Glastonbury – the festival I’ve never been to but feel like I have due to extensive BBC coverage. This year is no exception; The Rolling Stones headlined. What I was most looking forward to was seeing Chic, featuring my musical hero – Nile Rodgers… but they weren’t on the main stage.
It’s understandable why Glastonbury wanted the Stones on the Pyramid stage; it has been the dream of organiser Michael Eavis to see them perform at his festival and this year it came true. This is something that spans wider than the Somerset fields though, the BBC gave the Stones prominent coverage on BBC2 while Chic’s performance was hidden away on BBC Four – I would have missed it has I not been told it was on. Admittedly I am a massive disco fan, but it’s still a valid point.
I can’t help thinking this is modern day music snobbery that’s a throwback to the attitudes that caused the fateful Disco Demolition Night in July 1979. A baseball match was disrupted in Illinois, USA, and the ‘Disco Sucks’ movement began. This forced the music, flares and mirror balls underground while genres like punk rock started to gain rebellious popularity.
If you listen to the charts you’ll hear disco’s influence everywhere. Nile Rogers has reinvented himself many times to have hits with David Bowie, Madonna, Duran Duran, Sister Sledge, Diana Ross and that’s just naming few. Most recently, of course, is his number one anthem of our summer – ‘Get Lucky’ with Daft Punk. That’s why I think Chic should have had a bigger billing, rather than on the smaller West Holts stage.
Chic lived up to their name, looking classy dressed in white throughout their performance. The Stones, on the other hand, looked frail and past it, with too many breaks for unnecessary costume changes. Judging by this Glastonbury appearance, Maroon 5 surely must reconsider whether it really is all that cool to “move like Jagger” for their hit song. I would have commended Ronnie Wood’s ability to multi-task… had it not been that he was smoking a cigarette while strumming his guitar.
Apart from their more mellow tracks that I play on my radio shows, I’ve never been a fan of the Rolling Stones’ music – it’s just not my cup of tea. Glastonbury was the chance to change all that but it didn’t. The sound quality was awful and I would have been distracted throughout had I not have thought I was watching Spinal Tap instead.
Don’t accuse me of being ageist; I’ve always had an affinity with music that’s not of my generation. Just a few hours ago I got chills hearing Kenny Rogers (no relation to Nile) singing ‘Lady’ and ‘We’ve Got Tonight’ from today’s Glastonbury highlights. Kenny’s older than all of the Stones, yet he still looks and sounds great.
I know the the Stones’ music is legendary and the soundtrack to the lives of many. Credit where credit is due and they probably do put on good shows but I won’t be paying over a £100 to see them. The times I’ve seen Nile Rogers have been priceless.
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.