It’s rare for a producer by trade to release a best-of collection, but when you have some 27 Grammy Awards with your name on them, exceptions can be made. Quincy Jones is just that exception. Having worked with jazz legends during his own playing days and moving onto producing an assembly line of pop and soul superstars, Jones is the bar by which most producers are measured. This latest collection, which features seven Top 10 hits and four #1 hits, only scratches the surface. As Jones says in the liner notes, “When you have had a career in music that has spanned more than six decades, it is always difficult to choose your favorite songs. It would be like asking a parent to pick his favorite child.” Patti Austin, James Ingram, Chaka Khan, Ray Charles, Barry White, and Tevin Campbell are just some of the artists Jones has collaborated with and compiled here.
Starting off with “If I Ever Lose This Heaven”, the album begins with a signature Jones arrangement that is equal parts soul as it is also classical or orchestrated in its chorus. Featuring vocals by Al Jarreau, Minnie Riperton, and Leon Ware, you can almost visualize the baton moving in Jones’ hand. “Everything Must Change”, which is from Quincy’s 1974 Body Heat album, is another solid soulful track, featuring Benerd Ighner on vocals and Herbie Hancock’s ivory-tickling abilities. It evolves into a sultry yet funky motif near its conclusion also. It’s also noteworthy since it has a single sound despite a myriad of instruments working throughout.
An early highlight is “Is It Love That We’re Missin’”, a track that personifies the seventies sound almost to a fault. The sweet harmonies over Melvin “Wah Wah Watson” Ragin’s guitar gives the track an extra oomph. The tone of Paulette McWilliams’ vocals during “Mellow Madness” resembles anything that could have been taken from the Dead Presidents Soundtrack. The only problem with the song is it tends to become stagnant mid-way through, only saved by a heavy groove near its homestretch. “Stuff Like That” is an infectious track that was a Number One hit in 1978. Featuring Ashford & Simpson as well as Chaka Khan, it is easily a great dancehall tune regardless of time or place.
It would be difficult to count just how many careers Jones has launched, with Michael Jackson to name one. But Patti Austin, Jones’s goddaughter, would certainly come to mind. Her vocals on “Razzamatazz” and “Betcha’ Wouldn’t Hurt Me”, both of which come from 1981’s The Dude, are perky yet soulful arrangements that showcase her vocals over an intricate, layered sound. The latter mentioned song also has a vibe similar to early Prince records. James Ingram was another who owes much to Jones. A former backing vocalist to Ray Charles, Ingram was reluctant to send demos but finally conceded to his benefit. “Just Once” was a crossover hit for both pop and soul radio and could be seen as a blueprint for future love ballads, particularly “Endless Love”. When Ingram and Austin duet on “Baby, Come to Me”, it’s pure magic and the first song nearly all listeners will recognize.
The last third of the record is from Quincy’s post-1989 work, including a bland and quite uninspired “I’ll Be Good to You”. Featuring Ray Charles and Chaka Khan, the track has that over-produced and slick arrangement to it that makes it sound dated at best. It’s the first true miscue on the album, ending far too long after it stalls musically. It also was a Number One miscue on the R&B charts. More memorable is the collaborative soul on the lengthy “The Secret Garden”. Using Barry White, Al B. Sure, James Ingram, and El DeBarge in separate roles, the song has all that is good about R&B when done correctly and not manufactured as so often is the case today.
Tevin Campbell is one of the last prodigies documented here on this collection. “Tomorrow (A Better You, A Better Me)” shows Campbell’s strengths over a school-like chorus. Originally used as an instrumental song for many inner city school graduations, the Texas-born Campbell suits the song perfectly. “Everything” ends the album with more of Campbell and more of the quality arrangements. Although it’s difficult to call 18 songs an “ultimate collection”, it serves as a great introduction to one of the industry’s movers and shakers.
// Notes from the Road
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