‘Tell Me Something Good’ was the song that became a breakthrough hit for the band Rufus and Chaka Khan – which not only put them on the map of the 1970s music scene – but marked the beginning of a strong and successful career for the band and later, for Khan as a solo artist. Rufus and Chaka Khan were one of the most sought after funk bands of the ’70s, and, remarkably enough, they are going strong still in their respective avenues.
Released in 1974 as part of their album Rags to Rufus, the song was witness to multiple unique events that helped it attain its well-earned stature. Chaka Khan’s voice, of course, being one of the most visible out of all of them, and rightfully so, and we’ll go into more of that later. But first, a little more detail on how the song came into being.
It’s a rare occurrence, to say the least. The song was actually the creation of none other than one of the most popular and influential singer-songwriters of all time, Stevie Wonder. So, how did it become a Rufus and Khan song, you might be thinking? Well, easy. Wonder simply gave it to them. Evidently, Khan’s vocals had quite an effect on Wonder, who was already a fan of their work. Khan, too, was a Stevie Wonder admirer. So, in hindsight, it was only natural that a collaboration of this sort was to occur since both parties were clearly up for it. The two worked on the song together, with Wonder giving pointers to Khan on how to sing certain parts of the song, which would make it stand out more.
The second unique element in the song was the use of the talkbox, which was used to create the warped refrain of “tell me” to go with the chorus of the song. ‘Tell Me Something Good’ was one of the earliest songs to use the talkbox as a key element of the song as a whole. Tony Maiden was the uncredited personnel who worked behind producing the distorted sound through the talk box.
And with that, we come back to the focus of this feature – the isolated vocals of Rufus and Chaka Khan in ‘Tell Me Something Good’. The lead singer of the band, Chaka Khan’s voice on this song was a combination of sultry and animated. Starting the song on an off-beat rhythm, her articulations were perfectly timed, with each word fitting immaculately into the scope of each bar. She hit the high notes and the lows with utmost precision and ended each line by drawing out the last words in her rich, melodious voice. The song was completed by the breathy “ooh-ooh-aah” adorning the background of the chorus and the backing vocals harmonizing in the line “tell me something good”. Khan belted out a ravishing and climactic high note at the end of the song – a true testament of her ability as not only a singer but an R&B artist as well. With vocals like this, no wonder she earned her title as the Queen of Funk.
Listen to the isolated vocals of Rufus and Chaka Khan on ‘Tell Me Something Good’ below.