- 15 Nov 18
40th Anniversary Re-Make/Re-Model For Dance Floor Monster
New Year’s Eve 1977: Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards arrive at New York’s infamous Studio 54 – a nightclub that built its reputation on turning people away - at the behest of their pal Grace Jones. The problem was that Grace had neglected to inform the door staff. Despite our men’s pleading, the bouncers were having none of it, and the two friends were forced to make an embarrassed retreat. But the night wasn’t a total loss. Repairing to Edwards’ apartment, they eased their wounded pride with a jam session, coming up a suitably caustic riposte - “Aaa, fuck off!” – which is apparently what the club staff said to them as they slammed the door. Being no fools, they knew this was never going to fly and so reworked the lyric to the more palatable “Aaa, Freak Out!”, and so was born Chic’s monumentally great ‘Le Freak’
The single went on to sell seven million copies, a number that’s hard to comprehend in this streaming age. It remains the best-selling single in the history of Atlantic Records. Only this year it was chosen as being worthy of preservation in the national Recording Registry in the Library Of Congress. I think that bouncer did them a favour.
It’s one of those songs, in fact it might be the song, that could drag the most lead-footed clodhopper out on a dance floor. While I don’t wish to do a disservice to Alfa Anderson’s vocals, it is the combination of Tony Thompson’s machine hi-hat work, Edwards’ bass – he casually steps forward about half-way through and takes over, claiming his rightful place in history – and Rodgers’ guitar. Is he the greatest rhythm guitar player of all time? He’s certainly up there with the likes of Steve Cropper and Keith Richards, both fellow masters of finding the groove and playing the hell out of it. Rodger’s style comes from breaking chords down to 3-string inversions, stripping back everything that isn’t essential. As Miles Davis used to say, “it’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play” and who in their right mind would want to argue with him?
Since the late, great John Reynolds took a chance and booked them for their first Electric Picnic appearance back in 2009, Chic have probably played to more people in Ireland than the current Pope. There are probably tone-deaf kestrels on the Bog of Allen who are aware that a Chic show is one of the greatest nights out it is possible to have, and that legend is built around the kind of grooves that ‘Le Freak’ has in abundance.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the single hitting #1 on the Billboard charts, Dutch DJ and house head Oliver Heldens has remixed the track. Cue purists running from the room screaming about scribbling over Picassos and tearing at their hair. But perhaps they should remember the “Disco Sucks” “movement” from the late seventies which resulted in crowds of cloth-eared goons destroying records in Comiskey Park, Chicago in 1979 in a display of eejitry that reeked of racism and homophobia - as well as simple bad taste - and give Heldens’ mix a chance.
It’s not a case of a moustache on the Mona Lisa but a big-beat extension of the immortal original, an almost Jamaican dubplate turn-around. Chic have never needed any help when it comes to the dance-floor, but Heldens has polished it up for the new generation of shape throwers, and if it sends them scouring the racks for a copy of C’est Chic after they’ve danced themselves in half, then everyone’s a winner.
Nile Rodgers feels we need to dance now more than ever and is delighted with the new version: “Celebrating 40 years of ‘Le Freak’ and spreading joy through dance music is as strong and unifying as ever. Many of the world’s leaders have lost their minds but when we get on the dance floor we are all one and we have no differences. That’s what made ‘Le Freak’ so successful in the first place and Oliver has captured that spirit with this new remix. You will definitely want to move.”
‘Le Freak’ (Oliver Heldens Remix) is available now on Spotify, and there’s a video here that’s funkier than a tramp’s pants in a heatwave. You will definitely want to move. Freak Out!