Chaka Khan
Born Yvette Marie Stevens, 1953 in Chicago, Ill.

hifi reviews + info


 

 

Chaka
WARNER BROS., 1978



#12 / BILLBOARD 200
# 2 / BILLBOARD TOP R&B/HIP-HOP ALBUMS
-- / UK ALBUMS

BSK-3245

The Ashford & Simpson-composed “I'm Every Woman” certified Chaka's dominance in the music world and proudly proclaimed another one of those “I'm a Backbone” moments. It's also an unapologetic disco kaleidoscope, putting the queenly divas in charge of the whole affair. The Arif Mardin-produced album also celebrates a lot of Aretha soul (“Love Has Fallen On Me,” “Roll Me Through the Rushes”) and sneaky R&B riffs (“Sleep on It,” “We Got the Love”). Maybe this was his way of certifying her a comfy place alongside next-generation Arethas like Natalie Cole and Sylvester. This kind of stuff wouldn't gel well on a Rufus album (especially with those hungry for a say-so in musical direction), but on a solo event for Khan, it seems legit. Only the Parliament-sounding “Life Is a Dance” and “Some Love” would've sounded perfectly on a Rufus disc. It's a satisfying solo debut. More magical moments like “I'm Every Woman” would've launched it even higher.

TRACK LISTING : I'm Every Woman / Love Has Fallen On Me
Roll Me Through the Rushes / Sleep on It / Life is a Dance
We Got the Love / Some Love / Woman in a Man's World / Message In the Middle of the Bottom / I Was Made to Love Him

 

Naughty
WARNER BROS., 1980



#43 / BILLBOARD 200
# 6 / BILLBOARD TOP R&B/HIP-HOP ALBUMS
-- / UK ALBUMS

BSK-3385

Naughty is the Donna Summer Bad Girls event wanderers were expecting, but it's just as appetizing. “Clouds” is every bit as tantalizing as “I'm Every Woman.” It is superbly produced, thanks to Arif Mardin's smarts. Sexy bass, a sing-a-long chorus and a slick disco beat are all there. But with much of America falling out of love with disco it was rendered a much different fate. Backing vocalist Luther Vandross originally sung the lead on “Papillion” for disco producer Gregg Diamond. This time around, the Bronx singer settles deep into the background with Cissy Houston and daughter Whitney. Which version is better is still up for debate, but Khan definitely raised awareness for the often-overlooked gem. “Papillion” and the funky “What You Did” are also worth mentioning. The other tracks are just Khan meddling with Rufus-like jam sessions still in their early phases.

TRACK LISTING : Clouds / Get Ready, Get Set / Move Me No Mountain / Nothing's Gonna Take You Away / So Naughty / Too Much Love / All Night's All Right / What You Did / Papillion (a.k.a. Hot Butterfly / Our Love's in Danger

 

What Cha' Gonna Do for Me
WARNER BROS., 1981



#17 / BILLBOARD 200
#3 / BILLBOARD TOP R&B/HIP-HOP ALBUMS
-- / UK ALBUMS

BSK-3526

On Khan's third solo album, Khan continues to reinforce her presence in R&B. She's surrounded by the best in the business – Arif Mardin, Greg Philliganes, Herbie Hancock, Jerry Hey, Michael Sembello and Abraham Laboriel are all there at the table. Her choice of songs is just as clever. “We Got Each Other” sounds like a Rufus vault track, yet punches with the greatness of an EW&F track. On her funky spin of the Beatles's “We Can Work It Out,” Khan decides to merge the funk worlds of Stevie and MJ, producing a version that's all her own. “Any Old Sunday” sounds like “Black Butterfly.” “I Know You, I Live You” deserved to be a bigger hit and “Fate” deserved to be a hit. Of course, all the attention drifted towards her excellent performance on the title track. Deep inside the disc, Khan explores new dimensions of creativity: the synth-flared “And the Melody Still Lingers On” pays homage to Dizzy while also sporting a cameo appearance from the bebop legend.

