I think the bassline for Chic’s “Good Times” is the greatest bass part ever recorded. Where did it come from?
One of the pleasures of listening to old Chic records is the virtuosity of each of the three musicians in the band; you can focus on any part all the way through a song and marvel at the playing. Tony Thompson was a top-notch drummer, and although Nile Rodgers was a master of funky chicken-scratch guitar, he was a nimble player who could make just about anything sound graceful. But the anchor was bassist Bernard Edwards, who is arguably the most influential bassist ever in pop music, even more so than greats like Paul McCartney of the Beatles or James Jamerson of the Motown house band.
Edwards’ masterpiece was the slinky, muscular bassline in “Good Times,” which was sampled wholesale for “Rapper’s Delight” and a host of other hip-hop jams. It was also adapted by Queen a year later for their hit “Another One Bites the Dust.” Maybe Queen bassist John Deacon recognized its power because he was present at its conception. He had been hanging out with Rodgers, making a tour of New York’s finest nightclubs, and ending at Chic’s recording studio, the Power Station. When they arrived, Edwards was late for the planned session. Rodgers didn’t want to look feckless in front of Deacon, so he started showing a song to drummer Tony Thompson, “acting like we planned it that way,” Rodgers told me. When Edwards walked in, he didn’t apologize; he just plugged in. “He started playing a bassline that was probably really good,” Rodgers said–but Rodgers thought it would sound even better if it was a walking bassline. “I was screaming, ‘Walk! Walk, motherfucker!'” Edwards began the famous da-da-dum-dum-dum line, and Rodgers started shouting again, at engineer Bob Clearmountain this time: “Make it red.” Clearmountain dutifully pushed the “record” button. “We got it on the first take,” Rodgers proudly reported.
(Excerpted from the 2006 book Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton’s Little John?: Music’s Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed, published by Three Rivers Press, written by Gavin Edwards.)