Single Stories: Chic, GOOD TIMES

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Over the first half of 1979, America was disco country. Artists that topped the Hot 100 during those six months included the Bee Gees, Donna Summer, Chic, Anita Ward, and Gloria Gaynor. Big-screen blockbuster Saturday Night Fever had brought the dance-floor lifestyle to the American masses, and people just couldn't get enough. Discotheques began springing up in major cities and suburban enclaves alike, while longstanding rock radio station began switching over to dance-music formats in droves. According to Nile Rodgers, it was all about escapism. That's when inspiration struck.

"In 1979, the country was in a recession. There were gas lines and everything felt economically depressed," Rodgers told Wall Street Journal in 2017. "We wanted to emphasize the upbeat celebratory side--like the spirit in the songs 'Happy Days Are Here Again' (1929) and Al Jolson's 'About a Quarter to Nine,' from the film I had rented," he added about the 1935 film, Go Into Your Dance, which he'd watched for lyrical ideas.

"We worked 'Happy Days' into the lyric: 'Happy days are here again / The time is right for makin' friends / Let's get together, how 'bout a quarter to ten / Come tomorrow, let's all do it again.' Instead of Jolson's 'about a quarter to nine,' we made it a quarter to 10. It sang better."

Released as a single on June 4, 1979, "Good Times" was another monster hit, roaring up the charts and across pop radio from New York to Los Angeles, and most major cities in between. As disco continued to put more and more rockers out of work, however, some rock radio stations began taking potshots at the dance music genre, creating the "disco sucks" slogan that started picking up steam on FM stations in Detroit and Chicago. The sentiment culminated in Steve Dahl's notorious "Disco Demolition" at Chicago's Comiskey Park between games at a White Sox-Detroit Tigers double-header. The chaotic teenage riot on July 12, 1979, was enough for more radio programmers to jump on the momentum and turn up the "disco sucks" heat over the airwaves with wild promotions and campaigns.

"We had to cope with the 'disco sucks' movement, which had begun in July 1979 and intensified in the fall," Rodgers sighed. "Chic became a target because we were so closely identified with the disco era. As a result, Chic never had another No. 1 hit after 'Good Times.'"

Indeed, as "Good Times" hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for exactly one week, on August 17, 1979. The track's impact, however, continued to grow. "Good Times" became a cornerstone of hip-hop when the song's main groove was heavily interpolated into Sugarhill Gang's pioneering track, "Rapper's Delight." It was enough that the rap outfit immediately gave Rodgers and partner Bernard Edwards half of the songwriting credit on "Rapper's Delight" (after a bit of legal prodding, of course). As disco slowly receded into the past, the Chic duo charged into the future.

"Bernard and I became producers, working on albums by Madonna, Sister Sledge, Diana Ross, Duran Duran, David Bowie, Grace Jones, Pharrell Williams and many other artists," Rodgers said proudly. "For better or worse, Chic was a victim of the disco backlash. Which to us was kind of funny. Bernard and I didn't think of ourselves as disco guys. We were just young jazz instrumentalists who had set out to update Kool & the Gang."