41 years ago, Chic returned to the dance floor to mastermind disco's last hurrah.
Pillared by their eponymous 1977 debut album and their 1978 follow up, C'est Chic, the New York funkateers plotted to overcome the growing disco backlash with their third album Risqué when inspiration found Nile Rodgers late, late one night.
The Chic guitarist and songwriter was out club-hopping with Queen bassist John Deacon on a diet of coke, homemade ecstasy, champagne and vodka when the two stumbled their way back into the recording studio in Manhattan's Power Station, where some Chic teammates - drummer Tony Thompson, a keyboardist and engineer Bob Clearmountain - were already hard at work.
By the time bassist Bernard Edwards made his way in, Rodgers "started screaming over the drums: 'Walk!' Bernard said, 'What?' I shouted, 'Walk, walk!'" Rodgers reminisced in a 2005 interview, laughing. "So then Bernard, well, he started to walk."
What emerged from that one take recording was the dance floor-filling, 20-note riff that became a funk fundamental and Chic's sonic signature. Rodgers then dialed up Fonzi Thornton, whom he had toured with in the early '70s as part of a Sesame Street revue, to lay down vocals alongside Alf Anderson and Michelle Cobbs on the track.
“Nile told me he had a new record he wanted me to sing on,” Thornton recalled. “When I heard Bernard’s bassline — it was almost scary, because it was so new. I said, ‘This is something special.’”
With a titular nod to Kool & the Gang's 1972 album, the resulting song "Good Times" provided meta commentary on disco as "hedonistic music" with its references to why people celebrated good times, regardless of the past or present circumstances: "Must put an end to this stress and strife/ I think I want to live the sporting life/ Good times."
“Good Times” hit record stores in the heat of summer '79 of June 4 and turned out to be the group's final swan song on the sweaty dance floor. The song climbed to No. 1 for a week before the Knack's "My Sharona" replaced the tune for a six-week run. It's an unsporting life sometimes.
The song, however, would remain immortal as it inspired dozens of hit songs in the pop soundscape, including Vaughan Mason & Crew's "Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll," Queen's "Another One Bites thee Dust" and the watershed single of commercial rap, Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight."
As Chic later confessed, “‘Rapper’s Delight’ is one of my favorite songs of all time. At first, I admit, I was pissed off. You work your whole life to write a song like ‘Good Times.’ It takes all of your experience, all of your music lessons, all the places I got fired, all the times I was robbed — all of that living. But the truth is, I was especially pissed because as innovative and important as ‘Good Times’ was, ‘Rapper’s Delight’ was just as much, if not more so.
“Anyway, that’s why they call it hip-hop — it’s collage art. You take something hip, and you hop on it. And you know, ‘Good Times’ is definitely hip.”