100 Essential CDs – Number 76 –Chaka Khan – Life Is A Dance: The Remix Project


Life Is A Dance: The Remix Project  – Chaka Khan (Warner Bros 1989)

UK Chart Position – 14


The remix- Discuss.  I had to do a little bit of research to find out how remixing came about.  I wasn’t that surprised to see that the originators were the top Reggae producers of the 70’s who put what they called “versions” on the B-side of singles.  These were more than an instrumental “dub” track.  They were restructured tracks taking beats and rhythms and hooks from the original and playing around with them.  In the US the remix’ commercial success came with the disco era and people like Tom Moulton (who began as a mixer and producer in the early days of disco for artists such as Gloria Gaynor and Grace Jones  but then began to remix, most famously for artists on the Salsoul label.  Another name from the time is Walter Gibbons who also remixed a number of Salsoul tracks.  DJ remixed versions of tracks such as First Choice’s “Let No Man Put Asunder” and “Dr Love” and Instant Funk’s “Got My Mind Made Up” sounded very different from the originals as parts of the track were looped and repeated turning the whole thing less into a song and more into a production.  The discos lapped it up and the remix was born.

Move on a few years and remixing was a standard way of extending the life or length of a track, or of introducing a song to a slightly different market or just providing an alternative so a fan would buy a track more than once.  When they worked well the remix became accepted as much as the original – think Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day”.  It is still very common to hear the 1988 UK#4 remix than the 1978 UK#7 US#30 original.  The remix is a different beast, however, to the sampled track, although on occasions the boundaries can be blurred.  In 1989 (the year Chaka’s remix project was released) one of the biggest and best hits in the UK was Italian house act Black Box’s “Ride On Time”.  This was in effect a remix of Loleatta Holloway’s Salsoul track “Love Sensation” but the crafty Italian producers initially snuck it out without any credit to Loleatta as a new track so we see it as a sampled track rather than a remix.  To confuse matters further the group did have some success when five years later they did remix it and came up with “Bright On Time- The 94 remix”.  It was in this atmosphere of remixing and sampling that the idea of the Chaka Khan project came about.


This was something a little different.  A Remix album.  A whole album of remixes of some of Chaka’s biggest hits, most of which had been initially aimed towards the dancefloor on first release.  Now the remix album is something that I would generally avoid- I can think of one other that I play on a regular basis and that is by Shirley Bassey who got a #42 UK chart placing with her 2000 “The Remix Album-Diamonds Are Forever” which saw different producers restructuring her classic hits and working magic with the powerful Bassey voice.  I briefly owned an Englebert Humperdink remix album but that was too cheesy for even me but back to 1989 and Warner Brothers made the decision to go with a remix album to fill the gap between albums for an artist who was becoming disgruntled with the label.  There had been remixes of Chaka tracks before released around the time of the original but this was a whole new end of the 80’s creation.

Chaka, herself, was reputedly initially not happy with the concept but it did give her a highest ever chart placing in the UK chart and spawned two top 10 singles which in their remixed form both outdid the chart success of the originals.  This success also may have been instrumental in the decision for Chaka to move to the UK for a number of years.  The decision to put this out may have had something to  do with the diversification of dance music at the time into areas such as hip-hop, house, acid house and garage and there are elements of all these in the R&B and Disco tracks selected for remix.

If you are dealing with Chaka Khan then the most essential thing is the voice (this is also the case with Shirley Bassey which might explain the success of both remix projects). To keep the emphasis of the voice within the track is essential and that means it less likely that the remixer will lose the sense of the original song  In fact some of the remixes are rather subtle.  The average non-Chaka fan listener will probably not be able to differentiate between the Frankie Knuckles remix and original of “Ain’t Nobody” and that became the album’s biggest hit (UK#6) but then it is because it is a great song which us Brits hold in high esteem as it has also charted in inferior cover versions over the years.

