I Feel For You has got to be up there in my top ten songs of all time.
Those funky synth stabs, that harmonica, the irresistible “chaka khan chaka-chaka-chaka khan” — it just makes me want to throw on my shoulder pads and lip gloss and go out dancing in a glitzy nightclub in 1980s New York.
What you’re about to read is more than just a handful of facts. It’s the story of a friendship between two insanely talented megastars.
Grab that Pina Colada and settle in for a treat.
1. The song was written by the royal purpleness himself, Prince
I think most of us already know this, but just in case. I Feel For You first appeared on Prince’s self-titled 1979 album.
Anyone else get freaked by Prince being around in the seventies? In my head he’s the essence of the eighties/nineties. Anyway. You can hear the original in all its psychedelic pop glory right here:
2. Then a few other people covered it
This was news to me. The Pointer Sisters had a version on their 1982 album I’m So Excited. Their soulful interpretation is smooth as butter, featuring some lush En Vogue-ish harmonies. Better than the Prince original? Probably.
Then Rebbie Jackson (of those Jacksons) covered it for her 1984 album Centipede. Hers is a throwaway eighties disco-pop version which went virtually unnoticed. I quite like it, worth a listen for novelty alone.
3. Prince was obsessed with Khan years before she recorded his song
Prince loooooved Chaka, even before they were label-mates on Warner Bros. He idolised her throughout her years singing with funk band Rufus and listened to her for inspiration when writing his first album. Years later he had Khan’s picture painted on his wall as part of a mural in Paisley Park.
To initiate their first meeting, Prince phoned Khan pretending to be her good friend Sly Stone (turns out Prince is something of a closet Alistair McGowan). He asked her to meet him at the Electric Ladyland studio.
Khan said: “I get there and there’s nobody there except for one little guy in this room with a guitar. And I said ‘Do you know where Sly is?’ He said to me, ‘Hi, I’m Prince; I called you.’ I was very pissed. And that’s how we met.”*
Yes, it’s a bit creepy.
4. Chaka Khan turned to Prince’s back catalogue for something radio friendly
During the early eighties, Khan was in the midst of a jazzy, experimental phase. Her 1982 album Echoes of an Era failed to find much traction with audiences.
She needed a hit to keep Warner Bros sweet. Khan and her producer Arif Mardin decided a Prince track would give them the modern edge they were looking for. They opted for I Feel For You.
5. Stevie Wonder appears on the record not once, but twice!
Prince was scheduled to play on the song, but a scheduling conflict with Purple Rain meant he never made it to the session. Wonder stepped up in his place at the last minute, laying down the funky harmonica part we all know and love. It’s a proper Stevie-show, as his 1963 song Fingertips is also sampled on the record.
6. The rapper is Melle Mel of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
Yes, it was he who laid down the now legendary “Chaka Khan Chaka-Chaka-Chaka-Khan” deliciousness. His appearance made I Feel For You the first crossover RnB track to feature a rapper. Bonus fact — did you know that Melle Mel is reputed to be the first ever rapper to call himself an MC? You do now.
7. ‘I Feel For You’ cemented a professional friendship that would last a lifetime
I Feel For You was a million-selling smash hit in the US and UK, and succesfully relaunched Khan’s solo career. Prince won a Grammy for the song in 1985. When Khan left Warner Bros in 1998, Prince immediately signed her to his NPG label.
The success of I Feel For You cemented a friendship and mutual admiration that would last until Prince’s death in 2016. At his memorial concert, Chaka Khan and Stevie Wonder lead the tributes.
Two massive talents, one humongous song. There’s nothing left now but to mix you a Blue Lagoon and crank this up on the stereo.
Ladies and gentlemen, the ultimate deep cut:
This post is part of the #write52 project, a writing initiative that gets people creating original content every week for 52 weeks. That’s a year! But it’s not scary. At least — not yet (I’m only on post 22). You can find out more and sign up to the newsletter on the #write52 website.
Hi there! I’m Penny, a freelance copywriter. I decided to write about a different number one single each week for my #write52 project. To be totally honest it’s been a weekly reminder of how much the general public love terrible music. Not this song though, this song is a bobby dazzler.
*Credit to this terrific long read on Diffuser FM for the story about Prince and Khan’s first meeting.