Chaka Khan really should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame already. She’s been nominated three times before, twice as a solo artists and once as the lead singer of Rufus. For the class of 2018, Khan and her original band are once again nominated as one artist. But will this finally be her year? Billboard gives her 12 to 1 odds, pointing out that she’s much better known as a solo singer than as a member of Rufus.
Still, there’s a chance she could finally be in, and even if she doesn’t make it this year, it’s the Rock Hall, not Chaka Khan, who is at fault. In light of this latest nominated, we take a look at five career-defining songs from Chaka Khan’s career.
1. ‘Sweet Thing’ – Rufus featuring Chaka Khan (1975)
When we see ‘featuring’ in a track name it usually signals a collaboration between two artists. Rufus featuring Chaka Khan was actually just the name of the band. It was also the name of the band’s 1975 album which spawned ‘Sweet Thing’.
The Stevie Wonder-written ‘Tell Me Something Good’ was the band’s earliest major hit, but ‘Sweet Thing’, written by Khan and keyboard player Tony Maiden, is more quintessentially Rufus. The song reached number one on the Billboard R&B Chart, and number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. A laid back tribute to Chaka Khan’s husband, the song was a huge influence on a young Prince Rogers Nelson, and a significant achievement in its own right.
2. ‘I’m Every Woman’ – Chaka Khan (1978)
In 1978, Chaka Khan went solo. She would reunited briefly with Rufus, but this was her moment. ‘I’m Every Woman’, penned by legendary songwriting duo Ashford & Simpson, charted internationally with top positions in the US, the UK, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands and New Zealand.
The song became a feminist anthem, and a disco favourite on dancefloors around the world. Later, Whitney Houston would release a successful cover version. But it’s Khan’s powerful original that endures.
3. ‘Ain’t Nobody’ – Rufus and Chaka Khan (1983)
‘Ain’t Nobody’ is quite possibly Chaka Khan’s biggest hit, so it’s a surprise that it was originally intended as a throwaway bonus track on the Rufus and Chaka Khan live album Stompin at the Savoy. Rumour has it that Warner music saw the song’s potential and threatened to give it to Michael Jackson if Rufus and Khan didn’t release it as a single. It’s testament to Chaka Khan’s performance that it’s a struggle to imagine Jackson singing this song.
Chaka Khan swept the Grammy Awards in 1984, winning with Rufus for ‘Ain’t Nobody’, winning for her solo album Chaka, and again for the song ‘Be Bop Medley’.
4. ‘I Feel for You’ – Chaka Khan (1985)
Chaka Khan’s 1985 track ‘I Feel For You’ could well be the greatest cover version of all time. Khan puts her own stamp on the song, taking everything that was great about the original, and turning it up to eleven. Prince covered ‘Sweet Thing’ acoustically for an early demo tape of his. Now things came full circle, with Chaka covering Prince for one of her biggest hits.
The track’s iconic opening features Grandmaster Melle Mel introducing the singer, his stop-start vocals influencing producers and remixers for years to come. Khan’s performance is one of her best, with her vocal range and versatility on full display. ‘I Feel for You’ gave Khan her second Best R&B Vocal Performance Grammy in two years.
5. ‘Never Miss the Water’ – Chaka Khan feat. Me’shell Ndegeocello (1996)
Chaka Khan continued to make hit albums between 1985 and 1996, including the influential Life Is Dance: The Remix Project, which featured work from the likes of David Morales, Marly Marl and Frankie Knuckles. Her championing of remixes cemented Khan’s reputation as a dancefloor icon, and her 1996 compilation album Epiphany proved beyond a doubt that she has one of the richest back catalogues of any contemporary.
The album came with a few previously unreleased recordings. ‘Never Miss the Water’, a duet with neo soul singer-songwriter Me’shell Ndegeocello, is one of these. A great performance from both artists, ‘Never Miss the Water’ really came alive with its sixteen officially licensed remixes by Stylus Production, Candy Station and Frankie Knuckles, bringing out its house influences.
Chaka Khan’s back catalogue has far more to offer than these five signature tracks, but needless to say she has easily earned her place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We’ll have to wait and see whether this is the year the Hall realises this too.
Book Chaka Khan to bring the music icon to your venue.