Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Ch-ch-ch-chaka Khan turned a lesser known Prince song into a smash hit

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, in honor of Prince’s pair of new albums, we’re picking our favorite songs from the Purple One.

Prince has explicitly stated that he doesn’t like it when other artists cover his songs—he even wants to make it illegal—but that royal proclamation clearly doesn’t apply to Chaka Khan’s 1984 version of “I Feel For You,” which became a far bigger hit than Prince’s original 1979 recording. Both are great (though technology-dated), but while Prince’s sounds like a solid early Prince song—it wasn’t even a single—Khan’s still feels like the smash hit it was. She had a couple of secret weapons going for her, besides the excellent composition: Her version adds an introductory rap by Melle Mel, beginning with the stuttering repetition of Khan’s name, and a killer harmonica solo by Stevie Wonder. Sure, Mel’s verses have that dated ’80s cadence (“Chaka Khan let me tell you what I wanna do / Wanna hug you / Wanna love you / Wanna squeeze you too”), but they fit snugly in. And, of course, Khan can belt the lyrics with a vocal power that Prince didn’t wield on his version, but credit does go to Mr. Purple. “I Feel For You” has some amazingly Prince-y lyrics, specifically this hilarious admission: “I wouldn’t lie to you baby / It’s mainly a physical thing.” All that funk, and he’s honest to boot. Prince and Khan would later perform the song together live, and he won a Grammy for writing it six years after his version was released, beating out another one of his compositions: Sheila E.’s “The Glamorous Life,” another big hit in 1984. All in all, a good year for Prince, who also released Purple Rain that year.

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