In a previous article on Chaka Khan and her album Chaka, I mentioned how, originally, she was the vocalist with the legendary funk band Rufus. This gave Chaka her big break into the music business, and by their second album, Rags To Rufus, released in 1973, the band quickly, found fame and fortune. Over a period of ten years, Rufus released ten studio album, plus their legendary live album, Stompin’ At the Savoy released in 1983. During this ten year period, Rufus had three top ten albums in the US Billboard 200, saw five of their albums certified gold and one platinum. As if this wasn’t enough, the group were nominated for three Grammy Awards, winning two, one in 1974, the other in 1983. Rufus featuring Chaka Khan was the group’s fourth album, released in 1975. It reached number seven in the US Billboard 200, and number one in the US R&B Charts, and was certified gold. Unlike previous Rufus albums, there was only one cover version on the album, Jive Talkin’ a cover of a Bee Gees song. On the album’s release, it was critically acclaimed and commercially successful, becoming one of the band’s most successful albums. However, by then Chaka Khan was attracting much of the attention, especially in the media, and this didn’t please other band members. By the time the group had finished publicizing and promoting the album, tensions had arisen between Chaka and drummer, Andre Fischer. After the next album Ask Rufus was released, Andre Fischer left the group and Chaka signed a contract with Warners as a solo artist. However, all of that was still to come, and in 1975, Rufus were one of the biggest bands in the music, having just released another hugely successful album, Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan. The big question is, what does the album sound like?

Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan opens with Fool’s Paradise, which opens with keyboards slowly playing and gentle percussion, before Chaka’s vocal soars powerfully above the arrangement. The rhythm and string section and guitars combine, backing Chaka’s vocal. Occasionally, the brass section punctuate the arrangement as it sweeps along, a mixture of subtle funk and soul. Chaka, meanwhile, gives an outstanding vocal where she uses both her wide vocal range and power, to deliver some really good lyrics about people’s desire for materialism. As the arrangement unfolds, it’s a mixture of lush, sweeping strings, an atmospheric horn solo and a mixture of subtle and dramatic playing from the rhythm section. Together with Chaka’s dynamic, emotional and powerful vocal, Fool’s Paradise is a fantastic mixture of understated funk and sweeping soul.

Have A Good Time is very different from the opening track, as it’s a much more full on, slice of funk music.  A funky bass line, chiming guitars and Chaka’s hugely energetic vocal, guitars drums and dramatic, blazing, pumping horns open the track. However, it’s Chaka’s vocal that you focus, you just can’t avoid it. She really lets loose with her vocal, almost screaming, soaring, power personified, yet always in control. The arrangement has everything you want from a funk track, some really quick funky, bass licks courtesy of Bobby Watson and Tower of Power interjecting throughout the track with horns that blaze and rasp, while Andre Fischer’s drumming is dynamic. This track is what you expect to hear on a Rufus album, three and a half minutes of glorious, good time funk music, from one of the tightest funk bands of the seventies, made all the better by Chaka’s incredibly, energetic and dramatic vocal.

Drums slowly play at the start of Ooh I Like Your Loving, before bass, keyboards, guitars and a much more restrained vocal from Chaka enters. The arrangement builds up, with waves of music emerging from your speakers. Gradually, the track unfolds, with keyboards, rhythm section and guitars playing producing a track that’s more in common with Fool’s Paradise than Have A Good Time. It’s still a slice of funk, but one that’s much more restrained than the previous track. Instead, it’s a slower track, with more space within the arrangement and a jazz influence present. Here, keyboards help the rhythm section drive the track along, producing waves of music, that feature brief albeit, noticeable dramatic pauses. During the track, the band get the opportunity to demonstrate just how talented they are. Even Chaka produces a much more restrained vocal. Gone are the dramatic soaring vocals, and here, she demonstrates that she’s capable of singing a variety of different styles of song. Although quite different from the previous track, I like this track, it shows just how talented a band Rufus were, and Chaka’s versatility as a vocalist.

Everybody Has An Aura begins with rhythm and string sections combining with keyboards and guitars before Chaka sings. When her much softer vocal enters, it’s greeted by the horn section. Quickly, Chaka’s voice strengthens and gets louder, and is drenched by the horn section’s interjections. Meanwhile, the arrangement has filled out, sweeping along to feature the rhythm and string sections, guitars and keyboards. Throughout the track, it’s punctuated with short, rasping, bursts from the brass section. This is a much funkier track than the previous track, and sees Chaka return to her previous energetic and powerful vocal style. Likewise, the arrangement is much fuller than the previous track, which didn’t feature either the brass or string sections. Although still not as full on a slice of funk as Have A Good Time, this is still a great track, it’s melodic, isn’t short of hooks and features a soulful arrangement and dynamic and energetic vocal from Chaka.

Bass and guitars, combine with short bursts of strings and backing vocalists, before Chaka sings the lyrics to Circles. Listening to the introduction, it teases you into thinking that a really funky track might reveal itself. When Chaka sings, her vocal is strong and clear, while behind her the arrangement fuses elements of funk disco, soul and Latin music. The bass section and guitars contribute elements of funk via the bass and guitars, while the drums have a Latin influence. Here, the strings bring to mind numerous disco tracks of the time. Chaka’s vocal is soulful, she doesn’t force her vocal, doesn’t unleash the power and drama of previous tracks, and instead, concentrates on giving a vocal that uses soul music as its basis. Overall, it’s a fascinating track that fuses various styles of music brilliantly, and in doing so, demonstrates the versatility and influences of Rufus and Chaka Khan.

