CHIC and the Politics of Disco
By Daryl Easlea
Helter Skelter Publishing
September, 2004

Excerpted from Everybody Dance -CHIC- And The Politics Of Disco
by Daryl Easlea.
Copyright © 2004. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved:

. . As 1981 dawned, there was little sign of The Chic Organization's workload flagging. There were often short-notice calls placed to the players to come and record. 'We kind of knew beforehand if we were going to be doing a single or an album, with Johnny Mathis or Sister Sledge,' Raymond Jones remembers. 'We did 10 albums, played on a 100 songs in such a remarkably short space of time ˇ a glut, you could say.' There werealso two aborted projects around this time that have passed into Chic's history. One, the Johnny Mathis album, I Love My Lady, happened. The other, a proposed album with Aretha Franklin, most certainly did not.

'I know that there were several stages when Aretha's career was not going as well as she liked and she was thinking of changing producers,' Ahmet Ertegun recalls. The turn of the 80s was one of them. As Chic were white-hot, they were considered to oversee a change in direction for the Queen Of Soul. 'We never wrote anything for her,' Rodgers remembered. 'We had one meeting with her and we were so turned off, we couldn't believe that Aretha wanted to do disco. Bernard and I were sitting in the Queen Of Soul's house, this beautiful mansion in Los Angeles and she was singing, "I'm going to be the only star tonight down at the disco." And Bernard and I were looking at each other in disbelief, thinking "holy shit! We're with Aretha Franklin and she's telling us she's going to be the only star in the disco tonight. Is she nuts?" We were stunned and dumbfounded. We were sitting at the piano with her and we couldn't say anything. If we told her that was great, she would say "are you kidding me, you want me to sing some shit like this?" We didn't know if it's a joke.'

It did not take them long to decide against the venture. 'We were not going to go down in history as the producers of Aretha Franklin's disco record! In the end, she went with Van McCoy ˇ we were shocked he would do it ˇ but then, he did write "Do The Hustle" which IS a disco record. I thought of her history and we certainly weren't going to produce her. That was the only time that we ever met her.' However, the Johnny Mathis project, recorded at The Power Station in February 1981, remains one of the great lost Chic moments. In 1980, his management contacted Rodgers and Edwards to produce what was to become I Love My Lady.

Johnny Mathis was a serious player. Since he made his recording debut in 1955, only Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra have had more hit albums in America; he has performed for presidents and dignitaries the world over. In 1958, his fourth album, Johnny's Greatest Hits, became the first record ever to be called 'Greatest Hits' and spent an unbroken 49 weeks on the American chart. He began to take off in Britain, too. He enjoyed his first Top 10 hit in September 1956 with 'A Certain Smile', quickly followed by the enchanting 'Someone', which reached No. 6 the following summer. 'Misty', for many his signature tune, was a transatlantic hit in 1959.

By the 70s, Mathis had become known as much for his golfing as for his music. Looking to the success of Thom Bell and Linda Creed's work with The Stylistics, Mathis covered this material and found the soft soul vibe most suitable for his audience. His version of 'I'm Stone In Love With You', a Top 10 hit for The Stylistics in 1972, took him back to the higher reaches of the UK charts in January 1975. However, Mathis wanted to take a new turn; he wanted to move in a more soulful R&B direction. Duetting with former Stevie Wonder vocalist and 'Free' hit maker Denise Williams gave Mathis his greatest US success since 1963: 'Too Much, Too Little, Too Late' hit the No. 1 spot in both the pop and the R&B charts in April 1978. It was the first duet either singer had recorded. It climbed to the UK Top 3 as well, and led to a Top 20 album, That's What Friends Are For.

Being impressed with the success of the Diana Ross album, Rodgers and Edwards seemed a natural choice to bring some of their magic to Mathis' mix. 'We completed an album with Johnny that was actually great,' Rodgers recalls. 'He had been this big superstar, and then his light dimmed a little, and then he came back after that massive record with Denise Williams. His popularity rekindled, he went on this reckless tear ˇ partying and hanging out; it really frightened the people who were closest to him. When we did this record, it was totally exciting and youth-oriented. All his people went "oh my god". At the time I was offended but, in retrospect, I can see that they did a good thing. It'll never see the light of day, it's buried somewhere in the Sony archive.' Columbia (who were to become Sony) felt that whereas it was possible to move Diana Ross down toward the street, Mathis was still too identified with his predominately white, middle-aged audience. It was important that the African-American was not brought out in him. Chic had identified this 'reckless tear' in him, and by using their powers of observational writing, emphasised it.

Fonzi Thornton did the guide vocals for the album, which was to contain eight tracks; 'I Love My Lady', 'I Want To Fall In Love', 'It's All Right To Love Me', 'Judy', 'Love And Be Loved', 'Sing', 'Take Me' and 'Go With The Flow'. It contained all of the key players of the Organization, and it was to be the last time that they were together on record. Mathis himself was an eager participant in the sessions . . .