Those familiar with Chic and Nile and Bernard's more obscure productions are likely familiar with the unreleased album they had produced for Johnny Mathis in 1981, entitled "I Love My Lady." Even moreso than the reported Aretha Franklin sessions, which it seems were aborted even before they had began, this album, apparently an actual finished project, has become the undisputed holy grail of Chic Organization productions. Given that people in the Chic camp like Rob Sabino, the late Tony Thompson and Nile Rodgers himself have undyingly vouched for it's excellence, no one seems to have an official explanation as to why it continues to remain unreleased. It's been suspected that Chic's production was a much too radical change in direction for Mathis. In Daryl Easlea's excellent book, "Everybody Dance: Chic & The Politics of Disco," there are a few pages dedicated to the unreleased Mathis album. At the time, Mathis had just come off a very successful collaboration with Deniece Williams, with Rodgers and Edwards apparently drawing inspiration from the aftermath of his comeback. In Easlea's book Nile Rodgers explained the inspiration and his theory as to why the album was pulled:
"He had been this big superstar, then his light dimmed a little, and then he came back after that massive record with Deniece Williams. His popularity rekindled, he went on this reckless tear - partying and hanging out; it really frightened the people closest to him. When we did this record, it was so exciting and youth oriented. All his people went 'oh my god.'... The Johnny Mathis record to me sounded like Al Jarreau meets Chic. It didn't sound like Johnny Mathis to me - it was even more edgy than I'd ever heard him.. That's why it was pulled. His audience at the time was like middle-aged women who would go out to Vegas, and this was pushing his envelope." (pgs. 191-2)
Apparently the shelving of the album project didn't stop Mathis from breaking out somewhat. The apparent 'reckless tear,' that Rodgers talks about possibly gives some context to him coming out as a gay man the following year..
However, as elusive as the album is, apparently there are some out there with copies of the recordings, one of them being Ralph Tee of Jazz FM in the UK, who recently played the title track on his radio show this past Sunday (November 9th). I recently came across a post on the discomusic.com forums by a mystery poster from the UK who had put up a link to a rip of the radio stream. Listen for yourselves..
Johnny Mathis - I Love My Lady (unreleased) (link updated)
At the end of the clip, Ralph Tee says that this and two more tracks from Chic's Johnny Mathis album will be given an official release on a Chic box set, supposedly planned for next year. I haven't been able to find any further details so far, so hopefully those will be forthcoming...
As it is though, this track sounds like one of the finest things Chic did in the 80's, like a slightly Brazilian flavoured, sparer version of the classic Chic sound.. Despite the breezy, laid-back arrangement, the Chic groove and elegance is unmistakable. While the 80's had seen Chic moving with the times, ditching the ever present Chic strings (which appear here in their understated spendour) in favour of synths, horns and a generally more funk-centred sound; this track instead echoes both the classic Chic disco sound of the 70's and some of their more adventurous acoustic efforts in the 80s ("You Can't Do It Alone," "Tavern On The Green" and some of the other tracks off the Soup For One Soundtrack to name some examples). Although I can't help but wonder how this could have sounded with a full "I Want Your Love" or "Upside Down" type of treatment, this song occupies a wonderful middle ground between the two acts. With Johnny Mathis adopting a bit of Chic's urbane edge, and at the same time giving the Chic Organization an opportunity to further expand, experiment and redefine their sound in the post-disco landscape, this is ultimately a welcome revelation. Hopefully we'll be hearing more soon..
UPDATE 02/03/09: And apparently we are hearing more.. Courtesy of the Chic Tribute site, another track, entitled "Sing" has just leaked. Unfortunately it's only a one minute snippet this time, but a pretty promising one nonetheless.. Go to the Chic Tribute News page to hear the sample.
PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
BBC RADIO 2 - THE RECORD PRODUCERS: NILE RODGERS (SATURDAY JANUARY 6, 2007)
DISCO DELIVERY #2: NORMA JEAN WRIGHT - NORMA JEAN (1978, BEARSVILLE) (SATURDAY JANUARY 14, 2006)
UPCOMING SISTER SLEDGE REISSUES (FRIDAY AUGUST 10, 2007)
UPCOMING REISSUES & RELEASES (CHIC AND MORE!): (DECEMBER 1, 2006 - JANUARY 22, 2007) (SATURDAY NOVEMBER 25, 2006)
UPCOMING REISSUES & RELEASES (APRIL 25 - MAY 30) (FRIDAY APRIL 21, 2006)
JOHNNY MATHIS - I LOVE MY LADY @ CHIC TRIBUTE
CHIC TRIBUTE NEWS: NEW MATHIS TRACK (FEBRUARY 2, 2009)
DARYL EASLEA INTERVIEW @ CHIC TRIBUTE
TONY THOMPSON - THE MAN WHO PUT THE BACKBONE IN CHIC (ECHOES MAGAZINE INTERVIEW) @ CHIC TRIBUTE
EVERYBODY DANCE: CHIC & THE POLITICS OF DISCO (BY DARYL EASLEA) @ AMAZON.CO.UK | AMAZON.COM
CHIC @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
CHIC @ DISCO-DISCO
CHIC @ DISCOGS
CATEGORIES: DISCO NEWS, SIDE DELIVERIES