By the time the singer this article is about had released their debut solo album, she’s been a member of one of the most successful American funk bands Rufus, between 1973 and 1978. During that period Rufus had released six albums, of which four had been certified gold and one platinum. As if that wasn’t enough, Chaka Khan had won a Grammy Award in 1974 for the Best R &B Performance by a Duo or Group for the single Tell Me Something Good. When she decided in 1978, to release her debut solo album, Chaka Khan was a hugely successful artist. However, by then, relations between Chaka and other members of the band weren’t as good as they had been, and tensions between her and members of the group resulted in several members leaving the group. Her decision to become a solo artist was to prove a wise one, because after their 1978 album Street Player, reached number fourteen in the US, only one other album by Rufus would prove commercially successful. That was their 1979 album Masterjam, which also reached number fourteen in the US. After that, the group’s popularity declined. Chaka Khan’s solo career however, took off, with Chaka, her debut album reaching number twelve in the US and being certified platinum. For a debut album, it was both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. It was against this backdrop, that Chaka launched a solo career that saw her release a further eleven solo albums, five compilation albums and become one of the best selling, most successful and charismatic female vocalists.
Chaka opens with probably her most famous track, the feminist anthem I’m Every Woman. This reminds me of seeing Chaka in Glasgow many years ago, and when she started singing this track, the place erupted, and it seemed that every woman in Glasgow was helping Chaka sing the song. Mind you, I don’t know what she thought when she was encouraged by one particularly vociferous woman screaming, “gone yersel Chaka,” in a broad Glaswegian accent. Strings sweep in at the start of the track, joined by bass, guitars and drums, before Chaka joyously sings the vocal. Her voice is strong as it soars high, full of charisma, proudly singing each word of this anthemic track. Behind her, a brilliant arrangement is unfolding. A piano interjects, as the rhythm section play an important role and dual guitars complete the sound. Backing vocalists accompany and compliment Chaka, as she gives probably, a career defining vocal, that quickly, became an anthem for women worldwide. Quite simply, a stunning track, featuring a brilliant vocal from Chaka.
Love Has Fallen On Me is very different from the opening track. It’s a piano lead track, which mixes, jazz, soul and gospel. As piano and drums slowly and atmospherically open the track, Chaka proceeds to give a jazzy vocal, complete with backing singers who accompany her in a gospel style. Like before, her voice soars powerfully, full of character. The arrangement veers between a fuller style complete with guitars, rhythm section and piano, to a lovely subtle understated piano lead track. Later in the track, a brass section play, as the Chaka really lets loose and sings a brilliant solo ably assisted by the backing vocalists who revisit their earlier gospel style. Together they produce a hugely impressive, passionate and melodic sound. The addition of strings towards the end is a masterstroke. It adds the finishing touches to a track that’s laden in passion courtesy of Chaka and her backing vocalists.
After two really rousing tracks, Chaka decides to drop the tempo with Roll me Through the Rushes. This is a track with religious and spiritual themes throughout the lyrics. Moses, sin, death, hate and asking for guidance are all mentioned. A guitar chimes and drums play slowly and atmospherically. Chaka, meanwhile, sings the lyrics slowly, and here, she controls her voice much more. There are no vocal theatricals, just a really heartfelt rendition of the lyrics, accompanied by her backing vocalists. She still sings with passion, still lets her voice soar high, but it’s a much more thoughtful, almost respectful vocal. The arrangement is quite full, piano, rhythm section and guitars combining, and later, French horns and a harp play. It may be a very different track to the previous ones, but it shows another side of Chaka, one she carries of well, producing another excellent vocal, ably assisted by a really good, tight band.
Sleep On It begins with drums, French horns before the Anthony Jackson’s vocal enters. He’s singing the male part of the lyrics, which are about a turbulent relationship. By the time Chaka enters, the arrangement has filled out, with bass, guitars and synth joining the mix. However, what makes the track are Chaka and Anthony’s vocals, especially Chaka’s. Both bring the lyrics to life. Like all the tracks on the album, the standard of playing is excellent. It’s no different here, and midway through the track, a really good guitar solo emerges. That, and the addition of French horns, add character to the track, the way the they’re played, and when they’re played. On this track, the arrangement is really melodic, with hooks aplenty, and combined with the vocal and lyrics Sleep On It is a great track.
Another of the better known tracks is Life Is A Dance, a funk based track which has a loose feel at the start. Background chat accompanied by bass and guitar opens the track before it opens up. When it does, backing vocalists sing before Chaka, and meanwhile, a really funky arrangement is coming to life. It’s lead by the best bass playing on the album, ably assisted by some great guitar playing and drumming. Chaka meanwhile is having a ball, her vocal is joyous, as she whoops accompanied by a myriad of handclaps and backing vocals. The brass section punctuate the arrangement with layers of their funk laden brass playing. Overall, it’s a joyous, upbeat track, with a feelgood factor that has brings upon the urge to dance, and give thanks to the musical gods for Chaka Khan.
