics from Sister Sledge, Diana Ross a host of miscellaneous acts they wrote and produced for during their prime. Chic’s sounds signified the high life culture that epitomized the exclusivity of the disco era that harkens back to the care free escapist vibe of the roaring 20’s-even going as far to recycle a legendary line from Duke Ellington’s tribute to the era (“it don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t that swing”) to accentuate their sense of elegance on the song “Everybody Dance”. And all of their definitive classics are present such as “Le Freak”, their signature song “Good Times” and top notch album only tracks and lesser known hits like “My Forbidden Lover”, The Nile Rodgers guitar driven node to European aristocracy with “Savior Faire” and their musical interpretation of a Mascot with “(Chic) Cheer”. As Chic became successful on the charts, they outsourced their production talents to other acts; most notably “Sister Sledge” in which they provided the ubiquitous get together anthem “We Are Family” and also Diana Ross, for whom they wrote and produced two significant hits with “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out”. Providing their production talents to other acts also enabled Nile and Nard to experiment with their sound a bit. Sheila B and Devotion’s “Spacer” has more in common with a space shuttle voyage than the limousine stroll of their signature sound- while Carly Simon’s “Why” takes their high life sound to a secluded island with its reggae-ish keyboards chords. The two even know how to inject a bit of rock into their style as heard with “Backfired”. Here Nile Rodgers exchanges his James Brown styled guitar licks for lightweight power chords to complement Debbie Harry’s offbeat vocal performance on a track that works better than one might expect. A true treat to the ears is the unreleased gems that are spread throughout the set consisting of Teddy Pendergrass “Dream Girl”, a song so melodically moving that you wonder why it was never released as a single, A couple of lively gems from a lesser known singer named Fonzi Thornton with “I Work for a Living” and “I’ll Change my Game” which would’ve sounded at home on Luther Vandross early records with the group Change without the italo-disco fixations of those records. Johnny Mathis is also represented by a few songs on here that’s a perfect showcase for his classy vocals, even if they sound underdeveloped; “I Want to Fall in Love”, “It’s Alright to love Me” and “Something to Sing About”.
Some of the songs on here; however, are represented here with remixes rather than their original album takes. Dimitri from Paris provides his meticulous re-editing touch to Chic’s “I Want Your Love”, Sister’s Sledge’s “Thinking of You” and “Lost in Music” and Norma Jean’s “Saturday”. Remixes are typically an acquired taste based on one’s preference, but to these ears, Dimitri remixes are wonderful because of the respect he has for the source material. There are no generic sound effects added to try to make them sound modern, instead, they come across as a reimagining of the songs based on the sounds and instrumentation present in their original versions. And while Norma Jean’s “Saturday” is an OK track, the song you should really check for on this boxset from her is the gimmicky yet mesmerizing “Sorcerer”-one of the best Nile and Nard productions ever caught on a reel to reel as their dance-funk sweeps with the eye-opening glare of a heated love scene in a romance story.
The rest of the boxset is centered around various studio outtakes and later songs recorded by Chic. “Funny (bone)” and “What About Me” are noteworthy for having a rawer feel than the versions that appear on their second album “C’est Chic”. The disco gloss is notably absent as you’ll hear actually a rare showcase of their musicianship that’s not always present in Nile and Nard’s streamlined execution. But on a slight downside, you’ll also hear Chic’s decline during the disco backlash of the early 80’s as they made efforts to adapt to a changing musical landscape. The songs they recorded from 1980 onward is either hit or miss as they ditch the disco strings and strip down their sound. In the case of “Burn Hard”- a personal favorite because of the vocal refrain encouraging Nard to do what he does best on bass - the change in direction serves them well. But then songs like “Hangin” are underwhelming, even though the opening dialogue is funny! And “You Are Beautiful” just makes them sound out of their element by bringing keyboards to the forefront of their groove, which has never been their forte. Even the songs they produced for Sister Sledge in 1980 such as “Got to Love Somebody Today” and “Reach Your Peak” has a holdover feel since it doesn’t have the passion and vigor of “We Are Family” and “He’s the Greatest Dancer”. Nile and Nard were in a pretty awkward place as the generational shift of the early 80’s found American pop culture moving away from the escapism of the disco era into a more conservative way of life that will come to define the Ronald Regan era. Therefore, it’s no coincidence that the best songs from these lean years are Chic’s “Rebels We Are” and “Chip Off The Old Block” recorded in 1980 when they group was still recording in their patented dance-funk style.
The Chic Organization does a phenomenal job giving a much-needed history lesson on an underrated production duo that played an integral role in shaping the sound of modern dance music. In my opinion, the boxset is one of the best assembled because it’s three-fold as it traces Nile and Nard’s rise to the top with Chic, the songs they provided to other artists at the peak of their popularity and the remixes that show their classics can still rock dancefloors to this day. It accomplishes everything a boxset should when it spotlights legendary artists by providing an extensive set of songs that attest to their greatness-even if it’s not in chronological order. Holding the boxset might make one feel like an American picker where you come across an antique that may not have felt like a much when it was first produced, but it holds more value now long after the novelty has worn off. These are indeed the good times!
This is a guest review by Patrick Frierson. Patrick is an avid music lover and collector. He’s spent the past five years or so collecting nothing but the finest in vintage recordings that range from well-known classics to underground gems. Hopefully, you’ll find his reviews to be inspiring enough to make you want to groove out to some of the coolest albums ever recorded. As a rule, he doesn’t write negative reviews, so if he takes the time and effort to review a recording, he genuinely loves it. His passion ensures that he will place a great deal of care and detail into analyzing albums and sharing the info with the readers of The Penman Post. He hopes you all enjoy it as much as he enjoyed sharing his musical experience with you.