Total Pageviews

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Who Did It Better? I Feel For You

Who Did It Better? 
I Feel For You

Some songs are born before their time. Take today's Who Did It Better? selection, for example. It took five years for sound and song to sync up, creating a megahit for one lucky vocalist. In the five years that preceded her interpretation, three other artists, one of them the song's writer, all took a swing at it. 

But only one of the four had what it took to make it an international bestseller.

Let's take a look at a how they all compare.

--- ---

I Feel for You is a song written by Prince which originally appeared on his 1979 self-titled second album. 

He originally wrote it, along with what was to become his first major hit single, I Wanna Be Your Lover, for musician Patrice Rushen (Forget Me Nots.) However, she declined to record either of the songs, so, Prince recorded them for his own album, which was released in October of 1979.

In 1982, The Pointer Sisters were still working toward creating their breakout album. Now a trio, they'd been working with arranger/producer Richard Perry, successfully honing their sound, for a number albums, relying, in part, on his taste in music. Perry felt I Feel For You was a good fit for the ladies, so they recorded a version for their I'm So Excited! album. 

Rebbie Jackson, the eldest child in that fabled musical family, was in the process of putting together her debut album. I Feel For You was on the list and made the cut. Produced by Wayne Henderson, it was included on her 1984 album, Centipede

Enter Chaka Khan.

With Melle Mel, from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five laying down rhymes, Stevie Wonder on harmonica, and legendary producer Arif Mardin on board this recorded moment almost seemed too good to be true. Add to that a sample lifted from Wonder's 1963 hit Fingertips - and how could they possibly miss?

Included on Khan's 1984 album of the same name and released as a single, her version sold more than one million copies in the US and UK, helping to reestablish Khan as a certified hitmaker. It peaked at #3 in the US for three weeks - kept from the #1 slot by Prince's own Purple Rain and Wham!'s debut single, Wake Me Up Before You Go Go. It did, however,  manage to snag the #1 spot on both the US Dance and R&B charts. In the UK, it held down the #1 slot for three weeks in November of 1984. 

Khan's version of the song went on to win two Grammy Awards; for Best R&B Song and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.

Oh, and that distinctive signature opening?  Where Melle Mel repeats Khan's name over and over? Yeah. That was an accident, one committed by producer Arif Mardin. But he was so happy with the result? 

He kept it.

And that's the whole story.

Now? On to the competition.

The Song: I Feel For You
The Competitors: Prince vs. The Pointer Sisters vs. Jackson vs. Khan

I Feel For You - Prince

I Feel For You - The Pointer Sisters

I Feel For You - Rebbie Jackson

I Feel For You - Chaka Khan


So... that intro? 

Nothing I expected. 

It sounds like the morning theme for Wake Up, Cincinnati!

Yes, that is some cheesy stuff. 

And in comes Prince with his signature falsetto, multi-tracked, sounding... very much like Prince. The hand claps are fun.

That cheesy synth is killing this for me. I would love to hear a mix without it. And there is actually an acoustic mix that he recorded that was found in the vault and released (see below.)

Prince is in fine form. But between that cheesy synth and the one that sounds like an accordion taking focus on the chorus? 

By the way... if it sounds 'slight,' there are a number of reasons for that. 

First - it's 1979. Recording technology had only come so far. 

Second - everything you hear is Prince; he wrote, produced, and played all the instruments with a tiny bit of assistance from Bobby Z and Andre' Cymone.

Third - it was sort of a rush job! You see, Prince had spent twice what he was supposed to recording his debut album, For You. It failed to spin off a sizeable hit, so Warner Bros. wanted new product, quickly. This whole album was recorded in a couple of weeks time.

Now that I've equated that synth sound to a television show theme - that's all I hear. Especially on that instrumental bridge. It's a great song, though.

I love the 'whoah-a-whoah-a-whoah' build up. But then we get a flatulent sounding solo? I think it's an actual trumpet. Love the bass work. 

At the 2:30 mark? I'm done.

Oh, but then he goes and starts getting all creative. Very fun play out. 

Never doubt Prince.

Rather surprised this was not released as a single. It would have worked in 1979. 

Limited. A bit cheesy. But tasty.

Did you know that Chaka and Prince toured together at one point and would perform this as a duet?

You do now.

The Pointer Sisters

Well, the cheesiness factor has been kept in place. I was hoping for something with more bite. 

WOW. Who cares about that intro. Those ladies kill. Man, that is a gorgeous sound. LOVE the harmonies. So damn tight. 

