From The Beatles to Elvis Presley: Nile Rodgers’ favourite songs
Nile Rodgers is the owner of one of the sharpest minds in music. There are few people who have the same encyclopedic knowledge of music as the Chic man who, as well as being a bandleader, was also at the forefront of defining exactly what pop music would become throughout the 1980s. Rodgers played an influential part in helping to shape the careers of David Bowie, Prince and Madonna but what are the songs that helped make him the man he is?
Rodgers formed his first band after he met bassist Bernard Edwards in 1970 while working as a touring musician for the Sesame Street stage show. The two of them formed The Big Apple Band, they gigged as back-up musicians for the vocal group New York City, who had a hit single with ‘I’m Doin’ Fine Now’ which allowed them to tour and gave Rodgers his first glimpse at what his future would look like. Although the band would be shortlived, they dissolved after their second album, Rodgers and Bernard then formed a funk-rock band called The Boys but struggled to get off the ground as record labels thought that it would be too difficult to promote black rock musicians.
A more successful rebrand would come in 1977 when they formed Chic and the work that Rodgers had put in over the previous years finally yielded dividends for him as they instantly became a hit. The influence of Chic would even make David Bowie turn his hand to dance with help from Rodgers in 1983 and without the band breaking this pioneering ground then who knows if it would have been possible for Prince to have his purple reign over the world.
It should come as no surprise then that the songs that shaped Rodgers also come by fellow innovators who. like him, redefined music. These are songs that Rodgers listed to Rolling Stone in 2015 for the publication’s ‘The Music That Made Me’ segment and saw him poignantly revisit his childhood through music. The first selection by Rodgers comes courtesy of The King, Elvis Presley, and his 1956 classic ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, which elicits one of his most cherished childhood memories: “My grandmother gave me blue suede shoes and put on the song and told me, ‘Go dance for the family’. I liked the song — and I loved the shoes.”
When Rodgers was 14, he started working on Frank Sinatra’s private plane and found himself leaving behind New York City for Los Angeles. Being in such close proximity with one of the biggest stars on the planet meant that he found himself in plenty of weird and wonderful situations, including the strange way he was introduced to ‘The End’ by The Doors in 1968 when he was 16. “I had taken acid with Dr. Timothy Leary in the Hollywood Hills,” Rodgers remembered. “I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t even know what acid was, I didn’t have a clue. It was amazing. The next time I took LSD, all I kept hearing was this song, over and over again. It starts out fugue-esque, and then the tempo goes out of control. It’s controlled chaos. And it’s wonderful.”
The Beatles’ ‘A Day In The Life’ is another track that holds fond memories for the Chic guitarist, “I practised it on guitar until it sounded perfect,” Rodgers said. “Coming from a classical music background, the compositional aspect of it that felt challenging to me and rewarding. It went on a journey. Maybe that’s what was so attractive to me.”
The final song that makes the cut is Miles Davis’ 1970 track ‘Bitches Brew’ and his analysis is beautifully short but sweet: “Pure genius. They called it “new directions in jazz,” but it was new directions in everything.”
With a musical education like that, it is unsurprising that Rodgers would go on to fuse this eclectic list of influences together with Chic. When they arrived in the late 70s, Chic were a hybrid of all these different styles but put through a perfectly crafted disco lens that was both familiar whilst being fresh and like nothing before. The foundations from which Rodgers built that particularly band can all be found in his favourite songs below.