I think Sister Sledge We Are Family is without doubt the most precision-tooled album in my whole collection. Not a beat, not a note, not a flourish has been left to chance, from the luxurious, upscale cover image to the final notes of closer ‘One More Time’, this LP has been sculpted as a classy whole. In the wrong hands this would have been stultifying, odious even, but lets face it when the 6 hands in question belong to Nile Rodgers, Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson, then this is the very dictionary definition of the right hands. For me the overall effect is like slipping into a warm sunken bath, with an ice-cold drink to hand, whilst being anointed with unctuous bathing products by a beautiful hand-maiden/male-equivalent (delete as preferred). Not only that but due to the wonders of, I assume, time travel they wrote a song about me. True story.
I really wasn’t caring
But I felt my eyes staring
At a guy who stood out in the crowd
He had the kind of body
That would shame Adonis
And a face that would make any man cry
He’s the greatest dancer
That I’ve ever seen
He’s the greatest dancer
The champion of dance
His moves would put you in a trance
And he never leaves the disco alone
Arrogance but not conceit
As a man he’s complete
My crème de la crème
I was only 7 at the time but clearly they foresaw my dance floor potential and were moved to write one of their biggest hits about it. As for the music, what can I say? this really is perfection, clearly the subject matter really caused them to raise their, already stellar, game. That incredible guitar, bass, drums alchemy was already familiar to me from the two earlier Chic albums*, but what was new to me were the strings here, those incredible sweeps and percussive scrapings, especially in the instrumental sections towards the end of its’ mammoth-but-never-seeming-so 6:15. This was ultra-smooth, ultra-then and very much ultra-now too.
That’s only the first track on We Are Family, the next song is even better! ‘Lost In Music’ I’ve loved since I first heard it as a kid. If ‘He’s The Greatest Dancer’ is perfection then this is perfection +1, or maybe perfection HD. It takes what we thought of before as perfection and then shows you, something even better, far better in fact. That strut, that wonderful vocal delivery, the lyrics about sticking it to the man and just grooving; it’s so good its like being shown a new colour for the first time, a special ultra-violet frequency of light that will forever change your understanding of blue. I mean, come on!
Have you ever seen some people lose everything?
First to go is their mind.
Responsibility to me is a tragedy.
I’ll get a job some other time.
The temptation is of course to think of We Are Family as a disguised Chic LP, the band with some different singers and this was their approach, which they admit was heavy-handed now. But it needs to be remembered that Sister Sledge had been doing the rounds since 1971, they even played the world’s greatest ever sporting event, The Rumble in The Jungle in 1974, these ladies were not puppets. The vocal performance is absolutely peerless throughout and none more so than on ‘Lost In Music’, Joni’s lead on this one makes me tingle **.
The super smooth ‘Somebody Loves Me’ is less successful for me, but that’s just for reasons of preference – I’m still in dancing mood. The slow disco of ‘Thinking Of You’ is a bit of a hidden gem, showing off Nile Rodgers’ choppy guitar to absolute perfection. Then just to make sure you’re paying attention Side 2 kicks off with the title track, which people have been committing boogie atrocities to at office parties for knocking on for 35 years now. It surges with a propulsive joy and zest, that only a complete curmudgeon could deny.
The last three tracks tend to get skipped a bit by most people I’m sure, but to do so would be to overlook the jaunty ‘One More Time’ with its piano riffing and distorted guitar – this was music from the future of dance, or at least it would be once those big synthesizer boys got up and running. I could do without the slight reggaeisms of ‘You’re A Friend To Me’, but that’s just me being a petty tyrant.
Two bands I really like got it totally wrong, DOA sang ‘Disco’s Out’ and Suicidal tendencies sang ‘Disco’s Out, Murder’s In’, I appreciate that, like any big established genre 98% of it is irredeemable shite^, but when its this good it just trounces all comers.
Some people ask of me: What are you gonna be?
Why don’t you go get a job? All that I can say:
I won’t give up my music
Now you know what I wanna do? Strut.
PS – don’t play any of the remixes at the end of the extended CD/Spotify above – they are total cow excrement; it’s one of the reasons I like LP’s so much.
*Le Freak being a strong contender for my Top 12 LPs ever.
**I’m also a major sucker for The Fall’s cover of this, although Mark E. Smith doesn’t quite hit all the notes-ah.