Just when I thought this day was going down the crapper, it came to my attention that today is a holiday. 59 years ago, Yvette Marie Stevens, a mass of hair and sass, stormed into this world, wailing on key and in full voice. Better known to the world as the legendary Chaka Khan, a diva’s birthday is always a reason to celebrate. And as the Lady Khan is my favorite singer of all time, I felt it appropriate to share my 10 favorite Chaka tracks to commemorate this — a high holy day.
Before striking out for solo stardom with 1978′s Chaka, Khan was part of the wildly successful funk outfit, Rufus – later dubbed Rufus and Chaka Khan in true diva fashion. That same year the band came out with Street Player featuring the Khan-composed “Stay.” Starting off slow and plaintive, Chaka lets loose in the goosebump-inducing finale. One of the singer’s favorite song, it was subsequently covered to thrilling effect by Erykah Badu for her 1997 Live album.
2. “Some Love”
Lace up your platforms, squeeze into those bell-bottoms and drop the disco ball because we’re going to work. From Chaka’s debut solo album, “Some Love” funks shit up with a bassline that won’t quit, a dazzling horn section and Chaka riding the beat till the wheels fall off.
3. “Aint’ Nobody”
Rufus and Chaka officially parted ways with 1983′s double LP, Stompin’ at the Savoy, a live recording with some studio tracks added for filler. But wedged in there was their final hit as a group, the rollicking “Ain’t Nobody.” Talk about going out on a high note. A favorite among poppers and lockers the world over, the song was featured in the classic ode to breakdancing, Breakin’. It was not, however, included in the sequel, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.
4. “Close the Door”
An album cut from Rufus and Chaka’s 1977 Ask Rufus, “Close the Door” is cool, refined and quietly funky, showcasing enormous restraint from Chaka as she pleads, “Do you close the door to giving?” The answer, I certainly hope not. You don’t close doors on Chaka Khan. That is unless you want that door kicked down and burned to the ground.
5. “Sweet Thing”
“Sweet Thing,” another Khan original, is easy like Sunday morning. It’s simply joy as a record with Khan delivering an iconic performance that inspired Queen of Hip Hop Soul Mary J. Blige to cover “Sweet Thing” for her debut album, 1992′s What’s the 411?. And while MJB’s version can’t hold a candle to the original, it’s a testament to the song’s greatness that it’s become one of her signature performances as well.
6. “Love Me Still”
Chaka Khan is incredibly proficient at many genres, but she truly shines as a jazz singer. Khan originally wrote and recorded “Love Me Still” for 1996′s Clockers, but her excellent live rendition from 2000′s The Jazz Channel Presents Chaka Khan takes the emotional cake.
7. “Tell Me Something Good”
Thank you Stevie Wonder. After hearing Rufus and Chaka cover his “Maybe Your Baby” from their debut album, 1973′s Rufus, Wonder was impressed enough by Khan’s dynamic delivery that he gifted “Tell Me Something Good” to them for their next record, Rags to Rufus. “Tell Me Something Good” went on to become their breakthrough hit and earned the group their first Grammy. How…Wonderful.
8. “You Got the Love”
Also from 1974′s Rags to Rufus, “You Got the Love” features one of the funkiest basslines in history and Chaka generally owning it with trademark gusto.
9. “What ‘Cha Gonna Do for Me?”
Khan fully embraces her disco-divadom with this dancefloor barnburner from the 1981 album of the same name, featuring a strutting beat that will have your shoulders swaying from the first fluttery flute notes.
10. “Stormy Weather”
Chaka’s impassioned take on “Stormy Weather” from her 2004 album of covers, Classikahn, led a friend of mine to quip that Khan probably woke up one day, brushed her afro out of her face and belted out, “Quick, someone get me the rights to a standard so I can sing the shit out of it.” Mission accomplished.