Friday Five: Niles Rodgers

While I was driving around this week I stumbled upon a Sirius XM show spotlighting the life and career of Niles Rodgers. I’ve already got mad respect for the man. That respect, and my love of his music and musical sensibilities, only grew as I listened to him tell the story behind some of the songs that have made him a musical legend.

His body of work as the founder and leader of the band Chic is enough of a reason to love the man and his work. But he has been a producer on an amazing number of significant tracks in musical history, too. The diversity and depth of those songs was the standout piece of that show to me.

So here are my five favorite Niles Rogers productions (that are not songs by Chic).

5. “Material Girl” by Madonna (1984)
Rodgers produced this track from the legend-making album Like a Virgin. His synth pop skills define the song, a perfect harmony between the lyrics and music (for a song most people missed as being a critique of the materialism of the day). Of course, the video is as iconic as the Marilyn Monroe number is pays homage to.

4. “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross (1980)
Rodgers wrote and produced this song with his Chic partner Bernard Edwards. He got the idea for the song after seeing a series of drag queens dressed as Diana Ross. Ross had hired Rodgers and Edwards to help her reinvent herself for her first album after leaving Motown. As the story goes, she was mortified when she found out “coming out” was a phrase related to the queer community. I’m sure she’s fine with it now. The song became a gay/lesbian anthem and they gave her a new career. My favorite part of it is the definitive Niles Rodgers guitar riffing.

3. “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge (1979)
Another classic written and produced by Rodgers and Edwards. This was the first song they wrote together for a band other than Chic. What can you say about it? It never made it to #1 in the US (it peaked at #2) but it gained a significance over time that eclipses that shortcoming. It’s a classic, one that is such a rich example of the sounds of the era while also being, somehow, timeless.

2. “The Reflex” by Duran Duran (1983)
Niles Rodgers wasn’t a part of the original album recording of this Duran Duran song, featured on the new wave band’s 1983 album Seven and the Ragged Tiger. His remixed version was the one they released as a single, however. It was their last #1 in the UK and their first of many in the US. All I can say——as a 12 year-old person who lived through this song’s popularity——is that people liked it. A lot.

1. “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie (1983)
There’s that guitar riff again, and so, so much more. Bowie wrote the song but Niles Rodgers made it. From the way he talked about it, it’s still something he is proud of. He has every reason to be.

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