Saturday, July 19, 2008

'I Feel For You' - A Hit Made With All The Right Ingredients

By the time Chaka Khan scored the worldwide smash ‘I Feel For You’ in 1984, she had already established herself as one of the pre-eminent female vocalists on the music scene for more than a decade.

Born Yvette Stevens in 1953, Chaka Khan formed her first group, the Crystalletes, at age 11. Through her involvement with the black activist group the Black Panthers, she adopted the name Chaka, which means ‘fire’. After leaving school she worked with the bands Lyfe and then the Babysitters. In 1972 she combined talents with ex-American Breed members Andre Fischer and Kevin Murphy to form the dance-funk band Rufus.

Rufus broke through in 1974 with the US#3 hit ‘Tell Me Something Good’, the song written by Stevie Wonder (who would later figure in Chaka Khan’s biggest hit). Several more hits followed over the next few years including 1974‘s ‘You Got The Love’ (US#11) which featured a young Ray Parker Jr. (see previous post), ‘Once You Get Started’ (US#10) in 1975 and ‘At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up)’ (US#30) in 1977 (all credited to Rufus featuring Chaka Khan).

After a less than amicable split with Rufus, Chaka Khan released her debut solo album ‘Chaka’ in 1978. The track ‘I’m Every Woman’ (written by Ashford & Simpson - 1985 hit ‘Solid’) proved a strong lead single and performed well across the world (US#21, UK#11, OZ#37), promising big things for Chaka Khan. The song ‘I’m Every Woman’ would return to the charts in 1993 for Whitney Houston (US#4).

Contractual obligations meant that Chaka Khan was obliged to record at least two more albums with Rufus, resulting in the minor 1979 hit ‘Do You Love What You Feel’ (US#30) credited to Rufus And Chaka Khan. Chaka’s next couple of solo albums ‘Naughty’ (1980)’ (featuring a young Whitney Houston on backing vocals) and ‘What Cha Gonna Do For Me’ (1981) sold poorly though. Chaka Khan reunited with Rufus for a final time in 1982 with the double album ‘Stompin’ At The Savoy - Live’ which in addition to the live tracks featured several new tracks including the US#22 hit ‘Ain’t Nobody’ (credited to Rufus And Chaka Khan). But the reunion was short lived and it would be Chaka Khan’s next solo project that would provide her with the biggest solo hit of her career.

The album ‘I Feel For You’ (UK#15, US#14) was released in late 1984 and was without doubt Chaka Khan’s finest solo effort. Her powerful vocals were aptly served by a quality selection of contemporary dance tracks and electronic funk. The title track ‘I Feel For You’ had been written and originally recorded by Prince and was the perfect vehicle to deliver Chaka Khan to the top of world charts. Grandmaster Melle Mel provided the signature ‘Chaka-Chaka-Khan’ rap intro and Stevie Wonder reunited with Ms. Khan to deliver one of his virtuoso harmonica solos. It was the perfect recipe for a smash hit, reaching #4 in Australia, #3 in the U.S. and feeling its way all the way to #1 in Britain (for 3 weeks in November 1984). It also earned Chaka Khan a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal. The U.K. would also prove the most receptive market for the two follow up singles ‘This Is My Night’ (UK#14) and ‘Eye To Eye’ (UK#16) in 1985, though strangely neither climbed above #60 in the U.S. However, the song ‘Through The Fire’ set a then record for most number of weeks spent inside the Billboard R&B charts.

Her follow up album ‘Destiny’ was a relevant disappointment (US#67/UK#77) and yielded only one minor hit with ‘Love Of A Lifetime’ (UK#52) in 1986. Around the same time Chaka Khan sang backing vocals on Steve Winwood’s global hit ‘Higher Love’.

In 1989 Chaka returned to form trading vocals with Ray Charles on the US#18 hit ‘I’ll Be Good To You’, taken from Quincy Jones’ ‘Back On The Block’ album, and earning Khan her second Grammy. A remix package also brought her more success on the U.K. charts (Khan was based in England by then), and a remixed version of ‘I’m Every Woman’ reached #8 in Britain in mid ‘89.

The 90s proved relatively quiet in terms of commercial success for Chaka Khan. Though she did lend her surging vocals to the 1995 hit ‘Watch What You Say’ (UK#28) with dance act Guru, and on the US#25 hit ‘Missing You’ in 1996 with Brandy, Tamia and Gladys Knight. In 1998 Prince produced Chaka Khan’s album ‘Dare You To Love Me’. The gifted singer continued to record into the 00s albeit on a more diverse selection of projects, from a 2001 collaboration with De La Soul on ‘All Good?’ to her more recent work which has marked a foray into gospel music.

The inimitable Chaka Khan may not have reached the commercial crescendos of some of contemporaries but she rightfully deserves a place on the honour roll of great female vocalists in popular music, and the title ‘Queen of Funk Soul’.

This one goes out to T.K. from the Copa - groove baby groove - let the sun shine on!

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