Aug 09

CHAKA KHAN – “I Feel For You”

FT + Popular112 comments • 13,725 views

#540, 10th November 1984, video

Asked to describe the I Feel For You album, Wikipedia offers “Genre: Funk, Hip Hop, Electronic dance music, soul, Rhythm and blues, Pop”. By a remarkable coincidence that is the exact genre of this single, too – a time-shifting stylistic summit meeting that offers nothing less than a Grand Unified Theory of black American pop over the past two decades.

Except that makes it sound calculated and formal and “I Feel For You” is nothing of the sort – its glory isn’t in the fact of genres mixing, it’s in what they each bring to the party, the track’s blend of the hard-assed, the passionate and the blithe. That last in the form of Stevie Wonder’s harmonica, fluttering and darting over the beat and breaking down history itself – suddenly it’s 1962 again and he’s Little Stevie, the crowd roaring at his prodigal talent.

Back in the present day there are new skills to be admired. I don’t have the depth of knowledge to figure where “I Feel For You” fits into hip-hop history but to me it feels significant, a direct and brilliant assertion of the new music’s place in the continuity of black pop, a graduation party. From our perspective, of course, nothing much like this has got to number one before – New Edition’s beats had a tinny thrill but hardly the punch of “I Feel For You”, with its slick, box-fresh synth-funk. And of course they didn’t have Melle Mel, whose rapid, almost whispered rap beckons you into the song.

The keyboard and harmonica interplay almost drives Chaka Khan out of her own track, but wisely she doesn’t try to dominate the music. She could have belted the chorus but she takes it more thoughtfully, sighing, shuddering and finally just saying “I think I – love you”, creating a stillness round which the rest of the track can move.

And behind it all, the songwriter: Prince’s own version of “I Feel For You”, which I’d never heard before today, sounds delighted and goofy with self-discovery. Hearing it you can’t quite believe that it could survive being expanded, exploded and empowered in this way. But perhaps it’s no surprise: the man who wrote it spent his peak years mapping the interzone “I Feel For You” dances so wonderfully in.



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  1. 91
    Angela Lansbury on 1 Sep 2009 #

    erithian it’s a given that the rap would be copyright so need to put a (c) before it

  2. 92
    Martin Skidmore on 1 Sep 2009 #

    Re Tony Blackburn’s tastes, Peel used to regularly tell a story about arguments with him, where Peel was claiming that all the Motown nonsense Blackburn played would be forgotten in 20 years whereas all the great psychedelia he played would be popularly loved. I never listened to the shows, but that does suggest Blackburn was a particular champion of Motown.

  3. 93
    Steve Mannion on 1 Sep 2009 #

    I think Blackburn is on record as claiming Diana Ross ‘I’m Still Waiting’ as his favourite single of all time, or if not that then something in the same vein.

  4. 94
    Erithian on 1 Sep 2009 #

    Angela #91 – there was a question on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” once which went something like: “In which genre of popular music is Eminem a leading performer? A – reggae; B – techno; C – rap; D – soul?” I always thought the choice of letter for rap was deliberate from a rap-hating member of the production team!

  5. 95
    lonepilgrim on 1 Sep 2009 #

    re 90 I wonder whether Melle Mel’s rap is designed to remind everyone who is singing the song given the extent to which CK is subsumed within the overall package

  6. 96
    Tom on 1 Sep 2009 #

    re #88 and #95 – Melle Mel is there to give the kids who couldn’t breakdance something to do in the playground.

  7. 97
    crag on 1 Sep 2009 #

    Re#92- The follow-up story being when apparently Peel approached Backburn at a party at the end of the 70s and admitted that he had been wrong and Blackburn had been right.

    This is perhaps the first Popular entry that could enter the charts tomorow and would fit in perfectly, such is its fresh and modern sound. The incorporation of old-school elements within a state-of-production, rather than just trying to produce an “authentic”sounding retro track has resulted in much of the best pop since the late 90s IMO.

    Speaking of which, top notch pitchfork article, Tom but “BOB” as best single of the 00s??REALLY? Were you involved in this choice?

  8. 98
    AndyPandy on 2 Sep 2009 #

    London Lee at 81: I’d agree with you there if 1 track makes me think of his radio London show it’d have to be either ‘Weekend Girl’ or possibly Paul Hardcastle’s hiphop instrumental’Rain Forest’ (which was the one track that always got the office girls turning the radio up!).

    Now there’s a skein of music that’s all but forgotten now the 80s hiphop (as opposed to out and out electro)instrumental Rain Forest, Tyrone Brunson ‘The Smurf’, and Wally Badarou (Level 42’s producer/5th member) ‘Chief Inspector’etc.

  9. 99
    Tom on 2 Sep 2009 #

    #97 I was involved inasmuch as I got a vote! I think it’s a great record, and I marked it pretty high on my ballot, but not at #1. I played it at Poptimism last week though, and while it did indeed pull its thang out and bang, it wasn’t quite as rapturously received as another track in the P4K top ten that the Bunny prevents me naming.