Chaka cowrote the single Sweet Thing with guitarist and vocalist Tony Maiden. On it’s release, it reached number one in the R&B singles charts and number six in the Billboard 100. It was Rufus’ fourth single to sell one million copies and be certified gold. That’s a huge amount of singles to reach the Billboard 100 top ten, compared to what it takes now. Sweet Thing was one of two songs Chaka cowrote, and it begins with a lovely sweet and sound, when keyboards, rhythm section and guitar combine before Chaka sings. Her vocal is slow, full of emotion and character, as behind her, guitars brightly chime and the rhythm section play slowly, while keyboards meander brightly. Later in the track, the drums are louder, as if announcing Chaka’s powerful, soaring vocal’s entrance. Behind her backing vocalists unite, singing sweetly. By the time the track ends, it’s obvious why this was such a such a huge hit. It’s a combination of a lovely lush and melodic arrangement, where hooks are plentiful and features Chaka’s emotional, charismatic and powerful vocal.

The previous track Sweet Thing was a successful single from the album, and so was  Dance Wit’ Me, which reached number five in the R&B singles charts and number thirty-nine in the Billboard 100. It has a totally different sound to Sweet Thing and is much funkier, and dance floor friendly. Fast, funky drums and crisp cymbals open the track, before an equally fast, funky bass line enters, accompanied by backing vocals courtesy of the rest of the band before Chaka enters. Her vocal is fast, though not as strong or loud as on previous track. The backing vocalists are louder than Chaka, and she has to draw on her power to keep up with her. This she does, her vocal becoming much stronger and louder. Sometimes she really has to force her vocal, while behind her, one of the funkiest arrangements on the album is unfolding. It’s success is down to the rhythm section, with Bobby Watson’s bass playing fast, accurate and brilliantly funky. Andre Fischer’s drumming is fast and equally funky, and the addition of the backing vocals to supplement Chaka’s vocal is a masterstroke, taking the track into funk overdrive. For four minutes Rufus and Chaka Khan transport you to the planet funk, demonstrating what a great funk track should sound like.

After the fantastic funk of Dance Wit’ Me, the tempo and style changes with Little Boy Blue, a much slower, but hugely soulful track. It begins with keyboards, rhythm section and a soaring guitar solo, before Chaka’s dramatic, joyous and powerful vocal soars heavenwards. Behind her strings sweep, their sound lush, while guitars chime, then scream briefly, as the solos soar high, as the rhythm section provide the track’s heartbeat. Gradually, the arrangement fills out, becoming much fuller, almost dramatic, thanks to the guitar playing and strings. This matches Chaka’s brilliant vocal which is a mixture of emotion, drama and power. Like the arrangement, the longer it goes on, the more the emotion and drama builds. By the track dramatic and dynamic crescendo, it’s almost impossible not to be swept away by a track that combines joyousness and emotion with drama and power masterfully. 

On Time begins with a funk masterclass from Rufus, the funkiest of bass lines, drums, keyboards and guitar all combining brilliantly as the track opens. As they play, I’m reminded of parts David Bowie’s hit single Fame by the combination of rhythm section and guitar. This is the only instrumental on the album and it works well. It gives the other members of the band the opportunity to shine, and shine they do. The rhythm section especially, surpass themselves, playing brilliantly, sometimes mixing funk with jazz. Mainly though, it’s just some sweet funk music with a capital F. Credit must be given to bassist Bobby Watson, Andre Fischer on drums and guitarist Tony Maiden. Together, they’ve produced one of best slices of funk on the album.

Rufus featuring Chaka Khan closes with a cover of the Bee Gees hit Jive Talkin’, but is very different from the original. Here, it’s a much slower version of the song, minus the falsetto vocals. Instead, it begins with guitar, the rhythm section and keyboards combining before Chaka’s vocal enters. When it does, she really slows the song down, giving an atmospheric and energetic rendition of the lyrics. She really brings new meaning to the lyrics the way she sings them. Behind her, it’s a lovely full arrangement that mixes soul and funk. Chaka’s accompanied by soaring guitars, and atmospheric keyboards and a funky rhythm section. Although very different from the original version, I really like this version, especially the atmospheric and energetic vocal from Chaka, that breathes new life into a familiar song. Combined with the slower arrangement it’s a great version of this track, and a perfect way to end the album.

Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan was just the latest in a run of hugely successful albums for Rufus and Chaka Khan. Although it was released in 1975, the album still sounds as good today, as it did when it was released. The music has a timeless quality, and features both Rufus and Chaka Khan at the top of their game. On this album, the band combine soul, funk and jazz music, and occasionally Latin music. Two of the songs Sweet Thing and Dance Wit’ Me, were successful hit singles, the former Chaka cowrote with Tony Maiden and gave the band their fourth million selling single. When the album was released, there were tensions within the band due to Chaka’s increasingly high profile, however, she was very much, the star of the band, certainly on this album. Without her brilliant vocals, neither Rufus, nor this album would be as good. To me, this was one of the finest albums Rufus released. It’s a shame that when people talk about the best funk bands, that people seem to forget about Rufus, because for ten years, they produced some highly acclaimed and hugely commercially successful albums. After all, how many other funk bands had three top ten albums, five of which were certified gold and one platinum and won two Grammy Awards? Standout Tracks: Have A Good Time, Sweet Thing, On Time and Jive Talkin’.


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