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Aug 09

CHAKA KHAN – “I Feel For You”

FT + Popular107 comments • 10,513 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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Comments

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  1. 76
    Nick P on 29 Aug 2009 #

    This was ubiquitous in my 15 year old life at the time and pretty much loved by myself and all my peers. Agree that this is such a well crafted song, the input of Prince, Arif Mardin, Stevie Wonder and The System, while not overwhelming Chaka’s vocal, certainly are each of equal individual importance.

    Strangely, unlike most of the rest of Prince’s contemporaneous output, I never feel the need to listen this song again. Still, it’s an 8 from me.

  2. 77
    swanstep on 29 Aug 2009 #

    I don’t have much to add to Tom’s excellent essay, let alone to all of the astute observations already made… I Feel For You was certainly a dance-floor monster at the time, and, like Frankie’s records, just sounded overwhelmingly massive and loud (an early entry in the ‘loudness’ wars perhaps?). Resistance was truly futile. There’s something cold and overly slick and machine-tooled about it, however, that does seem to freeze it in time so that it indeed hasn’t had the staying power of any of the hits from Purple Rain (I still can’t believe that there were no UK #1s from that, just as there weren’t from Off the Wall – maybe that’s a badge of honor!). Change metaphor: I Feel For You feels a little bit like a very good Hollywood blockbuster, e.g., Ghostbusters, Back to the Future (from the period), one that’s beautifully designed to hit every demographic, and touch every known, widely-shared pleasure center. That sort of thing is amazing in its way… but it necessarily lacks a personal angle. Vaguely relatedly: The Terminator is a surprise hit in the US at this time, and the Coens’ first film, Blood Simple, is blowing peoples minds at festivals (neither arrives in the UK until 1985 tho’).
    8

  3. 78
    tonya on 29 Aug 2009 #

    There’s a quote from Bill Drummond about him seeing the Clash in ’77 and thinking that was the most exciting thing he’d ever seen, then seeing them in ’82 and thinking they were rubbish, and then seeing Chaka Khan the same night and thinking THAT was the most exciting thing he’d ever seen. So thanks for that, Chaka.

  4. 79
    AndyPandy on 29 Aug 2009 #

    Steve @84: Tony Blackburn of all people used to cane “Twilight” everyday for months on his legendary Radio London morning soul/funk show at the time – the show that spawned the Radio London Soul Nights Out – I went to one in Windsor where everyone including very street blacks from the middle of London were chanting for “their leader”.

    Although I’ve heard he had always played a lot of black music back in his pirate/Radio One days of the 60s and 70s Tony Blackburn’s brief elevation to this mid-80s cult figure on the south-eastern dance scene must we one of the more surreal episodes in the history of British soul.

  5. 80
    enitharmon on 29 Aug 2009 #

    AndyPandy @ 79: It’s true that Blackburn was extremely irritating to wake up to on school mornings and was not, let’s say, highly regarded by my contemporaries, but his flying the Motown and (to a lesser but significant extent) Stax flags was a big redemption for him.

    (I’m listening to Fats Waller at the moment and thoroughly enjoying it.)

  6. 81
    LondonLee on 29 Aug 2009 #

    I used to wonder about how much Blackburn’s supposed championing of Motown was true or just a legend cooked up by him to rehabilitate his rather naff image. I certainly don’t remember him playing any more soul than other Radio One DJs when he was on that station but I could be wrong as I was just a kid at the time and he would have had to work within the playlist.

    The Radio London show really did skirt being very naff itself though, all the ridiculous double entendres – ‘Tony’s Twelve Inches’ and stuff like that — but the music made it worth listening to. SOS Band’s ‘Weekend Girl’ is the song that most reminds me of it.

  7. 82
    Kat but logged out innit on 29 Aug 2009 #

    I have just found out that Chaka is going to appear at this thing in Hyde Park which I have a ticket for! Hurray!

  8. 83
    abaffledrepublic on 29 Aug 2009 #

    Former Time Out journalist Garry Mulholland notes in ‘This Is Uncool’, his book about the best singles (in his view) since punk and disco, that inter-generational musical summits often seem like a good idea on paper but turn out to be damp squibs when put into practice (and he might have added, record labels love them because no matter how mediocre the results, the presence of two huge names on the same record all but guarantees a huge hit) but that this was clearly not the case here. This is the sum of its parts and then some.

    A record I love to bits and will never tire of hearing. A definite ten from me.

  9. 84
    wichita lineman on 29 Aug 2009 #

    Late arrival at the party… I can’t think of the last time I heard this before tonight. IFFY hasn’t had the long afterlife of either Ain’t Nobody or I’m Every Woman, both A-grade oldies staples and with good reason – both are astonishing songs/records. But, as has been mentioned, this is more of a production and an event than just a song/record.

    It takes Prince’s original (GRRREAT!!), adds Melle and Stevie’s cameos, and makes the song kind of distended – the chorus is rendered weak within this structure, not helped by the freak jazz chord that Arif M added on “I think I love you”.

    What it does sound like is modern pop. The approving alpha-male nod from Melle Mel paves the way for de-clawed Chaka K, and the balance tips from r&b song/performance into r&b production without record buyers seeming to mind. As has been said, the singer is definitely not the sole star*

    So, I didn’t get this at all at the time, and I was an electro/early hip hop lover, but its significance now is obvious. Agree with Billy and Lee on precedents, and that the SOS Band’s bunny baiter was truly truly great; it could bring tears to my ears. Just Be Good To Me was my personal 45 of the year alongside Hashim, The Smiths and (gosh) Lloyd Cole. This sounded like too much of an overly thought-out new soul/old soul** workout to appeal. Too cold – chilly the most, even, but not in a good way. Happy now to concede to the majority on the groundbreaking front.

