The seed was sown when we were preparing for our Singles World Cup round. Whilst musing over my eight favourite singles of all time, it became evident to me just how much I needed to own a copy of We Are Family by Sister Sledge. You see, great though the title track, Lost in Music and He’s the Greatest Dancer are, for me, Thinking of You is simply one of the very best pop songs ever made, good enough to have made it into my top eight…and I would have proudly submitted it had I had owned it at the time.
I loved it then, as a 14 year old, hearing it on the radio on the school bus, doing its bit to make the journey to school (on what was, no doubt, another grim and gloomy November morning) a little more bearable. And I love it now, just as much, from the spare choppy guitar riff that lets you know you’re in for a treat, a mouth watering appetiser that presages the glorious delights to come, to the spectacular (no other word will do – especially now that ‘awesome’ means next to nothing) bassline, to the melancholic strings that anchor the song. It’s just sublime.
But it would be wrong to suggest that We Are Family the album is all about one song. In fact, I am sure that many fans of the Sledge would not even place Thinking of You in their top three on the album. Yes, all four singles from the record are top drawer but it’s the quality of the non-singles that’s the greatest surprise to me.
I always assumed that disco records would be all about the singles. After all, wasn’t disco about dancing…and you’re not going to hear an album being played at the local nightspot…so it made sense, in my mind at least, that a disco album would be a couple of great singles and a bunch of filler. Such was my desire to own a physical copy of Thinking of You, that I was prepared to overlook this presumption. But, in the case of We Are Family (and the two Chic albums I own) the strength in depth is remarkable. In fact, to my mind, the only track on We Are Family that outstays its welcome is…wait for it…We Are Family itself, which is obviously fantastic, for the first four or five minutes at least, but the final three minutes are unnecessarily repetitive and feature the only example of over singing on the entire record – Kathy’s usually honeyed, easy singing style being pushed dangerously close to Whitneyesque shrillness, it does at least help you realise just how great the singing on the rest of the record is!
As Rob suggested in his post on Saturday Night Fever, disco had become a somewhat maligned art form over the years (more for what it represented than the music itself), but Chic’s triumphant return to the stage last year has ensured that once more they are right back where they belong, in the zeitgeist, the hottest ticket in town and the purveyors of cool. And what could be cooler than donating eight of your very best songs to a struggling girl group with a bunch of talent and a wonderful set of lungs, to produce (by your own admission) the best front-to-back album of your entire career?
Rob listened: The recent rehabilitation and elevation of Nile Rodgers and the Chic Organisation feels like a major wrong righted, although perhaps not on quite the universal scale I had assumed. Until recently I’ve had a major block on the pre-punk 1970s and disco is an easy target for dismissal. It’s a deliberately apolitical music which became the soundtrack for elitist hedonism in a time when across town others were attempting kick culture up the backside. For me as a young music follower looking back, although not all that far, disco represented an abnegation of duty. Others, it should also be noted, were declaring ‘Disco Sucks!’ for entirely different and entirely reprehensible reasons.
Looking back today, and having to gaze a lot further, it seems possible that most people knew Chic were incredible all along. I guess I just like to stick to my guns, even if they are aimed at the wrong targets.
Hearing ‘We Are The Family’ for the first time in full brings home just how dunderheaded you’d have to be to find against this music. It’s absolutely exquisite, an object lesson in balance, restraint, technique, precision and polish. The sound Chic constructed is as distinctive, original and self-owned as the Beach Boys, Public Enemy or Led Zeppelin, and at least the equal of all of those. At least three of the songs on this record would be unarguable choices if we had to submit examples of the highest cultural output of our species to visiting alien dignitaries.
I’m going to stop writing now, as I have nowhere left to go.
Nick listened: This was great.