Curbside Jukebox: The Cars Of Rufus & Chaka’s Masterjam – Do You Love What You Feel?

Rufus & Chaka Khan "Masterjam" album cover, as sourced from the internet.

A few weeks ago, I had made reference to having owned one of those plastic, two-tone, beige and brown record players made by Fisher-Price, when I was a kid.  I had a few toys that were reasonable facsimiles of things used by adults, but some of them were really special to me, as they were realistic and actually functioned in the same manner as the objects they were modeled after.  Around kindergarten age, I had a hand-operated kitchen mixer with working beaters that operated just like the one my mom used to prepare Jiffy corn muffin mix.  I had wanted to be a cook or a chef as my very first desired occupation.

Another toy I treasured was a sewing machine I owned around age 8.  I had been allowed to sew things on my mom’s “big” sewing machine in my early elementary school years until one day when I was in the third grade.  I had raised up the main, upper part of the sewing machine to change the bobbin below, when the entire thing came back down on my hand, chopping off a large chunk of one fingernail.  It hurt and bled, and of course I cried (it could have been much worse), but it made for a cool story to tell my classmates – that is, before I was falsely led to believe that boys weren’t supposed to sew.

Fisher-Price turntable record player picture, as sourced from the internet.

Some toys and things got taken away from me as my parents tried to butch me up in my early, formative years.  My dad explained to me much later before he passed away that he was simply worried about what a hard life I might have had absent some more “masculine” interests and qualities, or that I would become a target of the ill intent of certain kinds of people.  Dad was born in the 1920s (he was literally old enough to have been my grandfather) and in a foreign country, and raised in yet another non-U.S. culture.  I later grew to understand that this was the place where he was coming from, and not necessarily one of judgement, bigotry, and/or being ashamed of me.  Ultimately, I feel that my father understood me on at least a few significant levels, and I loved him very much.

My parents did embrace my budding love of cars, but one other toy that neither parent seemed to have any problem with was my affection for the Fisher-Price turntable I shared with my younger brother.  He and I ended up collecting a small cache of LPs that we would often play at high volume, sometimes even on Saturday mornings, much to the chagrin of our older brother whose bedroom was directly below ours.

"Mickey Mouse Disco" album cover, as sourced from the internet.

My little brother and I had only children’s records, like Mickey Mouse Disco (one I still love to this day), a Fat Albert album, “The Piggy Polka”, and many others like it.  We weren’t allowed any popular music at that young age, which was probably okay, as I am very much a lyrics-minded person today and some words to the songs I still groove to are not necessarily things I’d feel comfortable hearing repeated from the mouths of my young nephews and nieces.  My mom listened exclusively to contemporary Christian and gospel music from artists like Amy Grant, the Imperials, and Sandi Patty, with their output sounding very often like alternate-universe mainstream pop music that was on the radio at that time.

Secular music was spiritually and morally beneath my mother, and my dad didn’t seem to care about music that much, outside of a few west African highlife LPs they had in their collection.  Thank goodness for my older brother and the records he brought home and played on the hi-fi in the living room, with the music of many of those artists still eliciting fond memories in me to this day.  I state all of this to provide some contextual background for what would eventually blossom into an interest I became truly passionate about as an adult, which is the collection and cataloguing of my vast music library, which is almost exclusively on physical media and more specifically, on compact discs.

I do currently own some vinyl, though, and while I do not presently own a turntable, I have occasionally displayed the cover artwork from some of those LPs as framed art in my living space.  One such album that has remained on my wall for the better part of the year is Masterjam from 1979 by Rufus & Chaka Khan, an album I discovered in its entirety maybe five years ago.  In most any kind of place I’ve ever been to with a jukebox or streaming music service, one of the artists that pretty much everyone can agree on is Chaka Khan.  It still irks me just a little bit that the only song that many people seem to be able to identify with her is the multi-format smash and million-selling single “I Feel For You” from 1984.  That song and parent album are brilliant, but these days, I’m much more into her work with funk band Rufus from the 1970s.  I recently hunted down a used copy of 1977’s Ask Rufus, a masterpiece that I’ve been listening to a lot of this year.