                          Frankie Knuckles                                           David Morales

The whole thing kicks off with the title track “Life Is A Dance” which came from her 1978 debut.  David Morales is in charge of the remix and this is transformed into a great house track with funky keyboard riffs and is a perfect starting point to show what this remix project is all about.  “I Know You I Live You” originated from the 1981 “Whatcha Gonna Do For Me” album and has been remixed here by Tony Humphries and like the opening track beefs up the original without radically departing from it.  Two tracks from “I Feel For You” follow next.  The Marley Marl version of “This Is My Night” doesn’t create the sense of anticipation which I love so much about the original but the Paul Simpson remix of “Eye To Eye” is a valid alternative of a song which just gets right into your head.


Rick James

I would imagine that most singers would approach a duet with Chaka Khan nervously as they are likely to be sung off the planet but in 1982 Rick James took the plunge and the result “Slow Dancin’” is remixed here by Eric Sadler and Hank Shocklee.  The insidious funk of the original track is a little cleaned up here  in favour of the electro beats but it is still a heady mix.  “Fate” is also from 1981’s “Whatcha Gonna Do For Me” and this less familiar to me track comes to life in this David Shaw and Winston Jones remix.  It’s laden with drama and the Chaka vocal when it kicks in after a minute of setting up the groove is exemplary.  The remix certainly does not lose the colour she is able to put into her vocal.  “I’m Every Woman” becomes an eight and a half minute journey of rolling drum breaks which feel like they are never going to let up.  This Dancin’ Danny D  mix manages to add to the excitement of the already impressive 1978 original and is another one of the tracks that I don’t mind hearing either in its original Ashford and Simpson or remixed Danny D version.  The British public obviously agreed with me as it bettered the original by 3 places in the chart reaching number 8 as the lead single from the album.  “One Million Kisses” gives a second bite of the cherry to David Shaw and Winston Jones and was a track originally from the 1983 Rufus live album.  It’s not as good as their work  “Fate” but then then I feel that about the original song as it is a little forgettable.


Clivilles and Cole – C&C Music Factory

Following the Frankie Knuckles “Ain’t Nobody” we get another stand-out track in the C+C Music Factory remix of “Clouds”.  This was an early example of what Robert Clivilles and David Cole could do as it predates their run of hits which began the following year with “Gonna Make You Sweat”.  Dramatic thunderstorm effect into a stomping house beat which benefits from a great Chaka vocal.  The production is big and the vocal is big and the end result is ginormous and a real highspot of the whole project.  At the time this felt like a brand new track so contemporary was its feel.  It was in fact originally on the album “Naughty” from nine years earlier.  The whole thing really moves.  This is an early example of what became known as Euphoric House.  In 1997 Chaka’s sister, Taka Boom, another under-rated performer, lent her vocal when “Clouds” was covered by  The Source and got a number 38 UK hit single.  Chaka’s version in this remix is for me the definitive version.


Chaka and Taka

The closing track is, at 8 minutes 51 the longest track on the album and as it is her number 1 “I Feel For You” would be the most familiar.  Paul Simpson, on remix duties, incorporates a sample of Prince’s original version of the song to very good effect.  This became the third single from the album which by the time of its release in October 1989 felt a little like too much Chaka Khan remixing as it stalled in the UK charts at number 45.  It works well but does not challenge the original. It gets a bit bogged down with the “let me rock it” Melle Mel rap which is looped and repeated and the whole thing comes off as less exciting and radical as the original.

Warner Brothers were certainly shrewd here in their choice of re-mixers as a number of those chosen were either or would be in the not too distant future leading lights of the dance music scene who would score chart hits under their own name – Frankie Knuckles, David Morales, C&C Music Factory, Paul Simpson all got great exposure on this album.  This is the most essential remix album around in my opinion.


Life Is A Dance: The Remix Project is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £9.09, used from £0.37 and as a download for £6.39.  In the US it is currently $7.20 new,  used from $0.01 and download for $9.49.  It is also available to stream on Spotify in the UK .

