Norma Jean was briefly a backing vocalist for CHIC before Alfa Anderson and Michelle Cobbs settled in. The entire crew worked on this.
"Saturday" is a smooth disco song in the "C'est Chic" vein. "I just can't wait
"Saturday" and "Sorceror" came out as 12-inches
Fonzi sang backing vocals on all the early CHIC records, and did the great lead on "Soup for One" and (I assume) "You Can't Do It Alone". Idir Nait Assa from France says
I had a solo album of Fonzi Thornton. It is not produced bye Nile and Nard but they appear on 2 songs. They played and arranged them.
I also hear that CHIC produced one of his solo albums, this may be the same album. Details?? $$$ I want a copy
"Lost in Music" must have been close to CHIC's hearts. "The music is my salvation/ We're lost in music... Melody is good to me" CHIC had every right to feel this way. Propulsive, phazed strings. The overall style returned in "Spacer".
"He's the Greatest Dancer" has corny lyrics about discos and Frisco and designer labels, but the skittering guitar was another new and different sound that made for another successful single.. On this song CHIC starts to use the vocals as sounds, focusing in on the round vowels of "I wonder wha!/why!" and the emphatic "eeess" sounds in "He's the greatest dancer". Very controlled rhythm, strings delivering a spot-on repetition of the vocals.
"Thinking of You" is effervescently romantic ("I'm in love again / And it feels so, so good"), with lovely strings. It's been covered by several artists including Paul Weller.
Side 2 leads off with "We are Family" and its exuberant optimistic sound. Strings and piano descend and recover, and the supple bass line is out in front.
The album delivered three huge hits all over, "We are Family" was used in several commercials. The optimism that black and white America could meet and get along was remarkable, but it rested on the premise that white rednecks would show up at the disco.
Nice brass, and some hidden classics.
Good sax work on the opening song.
"You Fooled Around" has sleigh bells and pizzicato strings underlining an ambivalent song of love and change. The vocals play against plucked strings, then Nile rips into the melody along with the lead Sledge getting frantic: "What can I do, I still love you. Wanting you, holding you, needing you... LOVING you!" and then the slightest pause before "Baby, this time I know / you fooled around / and you fell in love."
"I'm a Good Girl" is more singer/guitar interplay. The slow, almost somber mood of "Savoir Faire" returns, the singer overcome by confusion. Effortlessly the bass propels her and the song, only to fall back into lassitude as she realizes how crazed love has made her.
"Easy Street" tries to have no more than ringing keyboards and a strong vocal sell an entire song, and doesn't make it.
The album did OK, at least I heard the songs in England. But every female vocalist who heard "You Fooled Around" and "I'm a Good Girl" must have phoned CHIC up begging for some of the magic interplay.
Nile Rodgers' guitar break on the title track is outrageously good, and the track is insanely energetic. Great percussion by Jimmy Bralower. The call and response vocals, barely spelling out "G-I-R-L-s" before they're tugged back into line by the rhythm section, are great.
Nile Rodgers only wrote one song, a confectious delight. "The Boy Most Likely" is a tone painting of jangling guitar, ringing synth, horn touches, and "in-the-yearbook-he's", "the BOY", "to succeed" echoing through the mix. It lays out into another excellent jam with great horn charts from the Borneo Horns (in '85 horns were still live, though everything else was becoming keyboard-oriented). But where's an authentic bass line from 'Nard?! The song ends much too soon (there are five B-side songs on the album, but you want the good ones to keep going.).
The rest of the album is '80's synth-pop with an R&B edge. Mainly keyboards, the "tahnk tahnk" sound of the Yamaha DX7 is everywhere and is even credited. "Hold Out Poppy" has Herbie Hancock playing tight DX7 lines with Sabino.
As far as I know, the album tanked (that DX7 sound again :-).
I wrote this review long before the 2003 Deluxe re-release with the CHIC mix — read on for the comparative review)As I recall, Diana Ross wasn't used to CHIC's work style and there were reports of friction during the recording. She was and remains the best singer to work with them. Throughout the late '70s early '80s, she would come out with strong performances with different producers and styles. "I want MUSCLE" was a later sultry groove she made.
