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The 11 best Chaka Khan songs

Why have a Top 10 when you can have one more? Here are our 11 favourite Chaka Khan songs ahead of her summer dates

When asked by Rolling Stone if she would ever consider retiring from music, Chaka Khan (born Yvette Marie Stevens) responded with characteristic candour: “I might do that three or four times, like other bitches do…”

The Queen of Funk – who began her career in multiracial group Rufus before venturing solo – has a staggering half a century of music-making under her belt. Central to her longevity is that inimitable voice. “I am one of the few Black singers of my generation who didn’t come out of the Black Church,” Khan wrote in her autobiography, Chaka: Through the Fire. Instead, jazz was central to Khan’s musical education, informing the brassy, horn-like quality to her vocals. 

Now celebrating her 50 years in music with a flurry of headline appearances at Nocturne Live and Love Supreme, Khan is also curating this year’s Meltdown festival at the Southbank Centre, inviting Mica Paris, Incognito, and Lady Blackbird to perform, while bookending the festival herself with two concerts. Her life story is also being adapted into a West End-aspiring musical – named after her feminist anthem ‘I’m Every Woman’. 

But Khan’s repertoire is so much broader than that one (admittedly timeless) hit. Here are our top 11 Chaka Khan songs, spanning her time at Rufus and as a soloist.

11. ‘Hold Her’

(I Feel For You, 1984)

I Feel For You remains Khan’s most commercially successful album. Yet, in her autobiography, she recounts the detachment she felt from the record, feeling “bullied” into forfeiting creative control while the machine around her desperately pursued a crossover hit. She even describes the Prince-penned title track, one of her signature songs, as “the ball and chain”. Though the album falls foul of being a touch “try-hard” in places, it has some undeniable successes, including ‘Through The Fire’. ‘Hold Her’ is a total win from its slow, teasing opening to its sticky, frenetic groove. Khan’s catapulting high notes seal the deal. 

10. ‘So Naughty’

(Naughty, 1980)

Khan’s second solo album, Naughty, explores the delicious intersection between jazz, soul, and pop. This slot could have gone to the smouldering ‘Papillon (Hot Butterfly)’ (featuring Luther Vandross on backing vocals), but the title track is just so much fun: coquettish, steamy, and lifted by Khan’s brassy wails.  

9. ‘Love Me Still’

(Epiphany: The Best Of Chaka Khan, Vol.1, 1996)

Khan may be the Queen Of Funk but her ballads are no less compelling. ‘Love Me Still’, part of the soundtrack of crime drama Clockers, and included on compilation album Epiphany, sans the bells and whistles of her more well-known material. This hauntingly sung piano ballad is arguably Khan at her most vulnerable; the lyric conveying a desire to be loved and comforted amidst the whirlwind of celebrity. 

8. ‘Love Has Fallen On Me’ 

(Chaka, 1978)

Khan’s debut solo album, Chaka, released in 1978 while still a member of Rufus, will always be known for ‘I’m Every Woman’. But, to these ears, her cover of Rotary Connection’s ‘Love Has Fallen On Me’ is the album’s most exhilarating listen, owing to its switching time signatures, hymnal cadences, and gospel fervour. Producer Arif Mardin, with whom Khan had a rich creative partnership, is faithful to the original but carves out space for Khan’s voice to roam about freely, augmented by a wall of backing vocals. It sounds like pure worship. 

7. ‘Facts Of Love’

(The Woman I Am, 1992)

Khan was disappointed that Warner did “diddly” to promote her 1992 album, The Woman I Am. While the album may have sold dismally, it is a self-assured, nuanced offering, highlighting Khan’s production chops. Its highlight is the darkly sexy ‘Facts Of Love’, helmed by heady production fitting for a tune about buckling under the frisson of desire. “Mould me, control me, I’m only made of clay,” Khan sings, captivated by a love “at once so delightful and frightening”. 

6. ‘Ain’t Nothin’ But A Maybe’ 

(Rags To Rufus, 1974)

Renowned songwriting team Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson did Khan a huge favour when they furnished her with ‘I’m Every Woman’. But don’t forget that, four years prior, the duo contributed to Rufus’ breakthrough album, Rags To Rufus. Sure, ‘Ain’t Nothin’ but a Maybe’ doesn’t have the radio-beckoning command of ‘I’m Every Woman’ or other Ashford and Simpson staples like ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’. And it’s a slow burn by comparison, where Khan debates whether to act on her romantic impulses (“Should I make a move / Or keep on daydreaming,” she ponders). But what makes this tune so effective is its pacing. Khan begins contemplative and airy; the lightness of her voice counterposed by angular guitar. By the end of the song, she’s ad-libbing with abandon over the final choruses, emphatic that she needs to figure out what’s what. 

5. ‘So Close’

(Destiny, 1986)

Released two years after I Feel For You, Destiny saw Khan venture into pop rock. Whether or not this sonic shift was driven by “crossover pragmatism” (as suggested by one critic at the time), the album is an oft-overlooked gem in Khan’s discography. She rocks out the hardest on ‘So Close’, co-written by country singer Pam Tillis, Shakespeare Sister’s Marcella Detroit, and Richard Feldman. The marriage of Khan’s commanding voice with crunchy guitars and propulsive drums makes for a thrilling combination. 

4. ‘And The Melody Still Lingers On (Night In Tunisia)’

(What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me, 1981)

Jazz has always been Khan’s deepest love. On her What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me album, she repurposes the melody of Dizzy Gillespie’s 1940s instrumental piece ‘A Night In Tunisia’ to deliver an homage to the genre, while infusing her own brand of synth-laden funk. Khan’s idol Miles Davis once told her that “you sing like my horn”, and this tune is perhaps the best demonstration of that. Her voice is at its brassiest here, her joy palpable.  

3‘Please Pardon Me (You Remind Me Of A Friend)’

(Rufusized, 1974)

Brenda Russell has penned many beautiful songs including ‘Get Here’, ‘If Only For One Night’, and ‘Piano In The Dark’. Add ‘Please Pardon Me’ (You Remind Me of A Friend)’ to the list too – a co-write with then-husband Brian Russell and recorded by Rufus for their third album, Rufusized. Khan’s mighty, multi-tracked vocals light up this stirring midtempo about a nostalgic encounter. The lyric is cryptic and vague but Khan’s belting performance makes it feel specific and tangible, as if she has just tapped you on the shoulder in the middle of Oxford Street.   

2. ‘You Got The Love’ 

(Rags To Rufus, 1974)

Rufus’ self-titled debut album was the group merely finding its feet. Sophomore effort Rags To Rufus was when they truly hit their creative stride. Opening track ‘You Got The Love’ gets the blood pumping from the opening guitar riff, powered by a vocal performance by Khan that flits from feathery sensuality to fevered urgency. They had arrived. 

1. ‘Ain’t Nobody’

(Stompin’ At The Savoy – Live, 1983)

It can be tempting in lists like these to avoid fan-favourites, their impact sometimes dulled by sheer ubiquity. But such tunes are often so enduring with good reason. Indeed, the magic and mastery of ‘Ain’t Nobody’ cannot be denied. One of the few studio tracks included on Rufus’ final release – the ‘greatest hits’ live album Stompin’ At The Savoy – ‘Ain’t Nobody’ was the group’s ultimate farewell. Khan was spot on when she wrote that the song “has it all – a bad beat, cute words, fabulous melody – one of the few songs I never tire of singing.” And we never tire of listening.  

Chaka Khan plays Nocturne Live at Blenheim Palace, Warwick Castle and Love Supreme festival throughout June and July. Find tickets here