Aug 09

CHAKA KHAN – “I Feel For You”

FT + Popular111 comments • 12,826 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. 61
    lonepilgrim on 28 Aug 2009 #

    It seems only fitting that Prince had a number one this year – even if he wasn’t performing it himself – I’d have been delighted to see ‘When doves cry’ or ‘Let’s go crazy’ at the top.

    It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of a record for me – stitched together out of bits old and new and animated by Arif Mardin’s production skills to create something irresistable yet lacking in personality. So 8 or 9 for me.

    Now if it had been ‘Ain’t nobody’ – the aural equivalent of tantric sex – it would have definitely been a 10.

    It’s little surprise that CK failed to sustain a high profile – she had a great voice – but a vague persona. Whether that reflected poor marketing by the record company or her own waywardness I don’t know – Donna Summer enjoyed a high profile with less obvious talent – Anita Baker was justifiably lauded a few years later for ‘Rapture’ but I can’t think of a definitive CK album. She featured in ‘The Blues Brothers’ movie a year or so earlier but failed to make much of an impact. Given how few female artistes (particularly black ones) have failed to sustain a high profile career it’s not such a great failing but there’s always been a sense of unfulfilled potential about her.

  2. 62
    Tom on 28 Aug 2009 #

    How near did Prince come around this point? (sorry, in a rush here)

  3. 63
    will on 28 Aug 2009 #

    Re 61: Unfulfilled potential? With this, I’m Every Woman and Ain’t Nobody she fronted three of the greatest soul/ disco singles of all time. Loads of artists would kill to have had that sort of unfulfilled potential.

  4. 64
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 28 Aug 2009 #

    Not to mention she guests on Rick Wakeman’s 1984 album…

  5. 65
    lonepilgrim on 28 Aug 2009 #

    re 63 – ‘Loads of artists would kill to have had that sort of unfulfilled potential’ – I agree – but she didn’t seem to turn the artistic success of those individual songs into a significant profile in the same way that Donna Summer did (for example). Not necessarily a bad thing.

  6. 66
    mike on 28 Aug 2009 #

    Let’s also hear it for the sublime “Clouds”, “I Know You, I Live You”, and Rufus’s glorious Quincy Jones-produced Masterjam album from 1979 (and for Rod Temperton’s “Live In Me” in particular).

  7. 67
    Steve Mannion on 28 Aug 2009 #

    ‘Ain’t Nobody’ is a strangely sad affair. I heard it recently somewhere (maybe just a bar) and despite having spent many years fed up with it (which, in the end, Richard & Liberty X did much to alleviate) it never sounded so remarkable.

  8. 68
    lockedintheattic on 28 Aug 2009 #

    When Doves Cry got to no. 4 in June & Purple Rain no. 8 in September. But we have a future no. 2 watch coming up in January…

  9. 69
    henry s on 28 Aug 2009 #

    re 46 – The System, Scritti, yeah, it’s all coming together now…Green went on provide backing vox (and dodgy vid cameo) on Chaka’s later/inferior “Love Of A Lifetime”…

  10. 70
    Billy Smart on 28 Aug 2009 #

    So much to say here…

    The idea of Chaka being a guest on her own record: The imaginary world that this conjours up for me is the singer having the magical ability to render herself fantasically alluring, hailed by synth thunderclaps and lightning bolts, hearing declarations of love that are simultaneously charmingly tongue-tied and seductively smooth, buzzed with glorious Stevie flourishes and even having her every step briefly wildly applauded! Wouldn’t it be great if real life was ever like that when we told others that we feel for them and think we love them?

    Cover appearances for Chaka in both the NME and Melody Maker on the strength of this. Be interesting to go back to those interviews and see if she manages to sound enthusiastic.

    We’d already got Scritti’s ‘Absolute’ in the summer of ’84 as a promise of the ‘Cupid & Pyche ’85′ peach to come – even that early in his career, it took him ages to come up with an album. It’s pretty hard to think of anything better from the mid-eighties than Scritti, I’d say.

  11. 71
    Billy Smart on 28 Aug 2009 #

    RE: great mid-eighties soul, why hasn’t anyone mentioned The SOS Band yet, unless its for tangential bunny reasons? Their great Jam & Lewis singles seemed to be the template for a lot of pop at the time, and their very greatest singles, such as ‘Just The Way You Like It’, present the experience of being in love as an astonishing and terrifying thing, that makes them amongst the greatest songs of their time.

  12. 72
    LondonLee on 28 Aug 2009 #

    And ‘Don’t Stop The Music’ by Yarborough & Peoples was the template for a lot of Jam and Lewis’ SOS Band productions. At least that’s where I always thought that sort of looping beat came from.

    Rufus were pretty big in the States far as I can tell, their ‘Tell Me Something Good’ is a bit of an oldies radio staple over here.

  13. 73
    Weej on 28 Aug 2009 #

    This is the first entry here that I actually had at the time. I was going to say “bought” but as I was 5 it’s probable that it was bought for me.
    Anyway, agreed, still a great track, hasn’t aged at all. A solid 9.
    Having said that, though, the 12″ mix I have here stretches it out in all the wrong ways. That would only get a 6.

  14. 74
    Steve Mannion on 28 Aug 2009 #

    ‘why hasn’t anyone mentioned The SOS Band yet, unless its for tangential bunny reasons?’

    you realise that this is, itself, bunny bait ha ha

    I could talk about mid-80s soul (or ‘groove’ which i suspects purists would prefer) all day and that’s just the hits. I guess I just really associate it with happy childhood days hearing those songs on Capital radio (although I didn’t hear things like ‘Twilight’ until a bit later).

    I have a folder of mp3s titled ‘Soul Weekender’ and I just throw in anything in there which I think has some kind of connection with that vibe but it’s fairly nebulous for the sake of what remains of my sanity. The earliest track in there is Claudja Barry’s ‘Love For The Sake Of Love’ and the latest is, er, Young Disciples ‘Apparently Nothin’ but that’s partly because I refuse to bother with an ‘Acid Jazz’ folder – it’s full of equally tenuous late 80s stuff (TT D’Arby, stuff from ‘Provision’, Soul II Soul, Paula Abdul’s ‘Straight Up’). Eep.

  15. 75
    TomLane on 28 Aug 2009 #

    This made it to #3 in the U.S. And it would be the last time she would have a solo hit in the Top 40 Pop charts. Who remembered the Prince version? Who remembers it today? This is a remarkable reinvention. I do agree that Chaka sounds like a “guest” on this one. But it leaps out out of your stereo and presents itself as a perfect radio hit.

  16. 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.

  17. 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’).

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.)

  21. 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.

  22. 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!

  23. 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.

  24. 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!

  25. 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…

  26. 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.)

  27. 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)

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

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