There were few funkier or more soulful bands in the 1970s and ‘80s than Rufus, the Chicago collective that brought Chaka Khan to prominence. Over a decade or so of recording and performing, the band notched no fewer than five R&B No. 1s, a host of other memorable singles and albums, and set their lead singer on the road to solo glory. Our new playlist celebrates Rufus & Chaka Khan In 20 Songs.
Evolving from members of the rock group American Breed, and first known as Smoke and then Ask Rufus, the band had something of a false start after signing to the ABC label. 1973’s ‘Rufus’ album showcased their fine musicianship and Khan’s majestic vocals, on some new songs by keyboardist Ron Stockert and guitarist Al Ciner and outside material. But it failed to excite a wide audience, with a cover of Allen Toussaint’s ‘Whoever’s Thrilling You (Is Killing Me)’ just grazing the top 40 of the R&B chart.
It was a different story with the 1974 follow-up ‘Rags To Rufus,’ which made the top five of both the soul and pop charts and gave the band two major hit singles. Their irresistible version of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Tell Me Something Good,’ which hit No. 3 on both charts, kicks off our playlist and is followed by the R&B No. 1 ‘You Got The Love.’ After those two platforms for Khan’s extraordinary vocal power, we’ve included the album’s title track instrumental to emphasise their multi-instrumental dexterity.
‘Rufusized,’ released just seven months later, continued the success, with the propulsive hit ‘Once You Get Started’ complemented by the reflective follow-up ‘Please Pardon Me (You Remind Me Of A Friend).’ They also made a great job of covering Bobby Womack’s ‘Stop On By.’
As Khan established herself as one of America’s leading soul vocalists, the next album title, ‘Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan,’ reflected her growing fame. It gave them another R&B chart-topper in ‘Sweet Thing’ and contained a lesser-known but suitably funky cover of the Bee Gees’ ‘Jive Talkin.’’
Where those last three albums were all certified gold in the US, ‘Ask Rufus’ did even better by going platinum, and delivering their latest soul bestseller in ‘At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up). Further hits followed with ‘Hollywood’ and ‘Everlasting Love,’ by a group who made an effortless transition into the disco era without compromising their great musicality.
‘Street Player,’ another gold-seller in 1978, included the top three soul nugget ‘Stay,’ but came in the year that Khan, inevitably, embarked on a solo career. Her ‘Chaka’ album got that off to a great start with the signature Ashford & Simpson composition ‘I’m Every Woman.’
Rufus, unsurprisingly, saw their success shrink without Chaka, at least with 1979’s ‘Numbers.’ But Khan had not deserted them for good, and after that first solo sojourn, returned to the fold for the ‘Masterjam’ LP, later the same year. Sure enough, normal service was resumed: it made the R&B album summit and produced yet another soul No. 1 in ‘Do You Love What You Feel,’ credited to Rufus & Chaka.
For a while, Khan maintained both sides of her career: she scored a second R&B winner in her own name with 1981’s ‘What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me,’ thus being absent from Rufus’ ‘Party ‘Til You’re Broke’ set that year. But she was back again before the end of ’81 for their ‘Camouflage’ album.
Rufus ended their studio story with an 11th and final long-player, ‘Seal In Red,’ in 1983, but just six months later, there was a fitting postscript in the ‘Stompin’ At The Savoy — Live’ double album. Three sides of the record were taped at a show the year before at the famous New York venue, but side four contained new studio recordings, one of which, ‘Ain’t Nobody,’ became both an apt farewell for Rufus and another of Khan’s career highlights.
She focused on her solo years in full from 1984’s ‘I Feel For You’ onwards, landing a worldwide chart-topper in the title track Prince cover, featuring Melle Mel rapping her name and Stevie Wonder adding superb harmonica detail. That smash hit concludes our 20-track celebration of a wonderful lead singer and a tremendous band.