Nile Rodgers: A brief history of modern music

From Bowie to Beyoncé to Beavis And Butthead – your guide to the middle of music’s funkiest Venn diagram

Most of us can probably recall the first time we heard ‘Get Lucky’. This writer remembers a particularly rowdy neighbour playing it on repeat upstairs in her flat while we all sweltered in the unusually sticky June heat. The year was 2013 and everyone was loved-up and festival giddy – ‘Get Lucky’ gave us another excuse to get sweaty with our mates. For dance heads, it signalled the important return of Daft Punk (‘Get Lucky’ was the lead single from their fourth and final album Random Access Memories), while NERD-obsessed popsters sighed over Pharrell and his effortless ability to fuse styles with the French robot rockers. What started with a wordless poster featuring two helmets (one black, one silver) and a Saturday Night Live ad teaser became an overnight global phenomenon, especially to the teens and 20-somethings that were waiting for a song to hallmark their summer.

Daft Punk - Get Lucky (Official Video) feat. Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers

The track had everything. An earworm chorus, a disco groove melody, and of course, the synthy vocal stylings of Daft Punk themselves. Yet, ‘Get Lucky’ had something else. Something extra. A sort of sparkle that set it apart from the other tracks topping the charts at that time. It was, for want of a better word, magical. The sparkle of ‘Get Lucky’ could only be attributed to one person: Nile Rodgers.

The musician, songwriter, record producer and co-founder of the momentous CHIC had waved his funky magic wand and created something extraordinary. Winner of countless GRAMMYs and Lifetime Achievement Awards, and having written, produced and performed on records that have sold more than 500 million albums and 75 million singles worldwide, ‘Get Lucky’ was simply just another flash of brilliance (in a roll call of many) that Rodgers had left his fingerprints on. 

So just in case you aren’t familiar with Nile Rodgers’ expansive catalogue, and to celebrate his various festival appearances this summer, here are some of his greatest ever collaborative moments, and why he defines the word “influential”.

The late disco years

In 1979, disco was a dirty word. Despite having had massive hits with CHIC ( ‘Le Freak’, ‘I Want Your Love’, ‘Everybody Dance’, ‘Good Times’ – the list goes on), Nile Rodgers and bandmate/writing partner, bassist Bernie Edwards, were facing a backlash of an epic proportion. For reasons that now seem unfathomable over four decades later, disco was the bête noire of popular music in the late 70s. Admitting you were a disco fan was social suicide.

Diana Ross - I'm Coming Out

However, before bowing out of the disco scene altogether, Rodgers and Edwards took it upon themselves to co-write and co-produce what have arguably become some of this once flogged-genre’s most groundbreaking tracks. As well as producing the album We Are Family by Sister Sledge (1979), the duo also wrote and produced Diana by Diana Ross (1980), which houses the now classic ‘I’m Coming Out’ and ‘Upside Down’. They also wrote ‘Spacer’, the infectious dance track by French disco act Sheila and B. Devotion, which is peppered with Rodgers and Edwards’ funky influence. 

While rock fans and music snobs continued their collective disdain of disco, behind the scenes, Rodgers was creating history. You only have to hum the opening bars to ‘I’m Coming Out’ to a member of the LGTBQ+ community these days to fully appreciate its reverence. ‘Spacer’ is still guaranteed to fill a dancefloor, whether that’s in Ibiza or your own kitchen.

The 80s

There’s a Nile Rodgers quote that’s often thrown about at dinner parties and first dates, the one where Rodgers asks David Bowie if he’d made Let’s Dance (1983), Bowie’s seminal and biggest-selling album to date, “too funky” – to which the Starman famously replied: “Nile, darling, is there such a thing?”

David Bowie - Let's Dance (Official Video)

Staggering to think that Rodgers had a hand in Bowie’s 80s renaissance, producing singles such as ‘Let’s Dance’, ‘China Girl’ and (this writer’s favourite because it reminds her of her late father) the incredible ‘Modern Love’. But actually, once you realise that it’s Rodgers in co-pilot mode, the penny drops. The production is perfect, the singles are some of the most beloved in Bowie’s canon, and the album regularly tops GOAT lists in music publications globally.

But Rodgers didn’t stop there. In 1984, he produced the album Like A Virgin by Madonna, which spawned chart-topping singles ‘Material Girl’ and of course, ‘Like a Virgin’, the track which sparked a bangle-wearing new-feminist revolution in a decade famous for its misogynistic treatment of female artists. Rodgers even performed with Madonna at Live Aid in 1985.

