By 1984, fans were sure they felt for Chaka Khan - but with some help from one of the year's biggest stars and her biggest pop hit ever, those feelings were never more clear.
In November of that year, Chaka's newest single, "I Feel for You," from the album of the same name, topped the U.K. singles chart rose to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. At No. 1 in America was Wham! with their U.S. breakthrough "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go"; in between the two was the title track to Prince and The Revolution's blockbuster Purple Rain. That film and album made Prince an international star in 1984 - but "I Feel for You," which he'd written and released five years earlier, helped solidify his legend.
"I Feel for You" was first heard on the second side of Prince's self-titled second album, released in 1979. That LP gave Prince his first pop hit with "I Wanna Be Your Lover," and "I Feel for You" was largely cut from the same cloth, built around bouncy synths and an impassioned, multi-tracked falsetto vocal. Though it was never released as a single, it attracted a few R&B performers to cut their own versions: The Pointer Sisters put a faithful cover on 1982's So Excited! while Michael Jackson's oldest sibling Rebbie included a version on her debut album Centipede in early 1984.
Working with longtime producer Arif Mardin, Chaka made "I Feel for You" her own as an uptempo dance track. Stevie Wonder delivered a powerful set of harmonica solos (and appeared a second time in the form of vocal samples from his first chart-topper, 1963's "Fingertips (Part 2)"), while Melle Mel of Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five contributed a rapid-fire rap verse at the song's beginning - one of the earliest appearances of hip-hop in the upper reaches of the pop charts.
"When we were about to do this particular song, I told my arranger to use her name as percussion," Mardin told NPR in 2005. "And I want love. I don't want any mention about hip-hop - my gold chain, you know, `I love you, Chaka. I love you.'" Still, the rap's best-known portion - a distinctive intro featuring Mel's voice stuttering Khan's name - happened by accident. "As we were mounting the recording onto the main master, my hand slipped on the repeat machine," Mardin explained. "So it happened to be, `Chaka-Chaka-Chaka-Chaka-Chaka-Chaka Khan,' and we said, `Let's keep that. That's very interesting.'"
Chaka's version of "I Feel for You" took home two Grammy Awards - one for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and another for Best R&B Song. (That trophy went to Prince, one of three Grammys he won that night.) And it would pay dividends in Chaka and Prince's relationship: he worked with her multiple times since, notably her 1998 album Come 2 My House, which he co-produced. "He was a genius," she later told the BBC. "It was amazing and I'm so thankful that I got to work with somebody who was so like-minded, musically."