15 Underrated Nile Rodgers Productions

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Monday, September 19, 2016
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15 Underrated Nile Rodgers Productions

It’s Nile Rodgers’ birthday, so we know that a number of you will instantly say, “Sweet! I’m gonna go listen to some Chic right now!” This is not a bad plan, rest assured, but since it never hurts to have a backup plan in place, we’ve got one for you: 15 songs produced by Nile Rodgers that

1. Norma Jean Wright, “Saturday” (1978) – Those who know their Chic won’t find Wright’s work underrated at all – she was the lead singer on the band’s debut album – but she opted to pursue a solo career. It proved to be short-lived in terms of chart success, but this track hit #15 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart, possibly because the production by Rodgers and Bernard Edwards made it sound not entirely unlike Chic. (Not that we’re complaining!)

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2. Sheila and B. Devotion, “Spacer” (1980) – As a solo artist, Sheila had been a stone-cold smash in her native France, but when the disco era came around in 1977 and she was of a mind to embrace its sound, her producer didn’t want to freak out her fans with such a dramatic change. As such, the first single of her new sound (“Love Me Baby”) was released under S.B. Devotion, since her backing singers were called B. Devotion, but the cat was let out of the bag sooner than later, and they were soon being labeled as either Sheila B. Devotion or Sheila & B. Devotion, depending on where their music was being released. As for how Rodgers and Edwards found their way to working with Sheila, it was a matter of trying to expand her fanbase beyond France and turn her into an international success.

“It was…like a math problem,” Rodgers told Attitude. “Sheila was a big star in France, but she was under the thumb of her record company and we were all about liberation. I mean, I’m an ex-Black Panther. It’s a waacky job being a musician, because you love what you do, but you really are a slave in a way. I understand why Prince wrote ‘slave’ on his forehead. We knew we had a big mission with Sheila; she had a French accent, singing in English, so it was no easy task, man.

In the end, “Spacer” was not the gargantuan worldwide success that anyone involved in the project had hoped it would be, but it did manage to make it into the UK Top 20, and the Chic connection helped it to find at least a bit of airplay in the US, hitting both the R&B and Dance charts, hitting #22 and #48, respectively. It’s an awesome song, though, one which seems to answer the hypothetical question, “What if Chic and ABBA made an album together?” And it also seems that Sheila and Rodgers are still friendly, based on their reunion for French TV 30 years after working together.

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3. Madonna, “Angel” (1984) – The inexplicably forgotten single from LIKE A VIRGIN, this track went all the way to #5 when it was released, yet it’s never found its way onto any of Madonna’s best-of collections. We don’t have an explanation for this continuing omission, but we do know that it’s a real shame, because the song’s just as catchy now as it was in its heyday...and, yes, the giggle at the beginning is still just as sexy, too.

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4. Sister Sledge, “Frankie” (1985) – A classic case of a song hitting one nation’s musical sweet spot while leaving another wanting, this single from the quartet that brought you “We Are Family” actually topped the charts in the UK, but it only made it a fourth of the way up the Billboard Hot 100, hitting a high of #75 before beginning its descent.

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5. Duran Duran, “American Science” (1986) – Rodgers’ first collaboration with Duran Duran wasn’t a production so much as it was a remix, specifically of “The Reflex,” but as John Taylor famously described Rodgers’ work on the track, “He was having a moment, and he turned it into something extraordinary, with all the “fleck, fleck, fleck” and the “why-yi-yi” and all the magical things that he applied to the original recording.” From there, Rodgers was given the reigns for “The Wild Boys,” the band’s lone studio track on their live album, ARENA, and when Duran Duran finally regrouped to record a new studio album, Rodgers put in charge of producing that as well.

Although you likely know at least three of Rodgers’ efforts from the NOTORIOUS album – the title track, “Skin Trade,” and “Meet El Presidente” were all released as singles –there’s another track that particularly stands out to hardcore Durannies: “American Science,” which features a solo from the by-then-departed guitarist Andy Taylor. It’s a great track, but you’ll want to particularly listen closely at the beginning of the song, because there are two guitar solos on the track, and only the first one is Taylor. (That’s what Warren Cuccurillo says, anyway, and as Taylor’s replacement, we reckon he’d be in a position to know.)

