Quincy Jones has been on my mind a lot lately when thinking about music. Last week in fact,my friend Henrique pointed out something he read on the back of a vinyl album about how important Quincy was to the jazz world in general. And this was at the height of his career no less. From being mentored by Clark Terry in the 1940’s up to helping shape up and coming hip-hoppers 60 years later,the evolutionary nature of Quincy’s career had me wondering how to present his music here today. The question was would it be good to express that musical arc by overviewing several songs from several decades,or focus on one song that might tell it’s own kind of story about Quincy Jones.
Last year at this time,I posted up an older review I had done for the 1981 Quincy Jones release of The Dude. Albums released under his own name always had a specific flavor to them. For example,his early albums showcased him largely as an instrumental band leader. His releases since the 70’s have generally been showcases not only for his evolving production approach,but also with the different musicians and vocalists he was involved with or mentoring at the given time. In the case of this early 80’s album,the spotlight was on James Ingram and Patti Austin. And the title track of the album said so much about where the classic Quincy Jones sound was going to be at that time.
A pulsing,nasal synthesizer starts off the song before the drums and horns kick in. This is accompanied by opening backup that includes Syreeta Wright and Michael Jackson among a massive chorus. The horns lead into a stripped down percussion break that’s accented by a slow crawling drum beat-over which a bluesy Fender Rhodes plays the lead keyboard line accented by Louis Johnson’s slap bass lines. The refrains start off with Austin and Ingram trading off vocals along. with Michael Boddicker’s Vocoder. Quincy himself provides a rap as the title character on several choruses after which the horns the male backup singers provide an accompanying chorus.
On the third of these choruses, the backup chorus led along by Austin sings a swinging variation of the chorus. Steve Luckather comes in to play a wah wah pedal heavy guitar line that mimics the low volume,bluesy solo on the Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer that comes out of Stevie Wonder on the bridge,which basically repeats the melodic theme of the refrain. After this the fanfarring horns that generally introduce Quincy raps instead segues into Austin’s swinging vocal choruses. There’s a repeat of the refrain after this. And the song fades out on a repeat of the chorus. Only on this one,Ingram accentuates the lyrics vocally before the song comes to an end.
Getting back to Quincy’s varied musical career,there are many qualities in this song that sum up everything he had done in his then nearly four decades of creative activity. The classic Westlake studio crew including drummer John Robinson,percussionist Paulinho Da Costa,trumpeter/arranger Jerry Hey and of course Louis Johnson play on this number. On the surface,this song written with Patti Austin and Rod Temperton has that sleek west coast production matched with the deep funk groove Quincy had been perfecting over much of the 1970’s. On that level,it’s alternately stripped down and boisterous depending on the mood the song is trying to project at a given time.
On the broader level,this song totally epitomizes the musical evolution of Quincy thus far. The accessory vocal harmonies on the chorus reflect the big band swing era as do the horns. And Stevie Wonder’s synth solo additionally brings the flavor of the blusiness that came from jazz to rock ‘n roll and onto funk and soul as well. The character of “The Dude”,represented as a stone sculpture on the cover and later to become Quincy’d mascot for his media production company,is basically an elder statesmen whose philosophy could be summed up by him stating “don’t put your moth around a check that your body can’t cash”. In this instance for me,this is Quincy’s most defining song overall up to this point.
Filed under 1980's, big band swing, blues funk, Fender Rhodes, horns, James Ingram, Jerry Hey, John Robinson, Louis Johnson, Michael Jackson, Patti Austin, Paulinho Da Costa, percussion, Quincy Jones, QWest, rap, Rod Temperton, slap bass, Steve Luckather, Stevie Wonder, synthesizer, Uncategorized, vocoder, wah wah guitar, West Coast
Beyonce’ is figure who,interestingly enough has spawned a surprising amount of controversy and downright hostility in a specific circle around me. Having had little luck relating musically to my peers in the past? It has continued to be my mother and father who remain my main guides in terms of music. Beyonce’ represents a point where that began to change. For their part? My parents are not Beyonce’ fans. She has provoked far more dislike from them than Prince ever did during his prime. My father seems to see her as unimaginative and uninteresting. Whereas my mother views her as nothing more than a performing prostitute-someone sacrificing their very real talent merely to make a quick buck and get attention. At first I was completely with them on that. And truthfully? I still feel those are valid points. Yet Beyonce’ is a character with more to her than her flamboyant onstage persona would suggest.
The most obvious element for an instrumentally inclined music lover about Beyonce’s sound would be the fact that so much of her music is rather non Western based rhythmically. From her years in Destiny’s Child on through her solo career,songs such as “Jumpin’,Jumpin”,”Survivor” and “Naughty Girl” were based in an Arabic sound while “Get Me Bodied” and “Single Ladies” admittedly were inspired by the Nigerian Highlife sound of Fela Kuti. In short,Beyonce’s sound is very ethnically Afrocentric. That’s of course taken outside the contemporary production settings of the given songs. By embracing many elements of her African (not merely African American) roots,yet embracing some of the nastier elements of modern American performance ethic? She has got many people talking-some in a positive way and some not. The song I am discussing today found Beyonce’ in another sort of groove. It is her song “Love On Top” from her 2011 album 4.
She begins with a finger snapping vocalese of “ba,ba,ba,da,ba,ba ba”,accompanied by both a high pitched keyboard melody and,just as the song is joined by an sizzling bass synthesizer Beyonce frankly asks to “bring the beat in!” The beat in question is very much a slow,slogging type of funk drumming with a similar attitude to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. At the same time,a chunky and solid guitar line shows up playing a lowly mixed yet sonically powerful and funky lead line. Beyonce meanwhile is singing of a relationship that’s matured to the point where the love grows stronger after conflict and may inspire others-so long as she has her “love on top”. The high pitched synthesizer melody,its accompanying keyboard accents and the bass keyboard line all support the main guitar riff. And that maintains itself throughout the song. Its Beyonce’s vocals that provide the majority of chordal changes. That is,until the final refrain when the instrumentation all climbs up a whole chord until the song comes to a stop.
The uptown,funky urban bump of the song was said to have been inspired by Michael Jackson’s late 70’s/early 80’s sound when working with Quincy Jones and his Westlake studio crew. While I can hear that to a degree? Somehow I feel that may have been just a little bit of a patronizing gesture to certain contemporary music listeners who are perceived to have not developed an ear for listening to music of that era. From the first time I ever heard this song? First thing I thought of was George Benson’s “Turn Your Love Around”-with that R&B rhythm shuffle. That Quincy/Westlake production style of the post disco years was widely influential on many people. And when I hear this? The post disco/boogie oriented sound with that production sheen about it instantly bought to mind just how spacious that studiocentric soul/funk-pop sound became during the early 80’s. This level of funk sophistication was something I’d never really heard out of Beyonce’-who usually went (and often still goes) for rhythmic excitement over instrumental cleanliness. This is a sound the Crusaders first perfected,Quincy’s Westlake crew managed to cross over and has become part of the American pop/R&B lexicon of music. And it’s a tribute to Beyonce’s talents that she’s come to understand it’s importance and vitality.