TRACK LISTING : We Can Work It Out / What Cha' Gonna With My Lovin' / I Know You, I Live You / Any Old Sunday / We Got Each Other / And the Melody Lingers On (Night in Tunisia) / Night Moods / Heed the Warning / Father He Said / Fate / I Know You, I Live You (reprise)

 

Chaka Khan
WARNER BROS., 1982



#52 / BILLBOARD 200
#5 / BILLBOARD TOP R&B/HIP-HOP ALBUMS
#117 / UK ALBUMS

1-23729

Now with electro-pop all the rage, Khan decides to bend with the pressures. And you can hear that on “Tearin' It Up,” where Bunny Sigler's songwriter pen composes something on the lines of Cameo and MJ – sort of sounds like the prototype to Barry White's “Sho' You Right.” Larry Levan's proud mix showcases all the better qualities of the song. She teams up with punk funker Rick James on “Slow Dancin'.” It's a bit of fluff when looking back at both artists's best work, but stands out as one of her finer duets. Khan hasn't blindsided her eye to what she likes: jazz odysseys (“Be Bop Medley”), Rufus funk (“Pass It On (A Sure Thing”), experimental covers (“Got to Be There”) and now a little bit of rock (“Twisted”). The album is a bit more enjoyable than the worst Rufus album and more satisfying across the board than her first two records, but only by a hair.

TRACK LISTING : Tearin' It Up / Slow Dancin' (feat. Rick James) / Best in the West / Got to Be There / Be Bop Medley / Twisted / So Not to Worry / Pass It On (A Sure Thing)

 

I Feel for You
WARNER BROS., 1984



#14 / BILLBOARD 200
#4 / BILLBOARD TOP R&B/HIP-HOP ALBUMS
#15 / UK ALBUMS

1-25162

I Feel for You points to another important landmark in Khan's climb up the musical diversity ladder. Melle Mel's rap, Stevie's harmonica and David Frank's synths all transform the Prince-penned title track into one wickedly delicious dance track, and probably one of the finer artifacts to come out of ‘80's synthpop. She digs deeper into the crossover pop stuff, particularly with “Eye to Eye,” the dreamy David Foster ballad “Through the Fire” and the System-sounding “This Is My Night.” A few pitfalls are present, especially when the synths and adrenaline starts to slow down on tracks like “Hold Her.” Worst of all, “La Flamme” sounds like expired rap.

TRACK LISTING : This is My Night / Stronger Than Before / My Love Is Alive / Eye to Eye / La Flamme / I Feel for You / Hold Her / Through the Fire / Caught in the Act / Chiantown

 

Destiny
WARNER BROS., 1986



#67 / BILLBOARD 200
#24 / BILLBOARD TOP R&B/HIP-HOP ALBUMS
#77 / UK ALBUMS

925425-2

Khan pushes for more electropop on Destiny. Things are still somewhat funky, just with a heavier emphasis on streamlined dance music. Arif Mardin and a heavy list of producers, engineers and pop guests are called out. Phil Collins also jumps on the uplifting “Watching the World.” And it's probably that assertion that gives the album a bit of unevenness. There's more variety to pick with, as if Khan is anxiously trying out all the clothes in a chic boutique. “The Other Side of the World” puts her on subpar Journey soft rock; “So Close” sounds like Pat Benatar pop; “Tight Fit” meshes jazz with hip-hop; “Coltrane Dreams” is a forced jazz track in a confused maze of proto-rap. Thankfully, “Love of a Lifetime” puts Chaka Khan on Madonna funk – think “Open Your Heart” and “Into the Groove.” It's a decent fit on her and raises her pop star a little higher right when her popularity rose to epic heights with her featured vocals on Steve Winwood's “Higher Love.” There's a decent runner-up aboard: the Prince-like “Earth to Mickey.”

