What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me

Chaka Khan

Warner Brothers, 1981


REVIEW BY: Mark Millan


In the early part of the 1980s Chaka Khan was juggling her fledgling solo career with her duties as vocalist (by now mainly on the road only) with funk outfit Rufus. Khan’s first two solo albums, Chaka and Naughty released in 1978 and 1980, respectively, not only cemented her reputation among the R&B/funk audiences as supremely innovative and charismatic singer but saw a wider audience thanks to those records producing hit singles “I’m Every Woman,” “Life Is A Dance,” and “Papillon (Aka Hot Butterfly).”

Khan again teamed up with famed producer Arif Mardin, who had produced her first two records, as well as a ton of material for artist including the Bee Gees, Diana Ross, and Aretha Franklin. The pair got to work with a small core group of session players knocking out these eleven tracks during 1980. That group consisted of Anthony Jackson (bass) and Steve Ferrone (drums) along with guitarists David Williams and Hamish Stuart and the amazing masterful Larry Williams on synths, sax, flute, and keyboards. Several skilled hands were added, as two of the tracks here were recorded at outside sessions. Thankfully, the album is seamlessly put together by Mardin and was perfectly mixed. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

By this time, Khan was pushing 40 and had really come into her own as a singer, now using her full range and even crooning at times over the updated synth-laden sounds the guys were cooking up for her. A perfect example of this is the exquisite “Night Moods,” which finds Khan using her smoky lower register over a stripped-down rhythm track and lush strings. It’s a wonderfully sensual track and a nice change of pace from the vibrant funk jams that largely make up the record.

The title track was the first single put out and was written by Ned Doheny and Hamish Stuart of the Average White Band. The guys released their original version on the Sine LP from the previous year. Khan’s version is a somewhat restrained but funky cut, although it’s not among the strongest on the record. Much better is the Khan/Mardin original “I Know You, I Live You” that is steaming with a killer bassline, funkified synths, and punchy horns. This is immediately followed by Khan’s soulful take on The McCrarys’ “Any Given Sunday;” her layered harmonies over the easy groove are sublime.

The album’s most stunning experiment is the mash-up of Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Paparelli’s “A Night In Tunisia,” for which Khan and Mardin penned the lyrics and employed the likes of David Foster, Abraham Laboreil, Herbie Hancock, and Gillespie himself to bring the jazz/synth/funk fusion to life. Elsewhere, there is an amazing cover of The Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out,” a Rufus-style stomper “We Got Each Other” (which Khan co-wrote and featuring a great vocal by Mark Stevens), and the cult disco hero “Fate,” most famously sampled by Stardust for their hit “Music Sounds Better With You.”

What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me remains one of the great funk/soul albums of the ‘80s and one of Khan’s strongest albums to date Her vocals here are off the chain and mainstream success, it turned out, was only around the corner with 1984’s mammoth I Feel For You.

Rating: A-

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