DeepSoul's final entry in this three-column salute to songwriting duo Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson delves into one of their funkiest tunes. In 1977, Ashford and Simpson released their album Send It, a selection of mid-to-uptempo tracks showcasing their tight harmonies. Proving their readiness to step into the spotlight, they announced their arrival as artists in their own right with the raw "Don't Cost You Nothing" a track that works equally on the dance floor and as a classic funk workout.
Upon Send It's release, the album became an instant club favorite thanks in large part to legendary DJ Larry Levan. During his Paradise Garage sets in 1977, he would incorporate the instrumental track "Bourgie Bourgie" into the mix. Dancers at the New York club immediately gravitated toward its ebullient beat, slap bass, and lush string arrangement, all written and produced by Ashford and Simpson. In 1980, Gladys Knight and the Pips would add vocals to their cover, scoring a bigger hit with the song. However, listening to the instrumental original transports the listener back to the glamour of the disco era.
While "Bourgie Bourgie" made noise in the clubs, it was "Don't Cost You Nothing" that proved their greater success. Peaking at number 10 on the R&B charts, it inexplicably reached only 79 on the Billboard Hot 100 despite being right on time in terms of music trends. The slapping and popping bass, courtesy of Francisco Centeno, drives the handclap-powered beat. Centeno had a special relationship with Ashford and Simpson, as the duo discovered him when he was only 15 years old; that chemistry shines through in this cut. Only a seasoned pro such as Centeno could deliver those infectious lines, accented by Simpson's sweeping keyboards.
The lyrics exemplify the carefree attitude of the 1970s, the notion that music and dance provide escapes from monotony. One can imagine the couple meeting in a club, seducing each other in a "no pressure" method. "I got something you might not want to miss," Ashford almost raps. While Simpson may initially express some hesitancy, Ashford continually reassures by singing "you don't have to get involved / No one's forcing you" and "You've always got a choice." As they sing the chorus together, one senses she has given in. "Don't cost you nothin' / Take a chance as you go . . . If you like it, come back for more," they harmonize. Their lyrics constantly emphasize that the two protagonists play equal parts in this seduction, as they both croon "I ain't selling myself to you, baby / The way that others do." Will the couple last after this encounter? The duo avoids the answer, but they repeat phrases such as "If you like it come back for more," "it's up to you," and "it's free," again creating a casual atmosphere. Dancing, singing, mingling--"Don't Cost You Nothing" captures the entire experience.
Their ad libs toward fadeout show two artists in perfect sync, as they trade lines back and forth seamlessly. Their enthusiasm pervades "Don't Cost You Nothing," and its funk/R&B/disco sound would influenced not only late 1970s music but the next decade's sound with acts such as Midnight Star and Patrice Rushen emulating their sophisticated but raw sound. Ashford and Simpson experimented with incorporating various genres into their compositions, and opened the door for other artists to do the same.