George Benson wrote We Got the Love and shares the lead vocal with Chaka. Together, they combine perfectly, their voices a perfect match, with George a perfect foil for Chaka. It’s George that opens the track, accompanied by the rhythm section, and then piano. When Chaka sings, she’s accompanied by flutes and the track flows brightly along, complete with strings. Like the last track, this track has a strong bass line, that’s prominent in the mix. Overall, the arrangement sweeps along brightly, punctuated by flutes and strings, as well as the rest of the band. It’s a mixture of soul and funk, complete with two great singers, Chaka and George Benson. Combined with a George’s lyrics, a good arrangement and passionate and soulful performances from Chaka and George, it’s a potent mixture.
It’s a really quick, accurate and funky bass that opens Some Love. Accompanying it is a guitar that’s equally funky, almost heading into wah-wah territory and strings. When Chaka sings, a funky arrangement is unfolding, complete with brass section, strings and piano. They all produce an impressive and powerful sound, that’s funky with a capital F. Chaka too, gives a strong, powerful vocal her voice soaring heavenwards, yet always in control. As she sings, the arrangement just gets better and better. Much of this is down to the addition of a full brass section, combined with some really lush, sweeping strings, that funk laden bass and Chaka’s brilliant vocal. Together, they combine masterfully, producing one of the album’s arrangements and thanks to Chaka’s passionate, soaring vocal one of the best tracks.
A Woman In A Man’s World is quite different from the two previous tracks. Here,the arrangement isn’t as full and the tempo slightly slower. It begins with guitar and drums playing before Chaka sings. For much of this track, her vocal is much more straightforward. She just sings the lyrics with no frills, no vocal gyrations. It’s only later on, that she really lets loose. At the start, her voice isn’t as loud or powerful, but it’s still passionate and soulful. Behind her, her band play really well, bringing the lyrics to life. Guitars, rhythm section, congas and synth combine, and later they’re joined by strings and the brass section. The addition of the brass section really lifts the track. They combine perfectly with the synth and strings, while the rhythm section helps drive the song along. Towards the end, Chaka’s voice is much more powerful, gone is the restraint she showed earlier, and the diva in her comes out, as she produces a vocal that’s impressive due to it’s power, passion and control. Together with her band, they produce a track that combines a fantastic vocal and equally good arrangement.
It’s funky time again, at the start of The Message In the Middle of the Bottom. It begins a really funky bass playing, accompanied by drums and horns interjecting. As Chaka sings, she decides to get into the funky vibe that’s unfolding. Her delivery is staccato, as she sings the lyrics. Strong and deliberate is the way she sings. Meanwhile, space is left in the arrangement, until the brass section enter. When they play, the space is gone, and the arrangement gets more crowded. Still, the funky arrangement unfolds, the rhythm section and brass section playing important roles, with lovely melodic guitar solos suddenly emerging. Still, Chaka’s vocal is strong, her delivery still deliberate, as she delivers the lyrics thoughtfully, and with feeling. By the end of the track, Chaka and her band have delivered a good funk track. However, although it’s a good track, it isn’t as good as the other tracks on the album. It just doesn’t come up to the high standard Chaka has set on the album.
Chaka closes with a cover of a song made famous by Stevie Wonder I Was Made To Love Her, although here, Chaka changes it to I Was Made To Love Him. When the song bursts joyously into life a mixture, of piano, guitars and rhythm section you immediately realize Chaka has found her A-game. She proceeds to sing the song beautifully, full of emotion, passion and power. Accompanying her, are backing vocalists whose voices rise in unison perfectly. The arrangement features a great guitar solo from Tony Maiden, and Richard Tee on piano and clavinet, as usual, plays brilliantly. However, the star of the song is Chaka, her vocal is stunning, a joyous combination of emotion, power and control, and it’s a perfect way to end a great album.
Although Chaka was Chaka Khan’s first solo album, she was already an experienced and successful artist. However, there’s a big difference from being part of a band to becoming a solo artist. Here, it was Chaka that was in the spotlight, nobody else, just her. It was quite a big step, and quite a brave thing to do, leave a successful band and become a solo artist. The gamble paid off, and this was the start of long and illustrious solo career. Back in 1978, not many artists have a debut album that sold over 500,000 copies and is certified gold, reaching number twelve in the US charts. Chaka Khan did, after producing one of the best debut solo albums of that time. Today, the album still sounds just as good, as it did back them. Much of the success is said to be due to the success of I’m Every Woman. That to me is unfair. Although it’s a brilliant anthemic track, there are many more great tracks on the album. The album’s success to me, is down to some wonderful music, sung with soulfully, passionately and powerful by one of the most charismatic female vocalists of the past forty years. Thankfully, after this album, Chaka would release another elven studio albums and tour regularly. If you ever get the chance to see her live, she puts on a great show, and her voice is just as good live, as it is on this album. Standout Tracks: I’m Every Woman, Sleep On It, Life Is A Dance and I Was Made To Love Him.