The very first Rufus album I owned, however, was Masterjam.  It’s a Quincy Jones production through and through, and it has all the hallmarks of that maestro’s work of that late-’70s period: the dynamic bass lines, punchy strings, and jaunty, polyrhythmic percussion.  This set combines so many things I love: Ms. Khan’s expressive vocals, Mr. Jones’ spirited production style, and the band’s down-to-earth songwriting and tight playing.  Maybe only a couple of months ago, this album’s cover caught my eye in its frame in my foyer and pulled me in for closer examination.  The jubilation in the faces of this multi-racial band as they run in the middle of the street toward the camera is infectious.  It makes me wonder what they were saying to each other, or hearing from the art director of this photo shoot.  Despite the internal struggles happening within this group at the time, one could never tell it from this picture.

Late 1970s-era Alfa Romeo Spider

The second thing I noticed was the cars that were parked on the street… and what a collection.  On the far left is a car that, initially, I had believed for a long time to be an MGB.

1977 Alfa Romeo print ad, as sourced from the internet.

Taking a closer look, I was able to identify it as a mid- / late-1970s Alfa Romeo Spider.  Its visible tunneled headlamp didn’t look quite like that of an MGB, so my second guess was going to be a Jensen-Healey, but there was no trapezoidal turn signal in the bumper.  The pair of horizontal creases on the body side gave it away, once I blew up the cover photo artwork.

1979 Pontiac Grand Prix & 1976 - '77 Ford Capri II

Behind the group are a then-new, ’79 Pontiac Grand Prix and a 1976 or ’77 (Ford) Capri II.  The model year of the GP was identifiable by the cross-hatch pattern of the front grille, with both the ’78 and ’80 models sporting grilles with a vertical bar texture.

The ’79 Grand Prix was still a very popular car in the second year of its downsizing, with over 210,000 units sold.  This number represented only an 8% drop in sales from the year before, so there was no sophomore slump for this personal luxury midsizer.

1976 (Ford) Capri II print ad, as sourced from the internet.

As for the Capri II, there were only a total of around 111,000 sold in the United States for the four calendar years starting in 1975 as early ’76 models.  (Compare this with the 113,000 Capris sold in the U.S. for just calendar year 1973, at the peak of its popularity here.)  Still, any Capri seems to have been a fairly omnipresent sight by the late ’70s, with many Capri IIs seen in traffic in many of the TV shows I still view from that era.  My second guess about the silver car on the album cover was going to be a Volkswagen Scirocco, but the proportions and tall greenhouse seem more like that of the imported Ford.  The taillamps are similar between both cars, at least from a distance and blurred as they are in this LP cover photo.

1968 Pontiac Catalina

The car on the right looks to be a ’68 Pontiac Catalina hardtop coupe, which was the second-most popular configuration of this model that year, at 92,000 units.  The most popular Catalina for ’68 was the non-hardtop four-door sedan, with 94,000 units sold.

1968 Pontiac Catalina brochure photo.

The overall Catalina sales total for ’68 was 276,000, so the two-door hardtop accounted for a solid third of total production.  That there were two Pontiacs in this frame that were separated by a decade speaks to the popularity of that make for so much of the second half of the last century.

The collection of physical media can present its own challenges related to space and storage, but there’s something so satisfying to me about taking a CD out of its case, placing it into the tray of my stereo system, and pressing “play” on the remote before looking through the pictures and reading the liner notes in the accompanying booklet.  Even though I have everything backed up digitally, I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of my music collection, barring some unforeseeable circumstances.

I realize this may put me into the same category as some of my former grammar school teachers who used to make me snicker when they would reference their vinyl LP collections, but I’m completely unashamed to want the actual object in my hand for the time I take to make my selections and for the money I spend.  There’s something irreplaceable in the tangible experiences of playing music.  In response to the question posed by the big, Billboard number one R&B smash hit off Masterjam, “Do You Love What You Feel?”, my answer is an emphatic yes.

Everything here but my own words was as sourced from the internet.