Soul and funk superstar Chaka Khan

Jheri Curl Fridays 48: “I Feel For You”

Chaka Khan. Chaka Khan. Ch-ch-ch-ch-Chaka Khan. Chaka Khan.

Nearly thirty years later, I bet that Chaka Khan is confronted by someone trying to be cool by quoting Grandmaster Melle Mel’s intro from her biggest solo hit, a cover of Prince’s 1979 album track “I Feel For You.”

Although she’s been a presence in pop culture for four decades (and, IMO, is the greatest female singer of all time,) “Feel” is Chaka’s only solo top 10 hit. The fact that Prince was hotter than hot in 1984 (the year of Purple Rain) certainly helped, but Arif Mardin’s distinctive production probably more. From Mel’s stuttering intro (he might have been the first guest rapper on an R&B song ever) to the samples of Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips Part 2″ in the bridge, the sound of the song was totally inventive. Chaka and Arif not only sampled Stevie, they got the man himself to contribute a few harmonica fills. To top things off, there’s also Chaka’s ebullient vocal delivery and the video, which could have doubled as a scene in “Breakin'” or “Beat Street.”

“I Feel For You” turned out to be quite the cover choice for femme R&B stars in the early Eighties. The Pointer Sisters covered it on their So Excited album back in 1982 (two years before Chaka’s version was released) and only a week after Chaka’s version was released, Rebbie Jackson released a version of “I Feel For You” on her debut album, Centipede. Of course, Chaka’s rendition remains definitive; one of the few covers that’s better known than the original. Interestingly, it won Prince his first Grammy, for Best R&B song of 1984.

That cover also forged a friendship between Prince and Chaka that resulted in some great music, including Chaka’s underrated Come 2 My House album on Prince’s NPG records. The two have collaborated many times over the years, toured together, and when Prince receives some kind of lifetime achievement award, Chaka is usually one of the folks there to tribute him.

Strangely, out of the four people most commonly associated with “I Feel For You” (Prince, Chaka, Stevie, Melle Mel) Khan is the only one not enshrined in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. As someone who split rock and soul as well as anyone, I’d certainly say she deserves it.

  • Michael Parr

    Yes! Yes! Yes! A million times yes!

  • Mike Duquette

    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: this is perhaps the only tune Prince wrote and recorded that got outdone by someone else. Nearly 30 years later, it sounds like a transmission from the future, start to finish. What a good weekend starter!

  • Rob

    The friendship between Chaka, Prince and Stevie sparked another great moment: All three performed together in the BET tribute to Chaka a few years ago, jamming with her and other guest vocalists on a lot of her super-funky Rufus songs.

  • Rob

    I’d argue that Mitch Ryder’s version of “When U Were Mine” is better than the original. But a lot of that is because I love Mitch.

  • rockymtranger

    I would also argue that Me’lisa Morgan’s “Do Me Baby” and Sinead’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” equal or exceed the originals. Say what you want about crazy Sinead, but that song comes from a place few singers ever tap.

  • rockymtranger

    You speak the truth on Chaka Khan not being in the RnRHoF, but it won’t happen. She’s crazy talented but has never been tagged as revolutionary. I’ll settle for Donna Summer making it in (guaranteed) on the next round…for now.

  • Michael Parr

    I’m just gonna shut up, already. But … damn ya’ll are misled.

  • John Ozed

    I was fortunate to have worked with Arif Mardin in the 1990’s. He told me that all that editing was done by cutting the tape with razor blades, trial and error. I remember the first time I heard this, it’s the proverbial story, I had to pull my car over because I couldn’t not believe what I was hearing. It still sounds amazing to this day. It has similarities to Arif’s work with Scritti Politti which was around the same time.

    Oh, and Chaka called it when the record first came out, saying that for the rest of her life, guys will come up to her with “Chaka Chaka Khan”.

  • John Ozed

    And Arif was a true gentleman and a highly underrated legend.


    I’d definitely say yes on “Nothing Compares 2 U” and probably no on “Do Me, Baby.” Not that Meli’sa’s version is bad. Prince’s registers a little higher on the freak scale for me.

  • rockymtranger

    If we’re measuring on freakiness, then yes, Prince by a mile. I love that song, but I struggled to include it. You’re probably right on that one.