Music never lets you down… or does it?
As the brains behind Chic and many disco hits (with his late musical partner Bernard Edwards) I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see Nile in person when he was in conversation with Dave Haslam at the Zion Arts Centre in Manchester the other week. Nile is such a humble, genuine and likeable person it didn’t take long to become engrossed in the fascinating tales of his childhood and career. I found myself nodding along during the night, and that wasn’t just when he played some of his most famous guitar riffs and basslines, I was also agreeing with what he had to say.
Something struck a chord with me and it was this notion of “DHM”. Don’t get too excited; it’s not some lads’ mag spin off, DHM stands for ‘Deep Hidden Meaning’ within songs. Get listening because there’s a DHM in all Chic’s songs as well as the long list of songs that Nile has produced for other distinguished artists too.
In his autobiography Le Freak, Nile says:
We wrote for the masses, but worked tirelessly to make sure that there was a deeper kernel that would appeal to the savvier listener. (2011, pg. 145)
I’m not going to tell you what David Bowie’s China Girl or Sister Sledge’s Thinking of You means, I’ll leave the fun of discovering that to you, but it got me thinking: wouldn’t it be great if all songs were like that. Maybe I’m becoming cantankerously old if I were to say “They don’t make ‘em like they used to”, so I won’t. But with overly-saturated X Factor culture, cover albums and economies of scale impeding on the music industry it’s certainly a lot harder to find the good stuff nowadays. (Discovering brilliant hidden gems is all part of the experience though!)
Reviewing the latest chart releases has become a regular part of my week now for a feature that I do for Pure Radio and, more often than not, it’s a struggle to find something that I like. I often wonder why, but maybe – just maybe – it’s because of the lack of DHM? Think about it, was Rebecca Black thinking of a DHM when she unleashed Friday onto our ears? How about Cher Lloyd’s number 1 Swagger Jagger or any of Jedward’s latest offerings? They’re not exactly going to go down in the annals of music history are they… Well, not for the right reasons anyway.
Before the Rebecca Black fan club come to hunt me down, let me just say that of course this is all my subjective opinion. My childhood musical memories include the likes Aqua, The Cartoons and Vengaboys whose singles I bought with a big smile on my face at the time, so I am (hopefully) not a music snob. After all, we all love a bit of novelty. YMCA, anyone? But there just seems to be a bit too much novelty nowadays – that’s all.
Aside from this novelty, sampling has become very fashionable and Nile Rodgers knows that all too well. A great website that I like to procrastinate with is called http://www.whosampled.com/ If you type ‘Chic’ into the search box then you’ll see that they have sampled just one track [Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got that Swing) in 1977’s Everybody Dance, if you’re interested.] However, it’s astonishing to learn that Chic themselves have been sampled a whopping 145 times! It just goes to show that these modern day artists would only want to emulate that sound if it is good, which it certainly is.
Sampling is almost too easy to do; Nile, and countless other producers like him, have spent time and money arranging this music and recording it for it then to be ripped off by someone else. I’m sure it’s not too bad now though, especially when the royalties come rolling in. Of course, an advantage of sampling and covering songs is that it’s a fantastic way to introduce this music to a whole new audience who can then discover the DHM within the songs for themselves.
Does all this DHM stuff really matter? Maybe not initially when you’re dancing the night away, but DHM is what has given these songs longevity because you can listen again and again and hear different nuances within the songs every time. Something that any record producer could learn from, but that is why Nile Rodgers is one of the very best in his field.