After French dance-music auteurs Daft Punk (DP) cancelled a planned and much-anticipated appearance on The Colbert Report earlier this week, Stephen Colbert put together a video of himself dancing to their hit song “Get Lucky” with celebrities including Hugh Laurie, Jimmy Fallon, Henry Kissinger, and the Rockettes that may be better than any live act could have been.
The tune, a tribute to the sounds of the disco act Chic that features that band’s guitarist/mastermind Nile Rodgers, has shimmied out of car stereos, backyard barbecues, and every beach or pool party worth the name this summer.
Random Access Memories (RAM), the album on which “Get Lucky” appears, is a love letter not only to disco music through the 1970s and mid ’80s, but to the general concept of high-end, pre–digital–era perfectionism in the recording arts. So while “Get Lucky” has powered the album to the upper reaches of best-seller lists and play counts everywhere, RAM delves deep into the legacies of musical genres that for many years have been considered consummately unfashionable, paying homage to the nuances that went unnoticed at the time.
Fans of both the song and the album may be interested in these recent and not-so-recent projects by a few of Daft Punk’s collaborators on RAM, those inspired by the band’s body of work, and a song from the one artist to challenge Daft Punk’s prominence this summer.
Phantom of the Paradise
Paul Williams composed the theme to The Love Boat, The Muppet Movie’s “Rainbow Connection,” and the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun.” As an actor, he appeared in such movies as Battle of the Planet of the Apes and Smokey and the Bandit. But the Williams project that appealed to Daft Punk the most is this deeply peculiar 1974 cult film, which translates the story of Phantom of the Opera for the glam rock era. Directed and written by Brian De Palma, the film stars Williams as a villainous record producer; he also composed the film’s songs and score. Like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Phantom attempted to forge a path for movie musicals at a time when the genre seemed stagnant. And like most of the phantasmagorical rock films of the ‘70s, Phantom flopped, but has since gained a feverish fandom, including Daft Punk, who enlisted Williams to cowrite and sing “Touch,” a lugubrious track on Random Access Memories.
Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny, Nile Rodgers
Rodgers’s aesthetic for his disco band, Chic, was lush and carefree; if nothing else, disco music was designed to be an escape from the drab or even harsh realities of the mid 1970s. His autobiography details his own escape from his hardscrabble upbringing—a chaotic, drug-riddled home life in New York City’s Greenwich Village—into the rich cultural milieu of ‘60s and ‘70s New York City. His instincts for music production inspired musicians such as Diana Ross, David Bowie, Madonna, and Duran Duran to seek him out; anecdotes regarding work and play with them and more abound herein.
Giorgio Moroder, DJ Set, Deep Space NYC, May 22, 2013
In 1977, egghead producer Brian Eno burst into the West Berlin studio where he had been recording a trilogy of experimental albums with David Bowie. “I have heard the sound of the future!” he proclaimed, referring to Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” which joined the metronomic precision of Krautrock acts like Kraftwerk to the post-soul propulsion that had defined disco up to that point. Summer’s track was the brainchild of Giorgio Moroder, an Italian producer whose work with Blondie (“Call Me”), Irene Cara (“What a Feeling”), Berlin (“Take My Breath Away”), and many other artists from the 1970s onward was indeed the sound of the future. Daft Punk, as devoted a pair of Giorgio fanboys as they come, got him to contribute to Random Access Memory’s “Giorgio by Moroder,” and this May he held his first DJ set, comprised of his most incandescent tracks, as part of the Red Bull Music Academy series of events in New York City.
Daft Punk has been a cornerstone of club culture for the past two decades and their influence can be heard in the music of many—if not most—of the young turks seeking to set the dance floor aflame. Disclosure are Guy and Howard Lawrence, 19- and 22-year-old brothers from Surrey, England. The pair’s singles sound as if Daft Punk were as irreducible a part of life on Earth as the Beatles, Madonna, or oxygen, though “You and Me” and a few other tracks demonstrate that Disclosure does not share DP’s allergy to the female voice; no DP track has ever featured a female vocalist.
Kylie Minogue, Fever
Daft Punk’s first two albums, 1997’s house-music homage Homework and 2001’s retro-pop Discovery, had a tremendous effect on Kylie Minogue and her collaborators. Her greatest album-length achievement, Fever, showcased a reinvigorated Minogue, gave her her first hit in America since 1987’s “The Locomotion,” and with hits like “Can’t Get It Out of My Head,” “Love at First Sight,” and “Come into My World,” brought the retro-futurism of Daft Punk first into the clubs that had long been the incubators of potent dance music, and then to the masses.
Robin Thicke, “Blurred Lines”
Truth be told, “Get Lucky” has competition in the “song of summer 2013” sweepstakes. The son of ‘80s TV icon Alan, the younger Thicke has been a steady R&B hitmaker throughout the past decade. “Blurred Lines,” based on the groove of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” and featuring vocal embellishment from the Neptunes’s Pharrell Williams (who also appears on “Get Lucky”) and rapper T.I., is Thicke’s first pop crossover hit. But with mass exposure comes massive headaches— the lyrics have been widely criticized for implicitly endorsing male privilege or even sexual assault, for which an unedited version of the video featuring topless, prancing female models, does not help. (Mod Carousel’s gender-swapped version of the video has gotten plenty of deserved attention.) That said, the tune will be remembered as a milestone of popular music in summer 2013 alongside “Get Lucky.”
This post was contributed by LJ reviewer Rob Kemp, a Brooklyn-based writer and musician.