540. ‘I Feel for You’, by Chaka Khan

Chakakakakakaka-chakakhan… 1984 truly was the year of the in-your-face intro. ‘The Reflex’, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, now this. The most in your face of the lot?

I Feel for You, by Chaka Khan (her 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 4th – 25th November 1984

It probably stands out so much because of the rapping. Only the second example of rap at the top of the charts and, with all due respect to New Edition, this is the real stuff. The Lemme rock you Chaka Khan… lines are delivered at break-neck speed by one of hip-hop’s founding fathers, Melle Mel of Grandmaster Flash. It feels incredibly modern, a female singer being introduced at the start of a song, decades before Beyonce and Jay-Z, or Rihanna and Drake.

I did wonder if the rap might have been supplied by the writer of this song, one Prince Rogers Nelson. Prince is someone with a giant discrepancy between his fame and his UK chart-toppers (one, fairly lame, #1 a decade from now). But here at least is one of his songs, transformed from the slinky disco-soul original into a clattering beast of a record.

It seems that every song which topped the charts in 1984 was either a ballad or a banger, and ‘I Feel for You’ is very much the latter. Like Frankie and Duran Duran before, this record grinds and pounds, chops and changes, with that mid-eighties reimagining of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound that’s become the vibe of the year. But while much of ‘84 has been Brit-dominated, this is a very American sounding disc, with its snatches of harmonica and horns, and its new jack swing energy.

Said harmonica was actually played by the last chart-topper but one, Stevie Wonder, while the song also features samples from his 1963 hit ‘Fingertips’, though you’d be hard-pressed to pick them out. It’s a bit of an all-star ensemble then: Chaka Khan, Melle Mel and Stevie Wonder, on a song by Prince. And it delivers: this is a great dance song, with a brilliantly funky bassline, a song that sounds like nothing we’ve heard at #1 before…

You can tell that this was written by Prince. Few people could throw out a line like I wouldn’t lie to you baby, I’m physically attracted to you… and make it work. Khan, in a brilliant move, delivers the lines like Prince, especially in the chorus: I fee-eel for you-oo… The one thing that I would change is that her voice is a little too far back in the mix.

The video ups the ‘80s Americana even further. Khan performs in an inner-city courtyard, with graffiti and wire fences, while a DJ scratches and spins, and break dancers throw shapes around her. It looks a bit funny now, but again must have looked very modern and very cool to suburban Britain in November 1984. In fact, ‘I Feel for You’ feels both new, in terms of its position in this countdown, and pretty dated, when you listen to it through your 2022 ears.

Maybe that’s why Khan’s only #1 isn’t as well remembered as her two other big hits: ‘I’m Every Woman’ and ‘Ain’t Nobody’, which would both chart twice, before ‘I Feel for You’ and then a few years later in remixes. It’s possibly the hip-hop element – of all the genres, rap ages the worst – but it’s a shame. It’s been great to discover this funky gem. Next up: a recap. Could ‘I Feel for You’ contend for the top prize…? Watch this space…

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15 thoughts on “540. ‘I Feel for You’, by Chaka Khan

  1. I wasn’t fond of this one but, I could listen to Ain’t Nobody on loop. That song is so good, it makes you want move, even if you are stretched out in bed (I just read that it was a favorite of British footballers).

    I had no idea that Prince wrote it. I like his version even less than hers. I don’t hate it but, I wouldn’t go out of my way to turn it up or buy it.

    FYI, your link to Prince’s version didn’t work…said “unavailable.” I still found it but, I suspect it is a country thing. YT is a pain in the ass.

    • Haha yes, I think it’s a popular football chant, where fans stick a player’s name: ‘Ain’t nobody, like ______…’ It’s a great song, and I just realised it’s been back in the Top 10 loads of times since as a remix/cover (including a #1 by LL Cool J)

      That’s a pain about the link… I think it’s more likely the record label than YouTube, as I think I linked to Prince’s official Vevo.

  2. Well, there you go! Probably because I was never really into popular ‘chart’ music, I didn’t / don’t know the background to many of the acts that reached #1. I had NO idea this was a Prince song featuring Melle Mel and Stevie Wonder.

    Every day a schoolday!

    (It is a ‘classic’ though, I have to say.)

  3. Love it. Sounded modern cool and exciting at the time. Prince could do no wrong in 1984. One of the greatest albums of all time. Whern doves cry a groundbreaking showstopper and the hit covers starting aplenty. Still love every second of this, her best record. But i also loved Rufus and their stevie wonder cover Tell Me Something Good- a recent uk remix hit at last. Adore aint nobody and Climb Every Woman is fab too. Misheard lyrics….

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  5. Yeah “I Feel For You” definitely sounds like a 1984 hit with the funky synth production while also sounding ahead of its time when it comes to rapping and sampling on big pop hits. When it comes to the big soul R&B singers, it feels like Chaka Khan gets forgotten a lot considering she’s been put up a bunch of times for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame both solo and Rufus and still isn’t in. Much of her music is largely remembered more for its later uses like Whitney Houston making a bigger hit out of “I’m Every Woman” and Kanye West basing his debut single “Through The Wire” on her song “Through The Fire.”

    I recommend a recent episode of the Hit Parade podcast that profiles her along with fellow R&B divas like Dionne Warwick, Patti LaBelle, and Roberta Flack.
    https://slate.com/podcasts/hit-parade/2022/03/soul-queens-charts

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