100 Essential CDs – Number 27 –Chaka Khan – I Feel For You


I Feel For You – Chaka Khan (Warner Bros 1984)

UK Chart Position – 15

US Chart Position – 16


This was Yvette Marie Stevens’ 5th solo album under the name Chaka Khan in a solo career with Warner Brothers which had spanned eight years.  Emerging as the featured vocalist in Rufus, Chaka exploded onto the music scene, like the fireball she is in 1974 with a string of eight US Top 40 hits – the biggest being the debut hit, the Stevie Wonder penned “Tell Me Something Good” in 1974,  This blend of Rock/R&B and Funk didn’t not go down so well in the UK where commercial pop success eluded them.  (It would not be until Chaka was an established solo star herself that Rufus would score with an all-time classic hit).  With tensions in the group by 1978 it wasn’t too much of a gamble for Warner Brothers to launch Chaka as a solo artist and by pairing her up with songwriters and producers Ashford and Simpson produced one of the all-time classic disco tracks on their first attempt.  The gold debut album “Chaka” gave her a solo career high US chart placing (#12).

Six years on and the music world had changed.  1984 was a year when new-ish  UK bands were dominating charts worldwide including Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Wham and Duran Duran.  Many of the female soul/disco artists who were, like Chaka, recording in 1978  were finding success a struggle –something new was needed.  Chaka looked like she might be opting for a more jazz-orientated path after receiving much critical acclaim for her jazz based tracks on her albums and the release of a highly-regarded jazz album for Elektra“Echoes Of An Era” on which she contributed vocally.  Warner Brothers, and especially legendary  Executive Producer Arif Mardin had not finished with Chaka yet.  The title track from this 1984 album put her to the top of the UK charts for three weeks in November –the first time an American female had done so since the last hurrah of Disco of the movie-linked “Fame” by Irene Cara over two years before.

The album “I Feel For You” featured ten tracks and eight producers yet there is a definite unifying feel to the album and it certainly sounded unlike anything Chaka had recorded before.  There was a strong electro hip-hop feel to the whole proceedings, a lot of special effects and big productions that needed a powerhouse vocal like Chaka’s to cut through.  In the US it became Chaka’s only platinum album reaching number 16, going one place better in the UK and becoming a Top 20 album in a number of European territories – including Sweden (#9), Switzerland (#14) and Germany (#17).


The album kicks off  with a superb introductory track for the new Chaka sound and one which became the follow-up to the number 1 single reaching 14 in the UK and topping the US dance charts.  “This Is My Night” is a brash and loud Arif Mardin production but the whole thing works extremely well especially in the middle section where the effects kick in.  It was an excellent choice as it has provided Chaka with a built-in show starter.  When the introduction kicks off the hairs stand up on the back on my neck and Chaka convinces that this really is her night.  The second track was Chaka’s version of a song originally recorded by Carole Bayer Sager and written alongside her then-husband Burt Bacharach with Bruce Roberts.  “Stronger Than Before” is a great empowerment song and is saved from being a fairly standard 80’s power ballad by the more street-wise production by Mardin with Robbie Buchanan.  There’s powerful multi-tracked vocals which Chaka singing effortlessly at the top of her range.  “My Love Is Alive” has an ear-worm of an introduction with Chaka scatting over the top.  The Khan voice is often compared to a saxophone and this is an example where this applies.  This song,  a cover of a song by American artist Gary Wright contains some serious “scratching”, which was still quite a new sound in 1984 and certainly would not be something associated with Chaka Khan.  Anastacia did a good version of this song on her 2000 “Not That Kind” album.


Another gem track next is “Eye To Eye” where production duties are handed over to Russ Titleman and a song written by Don Freeman and three members of the Sembello family (Michael Sembello most famous for “Maniac” from the “Flashdance” soundtrack).  This is a more mid-tempo number and quite a sophisticated song which reminds me of some of the work Quincy Jones did with George Benson.  Less electronic sounding than some of the tracks and with a nifty guitar solo by Sembello, this has a warmth to it which really wins me over every time.  As single number three from the album it reached #16 in the UK in 1985 and did slightly better in Ireland (#12).  The three singles from this album show Chaka at her commercial peak and all three are amongst the best tracks off the album- so Warner Brothers made some good choices.