  10. 100
    enitharmon on 2 Sep 2009 #

    [comment posted on wrong thread, now removed to that thread by kind passing editor]

  11. 101
    intothefireuk on 2 Sep 2009 #

    At some point I seem to have parted company with the main throng and am now skipping happily down my own path. Having read thru the somewhat sycophantic reviews so far I find myself at a bit of a loss. I’m with Chaka on this one, well mostly, as I’m not fully conversant with ALL her work. Certainly ‘Tell Me something Good’ & ‘Ain’t Nobody’ are a good deal better than this and it would have been those singles in particular that I was judging it against at the time. It was pretty obvious to me which ones would endure. Had it been purely CK’s vocal it might have been ok but the added elements weigh it down considerably. The naff stutter-rap (surely a joke) is it’s most hideous add-on whilst the inappropriately placed squeaky harmonica solos are equally cringe-making. The production is another minus – reverbed & delayed drum machines and digi synth pads – and poor old Chaka is buried in the mix. I wouldn’t in any shape or form class this as 80’s soul or disco – it doesn’t seem to have much at all to do with that particular genre and errs towards novelty pop. BTW Chaka’s appearance on The Tube will be forever etched on my mind for a wonderfully massive thighs in fishnet stockings moment.

  12. 102
    enitharmon on 2 Sep 2009 #

    Sorry, my entry number 100 is in the wrong thread. Can somebody please delete it while I put it where it belongs?

  13. 103
    mike t-d on 9 Sep 2009 #

    #34 – I must shame-facedly withdraw this ridiculous observation, which is a whole twelve months out of place and should have been appended to something from Autumn 1983. Forgive me! I am old and befuddled.

  14. 104
    Brooksie on 5 Mar 2010 #

    Never really liked this. An ok pop dance song with an catchy intro (for the kids), but to me slightly unremarkable. Good, but not great.

  15. 105
    Paytes on 12 Nov 2010 #

    don ‘t think anyone has talked about this already but the sample from Stevie’s own Fingertips (is at pt 1 or 2?) really adds to the old school v new school collision.

  16. 106
    seekenee on 11 Feb 2012 #

    Like Tom, I didn’t “get this” at the time when I was 13. It was popular with the breakdancers at the teenage Sunday afternoon nightclub no alcohol discos I attended – breakdancing had arrived during the summer seemingly from nowhere.

    I appreciated the clubbing together/community/gang aspect of breakdancing but didn’t connect it with any particular genre of music or connect with it as an activity though i went to Beat Street(?)in the cinema that autumn.

    re this song I think i resented it, and incorrectly gauged it as another signifier of the end of pop as I knew it/liked it. The cover feature in NME did not persuade me otherwise.

    I revisited it c.6 years ago compiling hits of 84 cds and was delighted with its flexible ecstatic jitteriness and really love it now(the joy of Automatic by Pointer Sisters springs to mind also).

    Before I read the comments here I was thinking it was the same universe as Absolute and New Order’s Arthur Baker work which i hugely enjoyed in 84 and that I should have “got” it then.
    Blows my mind that it was the same team that did the Scritti stuff and only in the 00s did i catch the electro basement party video for Absolute on youtube. I love it when a plan comes together

  17. 107
    Auntie Beryl on 10 Feb 2013 #

    Circling back to the Scritti / Arif / Chaka collaborations, Mr Green co-wrote, co-produced and appeared as a guest on Khan’s single Love Of A Lifetime as late as 1986: sadly the top 40 compilers were not called upon.

    That same year she collaborated with Steve Winwood on Higher Love, and slightly more obscurely, Addicted To Love’s original version before her vocals were removed due to Warner Bros denying permission for Chaka to appear. The small print still credits her with the vocal arrangement, though.

    Not long after that she headed for Minneapolis…

  18. 108
    swanstep on 1 Oct 2014 #

    Britney & Justin singing ‘I Feel For You’ on the Mickey Mouse Club.

  19. 109
    weej on 1 Oct 2014 #

    #108 – Fantastic find there. You wouldn’t think an 11-year-old girl could pull off that vocal but she really does.

  20. 110
    hectorthebat on 17 Dec 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1-1001
    Blender (USA) – Top 500 Songs of the 80s-00s (2005) 152
    Dave Marsh (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989) 335
    Michaelangelo Matos (USA) – Top 100 Singles of the 1980s (2001) 39
    Pause & Play (USA) – Songs Inducted into a Time Capsule, One Track at Each Week
    Slant (USA) – The 100 Best Singles of the 1980s (2012) 96
    Steve Sullivan (USA) – Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings (2013) 601-700
    VH-1 (USA) – Nominations for the 100 Greatest 80s Songs (2006)
    Freaky Trigger (UK) – Top 100 Songs of All Time (2005) 27
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    Mojo (UK) – 80 from the 80s: Our Fave 45s for Each Year, 1980-1989 (2007) 5
    NME (UK) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2014) 392
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Village Voice (USA) – Singles of the Year 9
    Face (UK) – Singles of the Year 3
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 11
    Spex (Germany) – Singles of the Year 8

  21. 111
    Abzolute on 9 Jan 2017 #

    Possibly THE favourite track of the 80’s…although it is in an eternal battle with “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney which is also one of my other absolute favourites of that decade let alone year!

  22. 112
    Gareth Parker on 23 May 2021 #

    A stunningly glorious single in my opinion. I’ll go with 9/10 for Chaka.

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