On June 15, 2014, Casey Kasem, host of the longtime countdown program, AMERICAN TOP 40, passed away at the age of 82. From my first blog post (and prolly some more inbetween then and now), I explained how, in 1979, I was a geeky, lanky and somewhat lost 12-year-old living in Central Maine, had a few friends and not a lot of interest in much of anything, but at some point early that year, I discovered AMERICAN TOP 40, and was glued to it every weekend. Not only could I hear the 40 biggest songs in the country every week, but also Casey’s cool trivia and facts about the songs and the artists, a trait I treasure to this day. For me, the show was No. 1 with a bullet. And still is (thanks to the re-airing of broadcasts of AT40 on iHeart Radio).
In honor of my radio hero, Casey Kasem, for the entire month of June, I will be highlighting a song each day (some days will have two songs!) that peaked in the Top 40 of the BILLBOARD Hot 100 (including five (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s), and with every blog post, just like on AMERICAN TOP 40, the hits will get bigger with each post. On June 1, 2017, I featured a song that peaked at No. 40. On June 30, I’ll feature a “song of the day” that went all the way to No. 1.
As Casey used to say on AT40, “And on we go!”
I’ve known one Rufus in my lifetime, and that was a sweet dog (a black Lab?) who was the face at one of my early hangouts when I first moved to Portland, Maine in 1994 – Java Joe’s. Like myself, Java Joe’s has long been removed from Maine’s largest city, though I do love to visit the Forest City when I can.
When I was first introduced to Rufus & Chaka Khan, it wasn’t because of their first (and biggest) Top 40 hit, 1974’s “Tell Me Something Good” (written by Stevie Wonder), it was because of their last Top 40 hit – “Ain’t Nobody.”
For the longest time – and this still makes me laugh – I always thought Rufus & Chaka Khan were a married couple. I didn’t know until much later that Rufus was actually a Funk band out of Chicago, and Chaka Khan was their lead singer.
The band had formed in 1968, but by 1978, tensions were pretty high between the members of Rufus and their lead singer, who was becoming increasingly popular. In 1983, they released one final album together – a (mostly) live double-album (and ultimate documentary) called STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY.
There were four new studio tracks (led by Chaka Khan) included with the live set, and two of those were released as singles. The first single released was “Ain’t Nobody.” At the same time, a producer for a new film, BREAKIN’ (a film based around the popular breakdance craze), had heard the song and eventually put the song in the film and on the soundtrack.
Well, talk about going out on top. After years of declining record sales and issues between the band and Chaka Khan, “Ain’t Nobody” turned out to be a great hit, and was released shortly after STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY hit the record stores (as they used to say back in the day).
“Ain’t Nobody” debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 on the first day of October 1983, way down at No. 91 (and there were three more debut songs under that!). For the song’s first six chart weeks, this Funk gem steadily rose up the Hot 100, and in its seventh chart week, blasted onto the Top 40, moving from 43-29. It was already Rufus & Chaka Khan’s highest-charting single since 1975’s Top 5 hit, “Sweet Thing.”
In a weird chart quirk, “Ain’t Nobody” stayed at No. 29 the following week, but starting moving back up the week after. In December 1983, it spent three weeks at its peak position of No. 22 and departed the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in mid-February 1984 after 19 weeks.
Over on BILLBOARD’s R&B chart, “Ain’t Nobody” became the band’s fifth and final No. 1 song, and though it only spent a week at No. 1 there, it was that chart’s sixth-biggest song of 1983. On BILLBOARD’s Dance chart, it reached No. 6.
Around the globe, “Ain’t Nobody” was a somebody in the U.K., where it reached No. 8, and a No. 36 chart peak in the Netherlands. A 1989 remix of “Ain’t Nobody” took the song to new heights around the globe, reaching No. 6 in the U.K., No. 8 in Ireland, No. 9 in Germany, and as part of the entire LIFE IS A DANCE: THE REMIX PROJECT album, it reached No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart.
NERDY FUN FACT: David “Hawk” Wolinski, who wrote “Ain’t Nobody,” had threatened to give the song to Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones (who really wanted the song) if the band’s label, Warner Bros., didn’t release it as the first single.
I’ll never understand why these recording acts always had to fight with the record labels for what they believed in! I’d like to think this kind of shite still doesn’t happen, but at the very least, it’s a whole different ball game now, and more people than evah are releasing their own music, and on their own terms, which I think is fan-fucking-tastic!
After winning a Grammy Award for “Ain’t Nobody” in 1984, Chaka Khan and Rufus went their separate ways, but the legacy of “Ain’t Nobody” lives on 33 years later. It’s been covered an incredible amount of times, including covers by the likes of George Michael (on his 1991 “Cover To Cover” tour), Amii Stewart, Klymaxx, LL Cool J (for the funny 1996 film, BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD DO AMERICA), Peabo Bryson, KT Tunstall and Mary J. Blige.
In 2015, a German music producer and DJ by the name of Felix Jaehn released a cover, featuring young British vocalist by the name of Jasmine Thompson, and the song was called “Ain’t Nobody (Loves Me Better).” And throughout the globe outside of North America, people did love it better than the original. It reached No. 1 in at least eight countries, and the Top 10 in at least another 12.
My favorite cover is actually part of a “pseudo mashup” by U.K. producer and remixer Richard X, with vocals by the English-Irish Pop group, Liberty X. They used a sample of The Human League’s “Being Boiled” against a cover of “Ain’t Nobody,” and called it, appropriately enough, “Being Nobody.” It was (and still is) brilliant, and was a Top 10 hit in the U.K. and Ireland in 2003.
A couple of years before that, when my STUCK IN THE 80s radio show on WMPG-FM was just five years old, I did a countdown of the BEST 100 SONGS OF THE 80s, getting feedback from listeners, station volunteers and folks in the College Music industry (it was also my first year of 10 as WMPG Music Director). “Ain’t Nobody” came in at No. 20 and that ranking surprised me the most out of any other on the list.
Over time, I realized that ranking shouldn’t surprise me. It’s an incredible song, and though it came at the end of a creative union between a well-respected Funk band and one of the best R&B and Dance singers ever, ain’t nobody gonna tell me that “Ain’t Nobody” doesn’t mean anything in the history of Funk and Dance and R&B and Pop. Because it does.
“And now we’re flyin’ through the stars / I hope this night will last forever…”