Few songs encourage unfettered enthusiasm like Chic’s iconic disco anthem ‘Le Freak’. The track is synonymous with dirty dancefloors and dubious moves. Still, no matter how much terrible dad-dancing surrounds the song now, it is a guaranteed way to fill a dancefloor and provide smiles for all attendees. It is funny then that the track was deeply rooted in a sarcastic view of the society which adopted it so quickly into their lives.
Written by Nile Rodgers, one of the finest songwriters pop music has ever known, and his longtime collaborator Bernard Edwards, the song is one of the finer moments of the disco revolution that hit the western world in the seventies. But, in truth, the song takes a sly jab at the scene, namely, Studio 54.
If you’ve even caught a whiff of disco culture, then the name Studio 54 will be of great importance to you. The nightclub, arguably the first of its kind, was notorious for being a style haven. Artists such as Diana Ross, Cher and countless others would walk up to the glittering doors ready to not only throw some shapes but turn out an outfit too.
The stylish club quickly became known as the place to show your face if you were “somebody”. It was a classic celebrity haunt and was fiercely guarded by some of the meanest bouncers around. The door staff gained a reputation for not only being burly but also incredibly selective about who was let through the doors — after all, with so many high-ranking celebrities in the establishment, a certain level of restriction was necessary.
Chic saw their opportunity for a sarcastic angle on their disco bop and paid homage to the notoriously difficult lines. The song pays attention to the whims of the doormen but also offers them a retort when they sing “freak out!”. OK, so it might not seem like a stinger, but the song was originally recorded with that line as “f*ck off”, which gives you a clearer sense of how Rodgers and Edwards may have felt about waiting in line at Studio 54.
In fact, the material was born out of one particular evening, New Year’s Eve 1977. The duo had been invited down to Studio 54 by Grace Jones, who hoped Rodgers and Edwards would do some production work. Inviting the team to the club, ensuring their names would be on the list, the pair put on their glad rags and headed for the glitziest club in town. When they got there, they came face to face with a disagreeable doorman who not only confirmed that their name had been left off the list, but they were not in a fit state to enter.
While most would head for a local takeaway and bury their faces in fat, Rodgers and Edwards went home and wrote a song in response to the bouncers who’d denied them. Originally titled ‘F*ck Off’, the song’s iconic refrain would eventually be tempered to “freak out” after Edwards’ upbringing made him uncomfortable with swearing so readily.
A classic today, the song wasn’t received with such glee when they played it to their label: “By the time the song ended, after about seven and a half minutes, we’d cleared the conference room. We were just sitting there by ourselves – myself, Bernard Edwards and our attorney. Everybody else was outside trying to figure out how to tell us how much the song sucked, and wondering did we have anything else on the album that was better.” Of course, they were dead wrong. The song not only sold seven million copies but also became the only track in history to climb the Billboard 100 on three separate occasions.
So, there you have it, one of the greatest songs ever written was actually a snotty reply to not getting into a nightclub. Perhaps we should give bouncers more credit?