“Ain’t Nobody” by Rufus & Chaka Khan (1983), Mary J. Blige (2011)

Here are a couple of random observations.

God damn, Chaka Khan is a hell of a singer. I know, Aretha’s great. You saw my last post: I love me some Reefa. But if we’re putting great female vocalists against one another (*yeah, I know) then I’d take Chaka and arguably Patti over Aretha. One thing that has always struck me about Chaka (even before I could articulate it) is her phrasing. She has an unusual syntax. She bends her words, extends her “r”s, slurs certain phrases for emphasis, and not because she’s drunk or high. Well, maybe that too. But still…

I found the clip at the bottom through Twitter yesterday and, holy shit. Chaka is 12 kinds of fucked up. But she still sounds divine.

Not _quite_ sure how “Ain’t Nobody” (which is a stone banger) wound up being billed as a “Rufus” song. There’s a little bit of electric guitar, I guess. But the song is pretty much all synths and Chaka. A member of Rufus, David “Hawk” Wolinski, was the composer, though. So maybe that’s it? Did you know that (and this may be apocryphal) Michael Jackson was offered “Ain’t Nobody” originally? I don’t hear him singing it, though…this song was tailor made for Chaka…

…and Mary, who is basically Chaka minus fifteen years and plus a lot of Oprah, Iyanla Vanzant, exile in Europe and plus rehab that actually took. Mary’s 2011 cover STOMPS. What I love about Mary (one of many things) is that when she’s really feeling a song, she vocalizes in such a way that makes me think she’s punching the song in the face. She clearly idolizes Chaka. The two have become quite close and recorded together multiple times. Aside from a modern-day synth arrangement (courtesy of Rodney Jerkins), Mary’s version isn’t a ton different until you get to the end, at which point MJB goes off into a stuttering, jazz-scatting freakout that completely personalizes her cover. They are both awesome and damn it, I’d love to see Mary and Chaka perform “Ain’t Nobody” together at some point.

NOT QUITE FIVE STARS

“Ain’t No Way” by Aretha Franklin (1968): Everything Aretha sung during her imperial phase (’67-’73 or so) was impeccably and soulfully performed, and when genius seems to come so easily to someone, listeners take it for granted. Like me. So an Aretha song-at least from this period-has to truly be a knockout to get that 5 star rating. Two things put “Ain’t No Way” over the top; neither of which actually has to do with the Queen herself.

1) Aretha’s underrated sister Carolyn (who also composed “Angel”, which is one of my top 3 Aretha tracks) wrote a hell of a fucking song.

2) Cissy Houston delivers the goods with her high-pitched warbling during the song’s…chorus? Hook? “Ain’t No Way” doesn’t really have either, so I don’t know what to call that part. It’s the key to the song, though. She sounds like Cissy The Soulful Ghost.

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