TRACK LISTING : Love of a Lifetime / Earth to Mickey / Watching the World / The Other Side of the World / My Destiny / I Can't Be Loved / It's You / So Close / Tight Fit /Who's It Gonna Be / Coltrane Dreams

 

CK
WARNER BROS., 1988



#125 / BILLBOARD 200
#7 / BILLBOARD TOP R&B/HIP-HOP ALBUMS
-- / UK ALBUMS

82876-88132-2

With enough blame to go around on the confusing times circulating r&b in the late-Eighties, CK fails from being exceptional. She tries to reinvent Stevie Wonder's “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)” like she did with Prince's “I Feel for You.” And even with Wonder on harmonica, the track seems as if it was forced in an uncomfortable box of substandard synthpop. There's an abundance of lightweight covers here. She takes on Prince's “Eternity,” which first appeared on Sheena Easton's No Sound But a Heart.” It's pretty good, but “Sticky Wicked” isn't. The Womack & Womack cover of “It's My Party” is only interesting for Khan's delicious harmonies. She also spins Alec Wilder's “I'll Be Around” with a cozy jazz lounge arrangement. Not much to tout about here, unless you're a devout fan of CK– I mean Chaka.

TRACK LISTING : Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours) / Soul Talkin'
It's My Party / Eternity / Sticky Wicked / The End of a Love Affair / Baby Me / Make It Last / Where Are You Tonite / I'll Be Around

 

The Woman I Am
WARNER BROS., 1992



#92 / BILLBOARD 200
#9 / BILLBOARD TOP R&B/HIP-HOP ALBUMS
-- / UK ALBUMS

926296-2

Further away from her Rufus roots, Chaka Khan is trying to find the reinvention that would work best on her Aretha-Tina pipes in the new environment of urban R&B. Thankfully, the album's primary director Marcus Miller pulls Khan into the kind of soul she neglected in performing much of the Eighties. She doesn't drift too far from the synthy worship. “Everything Changes” is techno-driven, but it bubbles with melody. Her vocals are also amped with fierceness. “Love You All My Lifetime” sounds like Khan on top of a hot CeCe Peniston jam, while “Give Me All” sounds like a Soul II Soul pilgrimage. “I Want,” possibly the most deserving of a radio crank out, feels like dancey fun on a playground when she croons, “I/Want your lovin'/need your lovin'/Can't you see your love is good for me.” The midtempo gem “You Can Make the Story Right” is also a beaut, bearing some of the coolness of Babyface while dipping in Angela Winbush soul. She also rejoins with Arif Mardin on “This Time” and the Diane Warren-penned “Don't Look at Me That Way” – two tracks that put Khan on attractive easy-listening pop. Holding up the disc from falling into the traps of her last record is a decent selection of compositions bearing strong kinetic melodies.

TRACK LISTING : Everything Changes / Give Me All / Telephone
Keep Givin' Me Love / Facts of Love / Love You All My Lifetime / I Want / You Can Make the Story Right / Be my Eyes / This Time / The Woman I Am / Love With No Strings / Don't Look at Me That Way

 

Funk This
BURGUNDY/SONY, 2007



#15 / BILLBOARD 200
#5 / BILLBOARD TOP R&B/HIP-HOP ALBUMS
-- / UK ALBUMS

88697090222

Funk This is a dream-come-true for real Chaka's devout purists. It comfortably reacquaints her with the kind of funk that elevated her to fame (“Back in the Day,” “Will You Love Me?”), while also giving her the perfect opportunity to pen something as magnificent as “Sweet Thing” with “Angel.” She does another Prince cover with “Sign ‘O the Times” without upsetting the Purple One, but her version is just as rewarding. She even takes on Jimi Hendrix (“Castles Made of Mind”) and Joni Mitchell (“Ladies' Man”), while also pairing up with Michael McDonald on a gloriously, Gap Band-synthy cover of “You Belong to Me.” All ears will be glued to her reunion with Rufus's Tony Maiden on “Pack'd My Bags/You Got the Love.” It's proof she's not totally ashamed of her background. Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (and their protégés, Avila Brothers) should get much of the credit for organizing such a stellar disc, but Khan's contributions are equally as important to the album's profound mystique. Her songwriting hand is in some pretty good compositions like “Hail to the Wrong” and “One for All Time.” (On the back of the album's sleeve notes, Chaka's red lips are plastered on there with the same gravitas of Rufus's 1975 self-titled album.

TRACK LISTING : Back in the Day / Foolish Fool / One for All Time
Angel / Will You Love Me? / Castles Made of Sand / Disrespectful (feat. Mary J. Blige) / Sign O' the Times / Pack'd My Bags/You Got the Love
Ladies' Man / You Belong to Me (feat. Michael McDonald)
Hail to the Wrong / Super Life



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