Cover: A gatefold sleeve, with super-modern "diana" logo and a B&W Diana thin, toned, and steely in her jeans, but looking warm and inviting on an inner color photo by Francesco Scavullo (immortalized when disco queen Donna Summer calls out to him in her "Live... and More" recording). The outer cover suggests a sleek tooled production, the inner cover implies a warm R&B feel from the early Sister Sledge sessions. Sure enough, the album balances between these.
"Upside Down" opens. The ringy steely tone of the guitar and keyboards deliver the tooled production. But the shifts in dynamics and pacing don't have the effortless feel of CHIC's other work.
"Tenderness" is great. Diana sings "Love me" and you want to! It's an innocent plea from the heart for "Kindness... I need very much" ("Affection" by Ta Mara and the Seen is a killer single that mines similar emotional territory.) Nile and Nard write songs that women are utterly convincing when they sing them, part of why they were in such high demand as composer/producers. But the relationship between the guitar/strings backing and Diana's voice remains tense.
"Friend to Friend" is a weak ballad, striking a wistful but earnest tone. The chords wander around along with Diana Ross' declaimed vocals and a muted electric solo by Nile. But it ends with Diana singing "Friend to Friennnnnnnd", double-tracked, in the middle of her range, which leads to...
"Coming Out" Diana comes in a full fourteenth (?) higher, with Nile riffing high as well. They're both high up on a mountain. Brass accents enter the mix. Then Tony Thompson unleashes controlled explosions on the rocks below. His drum part is spacious yet super-heavy, a premonition of his later work with _Power Station_. Each pounded outburst is pregnant with musical ideas. It's an awesome, ground-breaking drum solo. All too soon the track turns into a strange mix of hearty vocals, a sensational reprise of the opening soundscape, a trombone solo (extremely rare, I don't recall another one until _Thomas Dolby_'s "Flat Earth" had both "Hyperactive" and "I Scare Myself"). Nard delivers staccato bass that barely fits into a bar. This track cries out for more space and several completely different mixes focusing on all the different ideas. ($$$$ Hey, if anyone has a disco 12-inch of this song, contact me!!!!)
On Side 2, it's as if Diana gives up the struggle against CHIC's production instincts and offers her voice as another element in the mix, and it's the better side for it.
"Have Fun Again" has reverse echo and a brittle staccato rhythm. Diana's voice cajoles and soothes the nervous instrumentation. "Just like little children / like the little children / know that they have fun".
"My Old Piano" sparkles, not just with the expected electric and acoustic piano work, but a nylon-strung hollow-sound Nile performance. The group trade musical lines effortlessly. And the lyrics are good, respectful of the instrument. "Your heart dissolves while he tempts you so gracefully / Til you're involved in a baby grand affair"
"Now that You're Gone" ("... my nights grow long") is Side 2's slow song. Here Nard's bass picks up the hollow sound. More fine drum accents from Tony Thompson, and the pizzicato strings add urgency to the anxiety. It's another Chic song about anxiousness and confusion, yet the disco genre was getting slammed for mindless party party attitude..
"Give Up" is a weak party chant closer, with Diana valiantly trying to assemble a great vocal.
13 years after its release, Motown released a deluxe edition. CD One has the entire album as released, followed by the unreleased original CHIC mix. (CD Two is a bunch of late 70's-80's Diana Ross tracks.)
Whoaaa... you could write a masters' thesis on the differences. It's like watching a released movie followed by the director's cut, but completely different: it's not particular edits, rather every single bar has a different sound.
It turns out Russ Terrano mixed the released album. In the excellent liner notes Nile Rodgers says "I was devastated on first hearing Motown's mix". I've heard raves about the CHIC mix in Amazon reviews, but the truth is they're both outstanding. As I comment above, the Chic mixes tend to have Diana Ross's voice as merely another element of the mix, often more no prominent than the backing vocals, drums, or bass. You could imagine one of Sister Sledge slotting in nearly unnoticed. Yet Nile claims "Our concept was to make it more avant-garde, and their concept was to make it a little bit more accessible and commercial." Diana's vocals on the CHIC tracks are gutsier performances. Yet the Russ Terrano mixes often have more inventive sounds that make it more distinctive than other CHIC records from their insanely prolific 1980 period; for example, only the Russ Terrano version of "Now that You're Gone" has the unique bass sound that I featured in my Picks section (plus a nifty washboard percussion sound). Yet CHIC's smoother mixes feature key instruments beautifully, like a splash cymbal in Give Up and the CHIC Strings throughout but especially on "Friend to Friend". Yet... yet... you can prefer particular songs but overall there are no losers in this!
