Chaka Khan’s So Naughty is an absolute dream for 1980s session musician nerds – the credits read like a roll call of the greatest studio players (and singers) to have ever graced vinyl: Mike & Randy Brecker, Steve Khan, Hamish Stuart, Steve Ferrone, Don Grolnick, Phil Upchurch, Luther Vandross and even a 16 year old Whitney Houston.
We haven’t even discussed the album’s low-end contributors: Anthony Jackson, Willie Weeks, Mark Stevens (Chaka’s brother) and Marcus Miller. Not too shabby.
Fans of Anthony Jackson will know how important Naughty is in the history of bass playing, but the efforts of a 21-year old Marcus Miller on ‘So Naughty’ are definitely worth a look too. Things start in typical Marcus fashion, with a simple slap and pop octave pattern that is reminiscent of his line on the chorus of Bill Withers’ ‘Just The Two Of Us’. In the verse he switches gears, changing to fingerstyle and delivering a busy, syncopated and melodic bass line that ends in unison with the synth on bars 3 and 7.
The chorus revisits the octave pattern from the intro and embellishes it with a prominent triplet fill in the fourth bar (best performed with a fingerstyle raking motion).
The middle 8 section features a sparse, tight fingerstyle line that doubles the synth part, while Marcus introduces and then develops a new groove underneath Michael Brecker’s reverb-drenched sax solo, creating interest and introducing subtle variations in his part without overplaying or stealing the limelight.
Marcus’ tone on this sounds like his classic ‘80s session sound – passive Fender Jazz with both on full volume and roundwond strings to provide plenty of ‘spank’ (that’s a technical term) for the slapped parts.