It occurred to me and my pals that a beast of an all-night house party playlist we’d put together was unwittingly made up of at least 50% Rodgers related tracks, be they from his Chic days, the innumerable samples pooled by hip-hop and dance luminaries such as Grandmaster Flash and Modjo, his 80s/90s run as uber producer behind the mixing desk for the likes of Bowie, the B-52s and Madonna, or his recent collaboration with Daft Punk for ‘Get Lucky’, a track that’s soundtracking the summer and on the verge of entering that strange realm of “pop song as cultural phenomenon”, a tune that babies will be born being able to hum along to.
It’s all in a day’s work for Rodgers, as proved by this latest compilation ‘Nile Rodgers Presents – The CHIC Organization “Up All Night”’. Featuring Chic’s best alongside hits that had a helping hand from Rodgers $1.3 billion “Hitmaker” Fender Stratocaster and production skills, it’s the perfect introduction for those that only know Rodgers as Daft Punk’s mate.
For tracks approaching their 40th anniversary, the Chic cuts here still sound vital. Sticking more closely to their rhythmic funk roots than other groups that came under the disco umbrella, there’s a sophisticated (sometimes sparse) sonic layering that Chic’s peers lacked, relegating them to the dreaded wedding disco playlist for eternity, a fate that Rodgers and co once unfairly seemed destined to join them in. Take the manic string stabs of ‘Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)’. Or the bassline to ‘Everybody Dance’, which remains as insane as ever, or the cocktail-sipping groove to ‘Good Times’, as infectious as the first time you heard it – each a testament to the late, great bass player Bernard Edwards, Rodgers’ key Chic collaborator who shouldn’t be forgotten during this most recent revival of interest in Chic’s music.
For the most part, Rodgers collaborations beyond Chic represented here are frighteningly indelible, sunset-swathed skyscrapers on the musical landscape too. The chorus to Sister Sledge’s ‘He’s The Greatest Dancer’ is enough to make even these two do the dirty, and his work with Diana Ross was the best the diva ever managed beyond the Motown majesty of The Supremes. It’s only Johnny Mathis’ confused samba-infused ‘I Love My Lady’ and Debbie Harry’s failed attempt to recapture the magic of Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ on ‘Backfired’ that fall flat across the 25 tracks on the two-disc compilation.
It’s a pity that Rodgers’ influential later production jobs aren’t better represented here too – from the mid-80s through to the early 90s, Rodgers was as important a producer for his times as Phil Spector was in the 1960s. (David Bowie’s continued success owes Rodgers a great debt, given Rodgers basically saved his career with the ‘Let’s Dance’ album.)
But to moan about what’s not here when met with some of the most instantly-recognisable tracks of the 20th century is churlish. After too many years in the shadows Rodgers is now rightfully being recognised as a musical legend, with a whole new generation of fans in the enviable position of being able to hear his tunes for the first time. ‘Up All Night’ is the perfect companion for that sonic journey of discovery.
Nile Rodgers Presents – The CHIC Organization “Up All Night” (Greatest Hits) is available from Amazon, priced £8.99