The first side of the old vinyl copy ended with the Marif produced “La Flamme” and some more scratching in the introduction.  Chaka got a  lyric co-writing nod for this and the whole thing hits a pretty potent groove- perhaps slightly reminiscent of the earlier “Papillon” track from the 1980 “Naughty” album with its occasional French lyrics but with a stronger hip-hop feel.  It doesn’t really do anything out of the ordinary and it is unlikely it would be too many people’s favourite track on the album as there are better examples of what this has to offer.


An all-star package was put together for “I Feel For You”- song courtesy of Prince, who became a great friend of Chaka’s and who would work with her on later albums but for this one she’s covering one of the songs off his 1979 second album.  Prince was hot by the time of this release and would have guaranteed Chaka airplay.  Also hot was rapper Melle Mel who provides the signature stamp on the track from the introduction and add to that the harmonica of Stevie Wonder in a sample from his early instrumental hit “Fingertips”. Stevie had that year got one of his biggest ever hits (and first UK number 1 solo single) with the sub-standard “I Just Called To Say I Love You”.  This combination resulted in a track  that just leapt out of the radio.  Melle Mel’s introductory rap in the course of a few seconds changed Chaka’s life forever, with the “Chaka Khan” namecheck which made her a household name and is the thing most associated with her.  It was certainly not love at first listen for Chaka.  She told David Nathan in an interview which is reported in his “Soulful Divas” book;

“I said, “Oh my God!” and I turned to Arif and asked him how he could do that to me! (Now) I just have fun with it when we perform…”

It is the thing that has lasted with the song and helped get it to number 1 in the UK for three weeks and become her biggest US solo single reaching number 3.  It also topped the chart in Ireland and got to number 2 in Canada and New Zealand suggesting this really was a track with world-wide appeal.  There was an affectionate nod in the closing moments of Whitney Houston’s 1993 big hit cover of “I’m Every Woman” when she sneaks in the “Chaka Khan” refrain and including her in the video.


“Hold Her” deceptively in the introduction has us thinking we are going to have a ballad but the beat kicks in for another solid track.  This album does have one more gem in “Through The Wire” a superb song written by David Foster and Tom Keane with lyrics by Cynthia Weil (who with husband Barry Mann were one of the leading lights of the 60’s New York songwriting scene penning such classic tracks as “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”, “On Broadway” and “Make Your Own Kind Of Music”.  With production by David Foster and Humberto Garcia there’s a move away from the more heavy-handed production to produce a much gentler touch which really gives Chaka the chance to shine vocally.  It is a great soul ballad and has even survived a risible sampling by Kanye West who sped the track up in true Pinky and Perky/The Chipmunks fashion in his 2004 debut hit single of the same name (US#15, UK#9).  If it introduced only one person to the original track and the work of Chaka Khan then maybe he has done his job.  Closing tracks “Caught In The Act” and “Chinatown” wrap things up without being stand-outs.

Not long after the release of this album I saw Chaka on tour at The Hammersmith Odeon.  She was apparently suffering from laryngitis and had to have a helping hand from backing vocalists for the top end of the range but she turned in a good show.  I’ve seen her a couple of occasions since and she really is an effortless performer – those notes can soar from her without it seeming to have any physical effect.  That’s also where the musical instruments comparisons come in.  This was her commercial and, taken as a whole as an album, her creative peak.  It ensured that by the end of 1984 everyone knew the name “Chaka Khan”.


The video for “I Feel For You” is, how should I say it, very much of its time………


I Feel For You is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £20.00, used from £2.73 and as a download for £7.09.  In the US it is currently $29.87 new,  used from $0.01 and download for $9.49.  It is also available to stream on Spotify in the UK .