Naughty is Chaka Khan's greatest album.
Daryl Easlea 2009-03-24
Naughty is Chaka Khan's greatest album. She may have had better individual tracks elsewhere in her career (Tell Me Something Good, for instance), but as a piece, this is a marvellous capture of the sound of funky New York at the turn of the 80s. Using the cream of the city's session players and produced by Arif Mardin, Naughty, her second solo release, is a funky, focused work.
The supporting cast is stellar, reading like a 80s soul aficionado's dream team. A young Whitney Houston sings with her mother, Cissy, members of the Average White Band and bassist Marcus Miller are all here, for starters. The presence and influence of Luther Vandross, then in his ascendancy after his early false solo-start, can be heard on the vocal arrangements. It all adds to the sophisticated sheen of Naughty. But it is unmistakably Khan's album. Even the best material here may have been rendered bland without her passionate, fiery vocals illuminating it.
Her dramatic reading of Ashford and Simpson's Clouds whets the appetite for the feast that follows. The stand-out track had actually been sung by Luther Vandross at a session a couple of years previously as part of Gregg Diamond's Bionic Boogie Band. Khan's take on Papillion (a.k.a. Hot Butterfly) adds appropriate grit to the smooth soul classic. The rock touches on Too Much nods to her best work with Rufus, while her version of Dionne Warwick's hit Move Me No Mountain certainly caught the ear of a young Jazzie B, who later took it into the UK Top 40 with Soul II Soul.
Naughty can be seen as the album that finally established Chaka Khan as a fully-fledged solo artist, able to cut the cord from Rufus, the group which had made her name. Her greatest commercial successes, Ain't Nobody and I Feel For You were just a few years ahead of her.