    Two final thoughts: first, Prince’s version definitely makes more of the song. Second, Melle Mel wasn’t new school, more a valid representative of new school, his contribution to this being equivalent to Sugar’s contribution to Grunge – and (I think) he never had another hit until a brief, sad appearance as “ageing rapper Melle Mel” in a boxing ring on telly a few years later.

    *Lots of precedents, all-star cast aside – You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, Everlasting Love, Sugar Baby Love et cet…

    **Stevie wasn’t exactly at the peak of his popularity with long-term fans when this came out, the greetings card-writing/electro cashing-in bastard!

  10. 85
    Billy Smart on 29 Aug 2009 #

    #84, of course, for the producers of Top Of The Pops, Lloyd Cole was a part of the new soul pop – For what other reason could his performance of ‘Perfect Skin’ have appeared backed by body-poppers?

    Apart from to make him look even more awkward than he would have done in the first place…

  11. 86
    Rory on 30 Aug 2009 #

    I’ve been trying hard to like this more than I do, but besides the low-key Chaka vocals I can’t get past that annoying harmonica sound. It ended up everywhere at the time (because of this?), and it just sounds so dated. The intro is fantastic, though. I’d got to six now, but that would be it.

    MikeMCSG @25 might be onto something about the impact of the “Stutter Rap” on certain people’s feelings towards this, including mine. That reached number two in Australia, higher even than “I Feel For You”. (My own Tony Hawks gimmicky-travelogue recommendation would be Playing the Moldovans at Tennis.)

  12. 87
    Billy Smart on 31 Aug 2009 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Chaka’s appearances on UK television are rare ones;

    FRIDAY NIGHT WITH JONATHAN ROSS: with Chaka Khan, Gok Wan, Steve Carell, Primal Scream (2008)

    THE LENNY HENRY SHOW: with Lorren Bent, Llewella Gideon, Chaka Khan (1995)

    THE TUBE: with Jools Holland, Paula Yates, Virna Lindt, Gary Kemp, Tony Hadley, Jason Bratby, Chaka Khan, Spandau Ballet (1985)

    WOGAN: with George Cole, Jerry Hall, Simon Hoggart, Chaka Khan, Tracey Macleod, Nicola Scicluna (1985)

  13. 88
    logged out Tracer Hand on 31 Aug 2009 #

    guys guys! you are forgetting that for quite a few 11- and 12-year-olds at the time, this song was merely the (awesome) soundtrack to a music video that featured the elusive TURBO and OZONE from the box office smash BREAKIN – this video was a chance to actually see these legends again, without having to pay the price of a cinema ticket for the privilege. yeah chaka was cool, yeah the rap at the beginning was cool – but all songs like this were, at that time, just fodder for breakdancing, something to activate the 8×8 square of linoleum that you’d been lucky enough to nab and which lay rolled up in the corner waiting for you to do something on it. which of course is no slight – it’s another way in which this song was about a corralling of forces: songwriter, rapper, singer, musicians, dancers, actors – and the vast, anonymous breakdancing army out there which was sharpening up its skills.

  14. 89
    o sobek! on 1 Sep 2009 #

    TRACER HAND VERY OTM – i know in fourth grade in harris st. elementary in east point as much as our moms might’ve been excited about chaka and stevie and as much as it was cool to hear melle mel what was THE big deal about this song was boogaloo shrimp (and to a lesser extent shabba-doo). seriously in 1984 at my playground turbo was as much a figure of myth as prince or madonna or bernard king or dominique wilkins. i’ll give this a 9 as well but testament to the greatest top 40 (stateside) year of my lifetime i’m pretty sure this wouldn’t even make my top 10 list of BIG HIT singles from 84.

  15. 90
    Erithian on 1 Sep 2009 #

    Think of the number of times you see this nowadays – female singer with half-decent new-style R&B song gets to do her number and it sounds OK, but hang on a minute – it’s billed as “featuring” rapper X, who turns up (that’s if he does turn up – half the time the edit is so lousy that it sounds like something tacked on, by somebody in a different studio, who hasn’t heard the original song and couldn’t give a stuff about it anyway) and mumbles something irrelevant, bigging himself up, then goes away and possibly does the same (c)rap again later in the track.

    That’s precisely what this record isn’t. Look, I know I’m not the expert here, or the target audience for rap (and I stand by what I said about Jay-Z at Glastonbury which had Marcello call me an ignorant tw-t) but to me it’s bloody refreshing to hear a rap that isn’t boastful, misogynist, violent, slagging off other rapper Y or just plain meaningless. Melle Mel joins the party and delivers a tribute to the woman you’re about to hear which is memorable, leads up to her intro and contributes to the overall experience. The lady herself plays a blinder (she might have felt artistically compromised doing this sort of thing a decade after the likes of “Tell Me Something Good”, but boy does she hide it well) and the record’s a feast.

    I hadn’t realised it was such a summit meeting of the talents either – it clearly works as a passing of the baton between two or maybe more generations of black music. As for the listening audience, it’s the kind of thing that either brings the generations together or alienates half the fanbase of all involved. Judging by its chart performance and the reaction on here, it seems very much the former, and rightly so.

  16. 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

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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!

  20. 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

  21. 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.

  22. 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?

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 100
    enitharmon on 2 Sep 2009 #

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

  26. 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.

  27. 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?

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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

  32. 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…

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