Ruth is holding down the bottom. 

I have to say, I'm surprised by how common the arrangement sounds. Richard Perry typically brings a great deal of personal style to the proceedings. The ladies are carrying this on their own - and very well, I might add. 

I like the horn chart, but there's something about the mix that's not right. There's too much occasional conflict, too much competition. I think some elements in the arrangement need to excised and others knobbed a tad lower, so they support rather than overwhelm. 

And the instrumental break is just as cheesy as Prince's; yet another Top Of The Morning, Ohio theme song.

Considering the ladies can sing the phone book in three part harmony... why is there so much instrumental nonsense taking center stage? 

I'd rather hear them vocalize these instrumental parts than listen to these flat-ass synths. Perry, who is typically better than this, has relegated our dynamic trio to the role of back-up singers on their own damn album. 

Once again, the play out is fun - out of balance, but fun. I would have brought the ladies back into focus rather than that annoying synth. 

A missed opportunity.

Rebbie Jackson

Best intro so far... that's not saying much.

Way up tempo. Strips all the soulful R&B vibe out of it. It's too damn peppy.

So, Rebbie. Not much of a voice. Not a great deal of color to it, or shading. She doesn't purr. More like a squawk. 

She's cute on the chorus though. 'I think I love you.' 

I like the faux hand claps. The tempo is a bit breathless. The arrangement sure is bright. 

I do appreciate the cleanliness. But Rebbie does not possess the pipes to dig into this song.

Interesting vocal choices on the ramp up to the...

Guitar solo? Blink. Blink.

And boom. It's Late Night With Conan O'Brien.

Well, Rebbie will stand it for only so long. In she comes. All sorts of fun ideas. I'm not saying this is not without its charms. 

She reminds me very much of Vanity, of Vanity 6, Prince's girl group. Vanity was also his girlfriend and was supposed to be his co-star in Purple Rain, but... they had a fight, or something... maybe drugs? Anyway, she, too, had a very limited vocal range, with little color to her voice... so it makes sense that Wayne Henderson went this route.

It's cute. It sort of satisfies. 

Chaka Khan

Nope. Not breaking this one down. Sorry... it is such a classic. 

Like we didn't know how this was gonna go from the get go?

This sucker just rips.

Chaka is in such fine form here. And not so much a singer as... a force of nature.

The woman is the element of fire. She's an instrument, filling all space and time. 

Everything about this is jaw-droppingly amazing. The timing. The cuts. The beats. The mix

It's masterful, Arif Mardin at his best. A perfect marriage of of all the various elements. 

And so much fun. It's ageless. 

The Verdict

So, this was fun.

It was nice to trace this song's path.

I think The Pointer Sister's version is a missed opportunity. Those ladies are so deep and tight. With a funkier, sparser arrangement, and allowed to vocalize themselves into a frenzy, I think they could have had something there. I blame Perry, who played it too close to the original and didn't think outside the box. Prince had already moved on to far funkier sounds by 1982, so why Perry didn't pick up on that? Well, I have no clue. 

Prince's version sounds like something concocted in a bedroom studio. His one-man-band approach may have saved time and money, but it did not do justice to this song. His version sounds like a padded out demo.

And Rebbie? It's cute. Like Anita Ward's Ring My Bell is cute... until it becomes annoying and wears out its welcome. 

Chaka got the hit because Chaka's got 'it.' 

The woman, at that point in her career, simply blew other vocalists out of the water. Given the right material, arrangement and mix? Ain't nothin' she couldn't do. 

--- ---

And that's enough of me.

Okay, your turn. Leave your thoughts and choice in the comments section. Love to hear what you hear.

Until next time...

Thanks for reading... and listening!

I Feel For You - Chaka Khan

I Feel For You - Prince
(Acoustic Demo)


Mistress Maddie said...

Today and forever...Chaka Khan!!!! Hands down the best version....and her version can put me in such a good mood when I hear it. Great song.

whkattk said...

Don't care for any of them. But - forced to choose? Khan gets my nod.

Inexplicable DeVice said...

Totally agree: Chaka for the win! No contest.

(The synths on the others were excrutiating - I couldn't finish them)

Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Chaka. I love that song. She's, as you said, a force of nature. And the SOUNDS in that record! I feel like dancing, damnit!
I learned it was a Prince song when I got a collection of his hit and there it was! It's serviceable and we all know Prince should have revisited it.
The Pointer Sisters!