I’m not doing regular Freaky Friday posts anymore*, but I felt the need for a little freak out anyway. What better to do that with than Chic’s great Disco classic “Le Freak.”
Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards famously wrote “Le Freak” after being denied entrance to New York’s famed disco Studio 54, even though they’d been invited by the famous Grace Jones (who neglected to add them to the guest list). The song’s famous chorus of “Freak out!” was infamously originally supposed to be two other words beginning with F and O.
Am I throwing a little too much fame around this fire? Well, “Le Freak” is in a sense about fame. Notice that even though the title is supposed to be a dance, no one ever does any specific moves in the video, and nothing in the lyrics describes how to do this nominal dance. Rule number one of writing a song about a dance craze you want to invent is that you need to tell/show people how to do the dance. There is no dance called “Le Freak,” at least not that I know of. This is about the freak show of fame that was Studio 54 in the seventies.
And it was a freak show. Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager made sure the cream of the celebrity crop was there, and filled in the rest of the space with only the best looking and most depraved unknown sycophants they could find. If you weren’t on the list and you weren’t gorgeous, scantily clad, or somebody’s dealer, you didn’t get in. The stories about what went on in Studio 54 are legendary (google it and see what you find, aside from a not-so-great movie in the 90s). I suspect that the immorality and amorality of the disco are somewhat overstated, but probably not by that much. There was a lot of money and drugs in that place, and the management went to great pains to make sure their guests had as much privacy as they needed to do whatever they wanted.
Mostly what people wanted was to be seen at Studio 54. It was the hottest disco on the scene, so everyone who was anyone had to be witnessed going in, coming out, or enjoying themselves in (obviously) staged pictures inside. It wasn’t about dancing or music, like many other discos; it was about being famous. And like all fads, it was doomed to die an ignominious death.
After the club was raided by the Feds, and Rubell and Schrager did time for tax evasion, Studio 54 was essentially dead. It closed briefly in 1980 and reopened in 1981, but it was never the same. The shine had worn off. Even though it served as a launching pad for many successful 80s music stars, no one really cared about what was going on at 54 anymore. Freak out, indeed.
*Beware, though! Freaky Friday could return at any moment, just when you least expect it.