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6. Al Jarreau, “L is for Lover” (1986) – Have you ever wondered what it would sound like if Nile Rodgers produced Al Jarreau singing a Scritti Politti song? Yeah, we kind of figured it was always going to be a pretty small percentage of readers saying, “Why, yes, I have!” But even if you’ve never contemplated such a thing, now’s your chance to hear it in action: this track was indeed produced by Rodgers and written by Green Gartside and David Gamson, the very same duo that composed “Sweetest Way.” If it’s passed under your radar up to this point, you’re welcome, because it’s definitely one of those forgotten ‘80s songs that’ll make you ask, “Where have you been all of my life?!?”

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7. Laurie Anderson, “Language is a Virus” (1986) – Released during the window between her huge UK hit “O Superman” and her top-10 US Modern Rock hit “Babydoll,” HOME OF THE BRAVE was sort of a soundtrack album to the concert film of the same name, but a few of the tracks aren’t actually live. This track is one of two that Rodgers produced for the album, the other being the opener, “Smoke Rings,” but only “Language is a Virus” – or “Language is a Virus (From Outer Space),” to give its full title – was issued as a single. While it’s hardly a shock that it didn’t go hurtling up the Hot 100, it’s easy to see why it’s still a cult favorite: it’s catchier than you might initially think it is at first, and you can practically hear Anderson smiling throughout.

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8. Outloud, “It’s Love This Time” (1987) – This might be seen as a bit of a cheat in some people’s eyes, since Outloud was actually Rodgers’ own band, but given the combination that it was a one-off and that it didn’t exactly shift platinum-level units, we’re including it, mostly because more people ought to be aware of it. It’s a shame that Rodgers, Felicia Collins, and  Philippe Saisse didn’t keep Outloud going, because it’s a good and funky time.

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9. Terri Gonzalez, “I Don’t Have Time” (1987) – Although she got her start as a backup singer, scoring work with folks like Grace Jones and Chaka Khan, Gonzalez released a few singles in the early ‘80s before shifting gears and writing songs for Sheena Easton, the aforementioned Mr. Jarreau, and Carmen McRae. Finally, in 1987, Gonzalez got around to releasing her first full-length LP, which – unfortunately – also remains her only full-length LP. Still, it’s got some great Rodgers-produced stuff on it, including this song, which inexplicably failed to become a hit when it was released as a single.

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10. The B-52’s, “Follow Your Bliss” (1989) – Hidden away at the very end of the B-52’s’ comeback album is this instrumental, and while it may seem unlikely to select a vocal-less track by a band that’s so well known for its outrageous, in-your-face vocalists, it’s actually a perfect and relaxing way to wrap up an album that’s kept you dancing from the very beginning.

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11. Julie Brown, “‘Cause I’m a Blonde” (1989) – “Duck, Magnum! Duck!” Julien Temple’s Earth Girls are Easy has become a cable staple over the years, and one of the greatest moments in the film is this track by Julie Brown, who’d already earned recognition from her classic single, “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun.” How can you not love a song that features its narrator announcing, “My goal is to become a veterinarian, because I love children”?

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12. Ric Ocasek, “Rockaway” (1990) – Given the success of his second solo album, 1986’s This Side of Paradise, and the subsequent demise of The Cars, it seemed like a given that Ric Ocasek would pick up the band’s fans with his next solo endeavor. Unfortunately, that wasn’t how things played out with Fireball Zone, which arrived at the advent of the grunge era, but if nothing else, this track – which also served as the album’s first single – shows that Ocasek and Rodgers worked well together.

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13. David Bowie, “The Wedding” (1993) – Oh, come on, you didn’t think we’d forgotten Bowie, did you? We just didn’t think that any part of the LET’S DANCE album particularly qualified as underrated, so we decided to hang tight and spotlight something from BLACK TIE, WHITE NOISE instead. Not only that, but we’ve gone with an instrumental, just to really keep you guessing.

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14. David Lee Roth, “Night Life” (1994) – One good David deserves another, and while this David didn’t get a great deal of airplay out of his work with Rodgers, the two teamed up and turned in a swell cover of Willie Nelson’s “Night Life” that – when taken out of the context of the album on which it appears – makes you wonder why it wasn’t a hit.

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15. All-4-One, “Keep It Goin’ On” (1999) – The first track on All-4-One’s last album for Atlantic Records and the only track to be produced by Rodgers, it’s as perfect a way to finish this playlist as we can imagine. Why? Just hit “repeat,” and you’ll be doing exactly as the song says.

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