Album of the Week, September 6: The Dude by Quincy Jones
September 6, 2015 1 Comment
Quincy Jones is one of the most successful, influential, and creative forces in popular music. Born in Chicago and raised in Seattle, he demonstrated an early aptitude for trumpet, landing a scholarship at the school that became Berklee. Moving to New York and later to Paris, he built a strong reputation as a player, arranger and bandleader, best known for his work with big band, jazz, and swing stars. Moving back to the States as the first African-American executive at a major label, he expanded into pop, producing Leslie Gore’s #1 smash It’s My Party. A list of the artists he has produced and arranged is a who’s who of stars: Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin, Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, and dozens more. By the waning days of the 70s, Jones had moved his own career in a more pop-oriented direction as well. Always a champion of African-American musical culture writ large — rather than beholden to any one genre — the albums bearing his own name began fusing pop, R&B, dance, and jazz, pulling together talented artists who turned out fine sounds under his direction. He also continued producing, notably helming Michael Jackson’s breakthrough solo disc Off the Wall.
|Label||A & M||Release Date||March 1981|
|U.S. Chart||#10||U.K. Chart||#19|
[U.S. Hot 100]
Building on that success, Jones planned to launch his own Qwest label, but he owed A&M one last disc. He brought together a stunning array of talent — when Q calls, people show up — and recorded the most successful album to bear his own name, a charming gem called The Dude. The studio band is star-studded, featuring Stevie Wonder, Steve Lukather, Jerry Hey, Ernie Watts, and Paulinho DaCosta on almost every track. The stars of the disc, inspired by Jones’ impeccable production and direction, are three other musicians at different points in their careers.
- Rod Temperton, a British keyboard player late of the funk-disco band Heatwave, hooked up with Jones on Off the Wall, beginning a long, successful partnership writing great grooves for Q’s projects.
- Patti Austin had just begun a reasonably successful R&B career when Jones tapped her to join the proceedings on The Dude. Her vocals appear on almost every track, including lead on four.
- Newcomer James Ingram also sings on most tracks, providing three leads and giving Jones his two biggest hits on the pop charts. Ingram and Austin would soon have a #1 smash of their own as well.
Curiously, the lead-off track (and first single), is the least like the rest of the album. Ai No Corrida was written by British popster Chas Jankel. It’s an exciting kickoff, a song of romantic obsession driven by Hey’s horn arrangements and a scorching sax solo from Watts. It’s the most like Jones’ previous pop productions, serving as a nice bridge into the rest of the proceedings, and a strong song in its own right. James Ingram bows on the title track, a wink and nod bit of braggadocio written by Jones, Temperton and Austin. With some fun vocal effects and a great synth solo from Wonder, it picks up the tradition of male swagger that reaches back to the blues, giving it a crisp dance sound.
In a sharp change of pace, Ingram provides one of his finest vocals ever on the bittersweet Barry Mann / Cynthia Weil song Just Once. In lesser hands, the song could be an adult contemporary weeper, but Jones and Ingram craft a smart, restrained presentation. Austin steps up to the mike next for the Stevie Wonder penned Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me, an impressive kiss-off of a song with lyrical complexity. Her delivery is flawless, making the most of the song while its composer turns in a delicious keyboard backdrop. These two songs are the strongest on the disc, demonstrating Jones’ ability to pick smart material and inspire his performers.
Austin leads the next two tracks as well, both written by Temperton. Somethin’ Special is a charming love song, showing off another side of Austin, who gives a smooth, smoky lead. Razzamatazz is Temperton’s best contribution, a funky dance song that surges with sexual energy. The trio of Austin performances prove that she’s a force to be reckoned with, making the most of three very different tracks.
Ingram returns for One Hundred Ways. It’s a bit of a pop throwaway, a sweet but insubstantial love song that ironically became Jones’ biggest hit under his own name. It’s a fine enough song, but doesn’t quite live up to the rest of the album. Jones revisits his jazz roots with the delightful Velas. Celebrated harmonica player and whistler Toots Thielemans recorded the lead work at his home in Belgium, sending it over to Jones for inclusion on The Dude. Wistful and charming, it’s one of the disc’s highlights. That it flows so seamlessly — given its origins — is another testament to Jones’ wizardry. Things wrap up with Temperton’s Turn On the Action, sung again by Austin. It’s a fine sultry dance groove, reminiscent of the Temperton/Jones work on Off the Wall. An evocation of celebration, it ends the album on an invitation, an clever inversion that makes you want to start over again right at the beginning.
The Dude is a fine example of brilliant production, from song selection to finding the right talent to making a cohesive whole from diverse components. It shows off the best of Quincy Jones’ pop smarts and demonstrates why he was so busy in the 80s. Sandwiched between Michael Jackson’s powerful Off the Wall and monster smash Thriller, it gets a bit lost in the Jones canon. That’s a shame, because The Dude has its own charms, serving up a cross-genre blend of musical delights.