I can cast a spell of secrets you can tell: the best of Chaka Khan

CVS is responsible for saving lives — a pharmacy open late, eggs and half and half available when supermarkets have closed, and the encouraging of “Through the Fire.” Maybe that’s how Kanye West learned to love it. This middling R&B, adult contemporary, and pop single has had an impressive longevity, such that even before Kanye’s 2003 “Through the Wire” it might’ve been the first Chaka Khan song recognized by Gen X and Triassic-era millennials. Guess what? Through the polite flame of those flickering synthesizers Chaka triumphs. Against 1985’s “That’s What Friends Are For,” I long thought I’d have preferred “Through the Fire” on my side.

One of my favorite of my published essays examined Chaka’s post-Rufus solo career through 1984. At the time Spotify didn’t host most of those albums; now the essay serves a practical function. It’s not every solo career that kicks off with a statement as startling as Ashford and Simpson’s “I’m Every Woman,” a thunderclap of a single that registers as vividly as Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” as declaration of independence. All these albums have their moments, though. I’d also include 1986’s expensive flop Destiny, boasting collaborations with Green Gartside and Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins. During this era, just before Tina Turner expanded the commercial possibilities for black women over thirty, Chaka was alone. Of course these albums have gauche moments (have you heard her cover of “We Can Work It Out”?). “What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me” is a Ned Doheny cover. But I learned then that the singer functioned as the auteur in the cinematic sense, despite the credits.

Meanwhile I also have to deal with Rufus, the funkiest average mixed race band ever, even without a Stevie Wonder track that became their biggest hit.

1. I’m Every Woman
2. Ain’t Nobody
3. You Got the Love
4. Do You Love What You Feel
5. Tell Me Something Good
6. Clouds
7. I Feel For You
8. Sweet Thing
9. Move Me No Mountain
10. What Cha’ Gonna Do for Me
11. Got to Be There
12. Love You All My Lifetime
13. This is My Night
14. Get Ready, Get Set
15. Papillon
16. Dance Wit Me
17. Love of a Lifetime (w/Green Gartside)
18. Through the Fire
19. Stay
20. Watching the World

2 thoughts on “I can cast a spell of secrets you can tell: the best of Chaka Khan

  1. Jukebox

    Her best performance, to me, is the chorus in “You Got the Love”.
    Oh ain’t nothin’
    I wouldn’t pay
    Just to hear ? hear you say
    Every time the song gets to that, it soars. Amazing. No wonder the Rufus call-response: “I love you. I need you”
    Other songs are more about ryhthm- I’m Every Woman comes second in that department. But it’s ebullient where “You Got the Love” is GOSPEL. It’s the chuch of Chaka love.


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