I am returning to my folly and taking up teaching exercise classes again. And the first one I am doing is eighties-themed, so I have been tracking down songs from the eighties that are the right tempo (ideally you want songs upward of 135bpm for the high-impact stuff… which is suprisingly difficult) and if at all possible, nicely divided into 32-count sections. You can imagine my delight at discovering that “Fiesta” by The Pogues fits both of those criteria. And my disappointment that “Ace Of Spades” by Motorhead doesn’t (annoyingly, each verse has a single measure where it drops into 3/4 – you wouldn’t even notice it unless you were trying to fit an exercise routine to it and kept mysteriously finding yourself a beat behind. Sometimes you can edit odd beats and half-measures out, but you can’t really edit them in).
Anyway, one thing I’m pondering is how much one can go off the beaten track. I figure most people are going to have a hit song they don’t recognise, especially if they’re under about 35. (I’m guessing “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life” by Indeep might get a few blank looks.) So if I throw in something nobody will know, maybe everyone will think it’s just them. Such as this:
Slapp Happy never get all that much attention in their own right, though they’re prone to appear amid long lists of influences on other bands. Comprising Peter Blegvad, Anthony Moore and Dagmar Krause, they were essentially three avant-gardists coming together to make pop music, and their initial run was short but fruitful. Within three years (from mid-1972 to mid-75) they completed five albums, of which four were released at the time: “Sort Of”, backed by Faust, “Slapp Happy”, a kind of proto-chamber-pop album with session musicians, and two collaborations with prog-folk-jazzers Henry Cow, the cabaret-influenced “Desperate Straights” and the Henry Cow-led prog album “In Praise Of Learning”. The self-titled album is the one to seek out. The other album, “Acnalbasac Noom”, is the Faust-backed first attempt at recording the “Slapp Happy” tracklist, which Polydor rejected. It’s quite good too.
So anyway, by mid-75, the Henry Cow collaboration had run its course, but Krause opted to stay with them instead of returning to Slapp Happy, and that was pretty much the end of the group… for a while. But fast foward seven years to 1982, and Slapp Happy were back! Back! Back! Temporarily. The one-off single “Everybody’s Slimmin’!” preceded their first ever live show, after which… they split again. And then there were various other reunions, but maybe we’ll discuss those another time.
“Everybody’s Slimmin'” is a pretty wacky single, and one could imagine it being a hit in the musical climate of 1982, which is an interesting thought. Slapp Happy as one hit wonders, their catalogue overshadowed by a novelty hit? Stranger things have happened. Stranger things have happened to Slapp Happy. But this one didn’t.
To finish, here’s some classic Slapp Happy, with one of their better known songs, “The Drum”:
I suppose it must be about 20 years ago that Melody Maker gave away a free book called, I think, “Unknown Pleasures” in which various MM journos wrote essays about underrated and unfairly maligned albums. I’m sure I’ve still got it somewhere, and I do remember a few of the albums covered within. One was “The Lexicon of Love” by ABC, and it seems strange to think that was once an underrated album, considering it’s now rightly recognised as one of the great albums of its era. Another was “Risque” by Chic, selected by (I think) Paul Mathur, and it was reading that essay which got me interested in Chic’s work.
Back in the late 1990s, Chic were not a lauded act. In fact they were pretty much a completely forgotten act. However, that essay sparked my interest, and as it turns out, Mathur (or whoever it was) was right, they were pretty damn good. I think the phrase he used as “the Lennon and McCartney of disco”. Though for me their second album “C’est Chic” edges out “Risque” as their best work. (For those not familiar with the oeuvre, “C’est Chic” has “Le Freak ” and “I Want Your Love” on it, while “Risque”‘s big hit was “Good Times”). Anyway, from there it’s been a bit strange to watch Chic’s reputation being restored. I think the real turning point was in 2011 when Nile Rodgers published his autobiography (titled… Le Freak, of course. What else could it have been?). Suddenly he was everywhere, doing interviews to promote it, and the knock-on effect was that his musical legacy suddenly got a whole lot more attention too. Then there was “Get Lucky”… and suddenly it was as if Chic had always been an admired and acclaimed band. Which of course they were, in certain very small circles, but now they’d gone mainstream again. Kings of disco.
Sadly Rodgers’ writing partner, Chic bassist and sometimes vocalist Bernard Edwards, didn’t live to see it. He died of pneumonia during a concert trip to Japan in 1996, shortly after recording the album I’m sharing today (and just hours after recording “Live at the Budokan”, a much better tribute to their work together). It’s not strictly a Chic album, though a later reissue attempted to pass it off as one, but rather a Nile Rodgers solo project with some old friends, Edwards among them, along for the ride. And honestly, it’s not that great. If you want an introduction to Chic, this is definitely not the place to start (go for “C’est Chic”, the compilations “Ultimate Groove Collection” or “Up All Night”, or even the first Chic/Sister Sledge collaboration “We Are Family” instead) but it’s long out of print and never seems to get shared, so somebody might find it interesting.
Link: Nile Rodgers – Chic Freak and More Treats (password: salad)
- Everybody Dance
- Dance Dance Dance
- Let’s Dance (ft Christopher Max)
- Le Freak
- Upside Down (ft Ashford & Simpson)
- Do That Dance (ft Simon Le Bon)
- He’s The Greatest Dancer (ft Taja Sevelle)
- Good Times
- I Want Your Love
- Music Is My House (ft Christopher Max)
- We Are Family
- Do That Dance (Dancehall Rap Remix) (ft Wayne Thompson)
- Just One World (ft Christopher Max)