22: Chaka Khan – I Feel for You (1984)
“I Feel for You” is one of the best Prince covers – bested perhaps only by Sinead O’Connor’s shattering “Nothing Compares 2 U” – and also one of the least radical. It sounds like a Prince production, apes the subtle doubling of the vocals, keeps the melody more or less intact and hovers around the same BPM. But what a difference the boundless and lovable exuberance of Chaka Khan makes. From the soft-spoken lips of a 21-year-old Prince, a line like “I feel for you/ I think I love you” sounds like the awakening of an uncertain feeling. The then 31-year-old Khan sounds like she’s rejoicing in the sensation of love; she knows what’s stirring in her heart and is happy as hell about it.
And has anyone in music history embodied pure happiness more completely than Stevie Wonder? His harmonica is one of the great joyful sounds in music and it’s all over “I Feel for You,” flitting around like a moth drawn to the light. Even before Khan enters, “I Feel for You” is ecstatic. Most artists would be lucky to get one certified genius on their track, but here there are two: one writing, one playing. Khan, who didn’t write a whole ton of songs, doesn’t quite have the credentials for one to freely throw the word genius at her. But as a singer she goes beyond the call of duty and delivers a vocal take that bests pretty much anything by Wonder, if not quite Prince.
As if the all-star roster couldn’t get any more stacked, Grandmaster Melle Mel shows up, repeating Chaka’s name and talking about the PG-rated things he’d do to her. It’s the most dated part of the song, but at the time rapping was still relatively niche, and “I Feel for You” was no doubt one of the first rap songs a lot of listeners heard – or liked. He’s no fly in the ointment, however, and his turn remains kind of endearing. Unlike later rap songs that would pit male and female artists against each other or exploit their sexual chemistry, the MC’s role here is sweet and guileless: he expresses the same puppy love for Chaka that Chaka does for the object of her affection. Everything about this song radiates benevolence. – Daniel Bromfield
21: New Order – Blue Monday (1983)
I have a theory that the path to success in the music industry is either selling your soul to the devil (I’m looking at you Red Hot Chili Peppers), or successfully covering a New Order song. Think about all the great New Order covers you’ve heard. If you really want to make your mark, cover “Blue Monday,” the best-selling 12” single of all time. Orgy did it in the nineties and are still closing sets with it to this day. Goth band Lætherstrip also covered it, nearly true to its form, and Flunk, a Norwegian electronic band you’ve likely never heard of, also covered it, though mostly acoustically. But guess why I know of all these bands?
Because New Order is fucking awesome. “Blue Monday” exemplifies their craft, making a song that is both challenging at times – with 16th-note kick drum and alternating 16th-note snare fills peppered throughout the song – and easy, with four-on-the-floor shuffling, dance-worthy grace. A melancholy verse (there are no choruses!) allows you to brood while swirling on the dancefloor, elated with how positively moving the minor keyboard lead line is. Thrumming underneath is an electronic bassline that at the very least results in a head bob, if not a full-blown rump-shake. The moves are up to you, really. Peter Hook adds his signature lead-bass, lending the song a universal appeal. It’s one that would go over well in even the spookiest of nightclubs across the planet. Or an ‘80s nightclub. Or a house party. Or a rave. Hell… it’s relevant everywhere and that is what makes this song so great.
Again, we have this British dichotomy of sad-song-lyrics with happy-move-your-feet music. The music is just so… festive! Of course, New Order has the most cred with this, having risen from the ashes of the entirely depressing Joy Division experience (short story: the singer killed himself). On paper, the lyrics are sharp and cold: “But if it wasn’t for your misfortune, I’d be a heavenly person today”. In practice, vocalist Bernard Sumner delivers them flatly and deadpan.
“Blue Monday” was written to be an encore and New Order is still to this day using it as such. Peter Hook – in his solo act – also breaks this out when he needs a win. And from personal experience, I can say that “Blue Monday” is a rock-solid closer to a fantastic set, whoever plays it. – Cedric Justice