Madonna - Like A Virgin (Official Video)

Then there’s the work he did with INXS (he produced the single ‘Original Sin’ in 1983), and Duran Duran, remixing their biggest-selling single, ‘The Reflex’, producing ‘Wild Boys’ on their live album, Arena (1984), and co-producing the album, Notorious (1986).

In the space of 10 years, Rodgers produced albums for a multitude of incredible artists including The B–52’s, Diana Ross, Sheena Easton, The Thompson Twins, Jeff Beck and Mick Jagger. Plus, the incomparable Grace Jones, whose 1986 album, Inside Story, and the hit single ‘I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect For You)’ were all produced by Nile Rodgers. He played guitar on Cyndi Lauper’s stunning second album True Colours and the anthemic ‘Higher Love’ by Steve Winwood.

Nile Rodgers had transitioned from CHIC guitarist to one of production’s hottest properties. He was named the No.1 Singles Producer in the World by Billboard. And there was more to come.

The soundtracks

Despite its awkward music video (do watch, it’s cringingly wonderful), this writer has a desperate fondness for ‘Why’ by Carly Simon, the 1982 hit taken from the Nile Rodgers/Bernie Edwards produced soundtrack for sex-comedy Soup For One. Sure, the film was a box office catastrophe, but the soundtrack – which also featured Sister Sledge, Debbie Harry and Teddy Pendergrass – is absolute fire.

In the 80s, Nile Rodgers produced tracks for Gremlins (1984), Alphabet City (1984), White Nights (1985) and The Fly (1986). Rodgers also composed the score for the 1988 Eddie Murphy movie, Coming to America. In the 90s, he worked on the soundtracks for Thelma And Louise (1991), Cool World (1992) and The Beavis And Butt-head Experience (1993). Rodgers also composed music for Beverly Hills Cop III (1994), Blue Chips (1994) and the hilarious adaptation of beloved cartoon The Flintstones (1994).

Interestingly, it was around this time that Rodgers really settled into his entrepreneurial groove, founding Sumthing Else Music Works record label and Sumthing Distribution in 1998, the latter of which focused on the emerging world of video game soundtracks. Sumthing Distribution’s titles included Halo and Resident Evil, and Rodgers had a hand in producing the soundtracks for many of these. 

His most recent film work includes music featured on the kids film Trolls (2016) and joining forces with Andrew Lloyd Webber on the soundtrack for the sensationally bad Cats in 2019 (proof that not everything Rodgers touches turns to gold, but impressive nonetheless).

The here and now

Of course, ‘Get Lucky’ was the release that really launched Rodgers back into the collective consciousness back in 2013, but, true to form, since then he’s kept himself busy. Along with a lauded Glastonbury performance with CHIC in 2017, he’s also hosted a podcast on Apple Music (Deep Hidden Meaning) since 2020; interviewing guests such as Paul McCartney and Bryan Adams. 

Nile Rodgers | Medley of greatest hits live performance at the #MOBOAwards | 2022

In front of the camera, Rodgers has appeared in large array of documentaries. Understandably, his impressive career (and penchant for chuckled anecdotes ranging from stories about Stevie Wonder to Studio 54) makes him an encyclopaedia of music content. He also regularly shows up on stage with other titans of the industry – most recently (and most poignantly), he performed ‘Modern Love’ and ‘Let’s Dance’ with Josh Homme, Omar Hakim and Gaz Coombes at the Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium.

In 2023, he worked with South Korean girl group Le Sserafim on their album, Unforgiven. That same year he also worked on Beyoncé’s groundbreaking album, Renaissance, which won him two GRAMMYs and legion of new fans. Is it any wonder that Rolling Stone placed Rodgers seventh on a list of the 250 greatest guitarists of all time, writing: “There’s ‘influential,’ then there’s ‘massively influential’, then there’s Nile Rodgers… a true innovator who never slows down, still making history with his guitar”.

For this writer, nothing will ever beat the time I was one of the holy few to be pulled on stage during a CHIC concert. It was at the O2 and I was wearing terrible shoes but, I got to dance next to Rodgers as he thumped out ‘Good Times’ to a crowd of 20,000 while glittering disco lights flashed around us. The whole experience lasted about 15 minutes, but it was enough to convince me I was in the presence of absolute greatness. Looking back on his career, I now realise that he’s had a hand in quite a few of my ‘pinch-me’ musical moments (including dancing like a loon with my late father to ‘Modern Love’ while mum was out playing darts), and for that I’m eternally grateful. Here’s to the next few decades, Nile.

Nile Rodgers is keeping busy this summer, with dates at Hampton Court Palace Festival, Delamere Forest, The Piece Hall, Sherwood Pines, Dalby Forest, Southampton Summer Sessions, Bedford Park, Latitude festival and many more. Find tickets here.