Thumb through random stacks of 45s long enough and you might just come across this surprising b-side to Rufus featuring Chaka Khan’s exquisite down-tempo classic Sweet Thing. Circles is at once an infectiously groovy dance tune, a vocal calling card for the fully-evolved Chaka Khan and possibly Rufus’ (the band’s) creative and recording peak. The single was released in 1975, two years after their masterful debut, Rufus, and yet the band’s best work had, in my humble opinion, already been laid down on wax at the time of its release. While Sweet Thing is an unfolding ‘slow jam’ in the classic sense, Circles pretty much begins and ends with the same vigor and driving pace that makes its just-shy-of four minute length pass all too quickly.
There’s some eerie foreshadowing of Grace Jones’ My Jamaican Guy, but that’s likely a tasty coincidence. The instrumentation is clever and catchy and the melodies are just sophisticated enough to forgive the perfunctory strings that persist throughout the track. If the strings contribute to/detract from the recording in any way it’s probably only to date the song, anchoring it forever to the oft-over-produced mid-seventies. But they’re no deal-killer–the track works perfectly. It’s a wonder that ABC didn’t promote it more heavily in the dance market or, if they did, why it never completely took off like their later disco-esque numbers. | c.1975; ABC Records; ABC-12149