Brian Chin's liner notes capture the controversy and reminiscing, and the reproductions of the Power Station work orders (damn why were CHIC too cheap to record the master tapes at 30 inches per second?!) and hand-written lyrics are a fan's dream. Awesome! If you know any CHIC fans, you absolutely have to get them this treat.
Cover: HR Giger (the artist of the visual look of the first _Alien_ movie) draws spikes piercing a brunette Debbie Harry in shades of gray.
As the cover aggressively states, this is definitely in the tooled machine production style. But Harry's urban reggae just doesn't work (I think reggae is one of the few musical idioms CHIC could not do). This was the first album that Nile and Nard produced in which they didn't write all the songs.
It's an intriguing effort, quirky.
"Backfired" leads off side 2, a spacious track with excellent horns and a cynical tough attitude that fits Deborah Harry's dismissive vocal style.
They're let down by the drumming. Tony Thompson is too heavy to sync with the quirky New Wave songs.
Sheila is a well known french singer who started nearly in 1964 (she has sold more than 50 millions of record during her career). She re-recorded a new version of "Your Love is Good" in 1995.The album leads off with "Spacer", a masterpiece of the genre. The sparkling piano intro full of octaves is haunting, supple yet fragile, and leads into an authoritative groove. Another descending line for the chorus is reminiscent of "I Want Your Love", as is the anxious mood, neither happy nor sad. The moving serenity of the song is evocative of something, a spacer off in the galaxy while his love has a love that "will last beyond all time and space" (lyrics). I guess the E.T. and Star Wars movies at the time affected Nile and 'Nard. Even Sheila's delivery of the lyric like a Resident Alien works in the offworld setting. The production pitches Sheila's voice low, so only the brilliant piano notes leap out of the mix. You feel the absence of a guitar lead, and when the solo comes, it doesn't disappoint. Nile tears in with an angry tone light years from."Savoir Faire", and interposes a downright nasty three-note descending riff. After the second chorus, the group rebuilds the song from the ground up: Nile punching heavy echo in and out on his rhythm chords, Tony clocking out a rock-steady bass-snare-bass-snare beat, Nard dancing around, the electric piano soothing it all, and then the strings and those great high-pitched piano octaves come back. CHIC had an uncanny sense of when to withhold ideas (often parodied as mindless repetition) as well as when to grant them, and here you're begging for a piano solo that never comes. ($$$$ Hey, if anyone has a 12-inch or extended version of this song, contact me!!!!)
"Mayday" has a weirded out guitar sound and a processed bass sound that almost sounds like a synth bass, plus backward vocals as on "Le Freak".
"Charge Plates and Credit Cards" has an aggressive guitar opening, a synth keyboard pulse, and a rare guitar-bass duo "solo". The lyric pokes fun at the materialistic upwardly mobile compulsions that the early CHIC covers hint at. The term "yuppie" had not yet been invented, but the backlash in the black community against striving to wear cool suits and live a white middle-class lifestyle was starting, Alas Sheila barely makes sense of the vocal. The song ends with more angry guitar chords.
"Misery" is a fast tempo syncopated drive powered by bass and electric piano both cutting in before the beat. Unlike "Koo Koo's" failed reggae, so long as Chic started from their core competencies, they could adapt well. More detuned guitar ends the song.
Side 2 is pretty forgettable, "Your Love is Good" is a string-led smooth sunny groove sounding exactly like a CHIC track.
"Spacer" was a huge hit in Europe, probably the last one that was glued to
DJs' turntables for months on end.
CHIC seemed to be recording and producing tracks non-stop during their heyday, so it's hard to know whether these are true or not.