Years ago I read a memorable message on a music forum—a man stated that the way he always tests out a new car stereo system is by playing Quincy Jones's “Ai No Corrida.” That irresistible, danceable track resides on Jones's 1981 album, The Dude, his greatest commercial success outside his work with Michael Jackson. The Dude scored spawned several hits, including the classic ballads “One Hundred Ways” and “Just Once,” both featuring James Ingram; the aforementioned “Ai No Corrida;” and the club-friendly single “Razzamatazz,” spotlighting Patti Austin. Jones's work reached number 3 on Billboard's R&B and jazz charts, and eventually garnered several Grammy Awards for “Ai No Corrida,” “One Hundred Ways,” “Velas,” and the title track.
Granted, The Dude hardly qualifies as a hidden gem, although Jones eventually superseded his success by producing and arranging the monster hit Thriller. What I am suggesting, though, is a fresh approach to the album from a sonic perspective; Jones's producing and arranging skills are front and center on The Dude, and listening to its tracks provides a thorough education on his considerable talent. If producers and arrangers modeled their work on that of Jones, many songs and albums would be more richly textured.
What is the best way to enjoy this jazz and R&B fusion album? First, obtain the best copy you possibly can; buy the MP3 version if you must, but the sonic layers of the album may require the vinyl or CD version to fully appreciate them. Next, put on a pair of headphones, preferably an over-the-ear pair instead of ear buds. Then plunge yourself into Jones's pool of sound, particularly noting the various kinds of instrumentation present in every song.
The Latin-influenced “Ai No Corrida,” as the previously mentioned gentleman in the music forum pointed out, is a perfect example of such sound immersion. Jazz legend Herbie Hancock's keyboard fills cushion the tune, while the funky horns punctuate the chorus. The driving percussion, led by the legendary Paulinho DaCosta, is accented by echoing hand-claps and scatting (particularly in the bridge), enticing the listener to dance. The vocals are richly superimposed, with two sets of choruses interacting at one point. While many elements comprise this uptempo track, Jones's superb arrangement prevents the song from becoming too busy and overwhelming.
One of my favorite tracks, “Betcha Wouldn't Hurt Me,” co-written by Stevie Wonder, also makes for interesting listening. Note the intricate yet subtle percussion, but the guitar and keyboards play a crucial role in driving the tune. Austin's deceptively simple lead vocals ride the easy groove, never overshadowed by the arrangement. Like other tracks, “Betcha Wouldn't Hurt Me” demonstrates how Jones obsesses over sound quality and clarity. Headphones reveal every element comprising the song, and immersing yourself fully in the instrumentation is a fascinating experience.
A hit in the clubs as well as on the charts, “Razzamatazz” recalls Jones's work on Jackson's Off the Wall. Written by the extremely talented Rod Temperton (Heatwave), the song represents the last cry of disco. But the soulful horn section and jazzy chord changes set it apart from the usual dance track. The guitar on the bridge gives the song a rock edge, and the tightness of the horns reveal Jones's jazz background. He sets Patti Austin's vocals in a soprano-filled sonic pillow, accented by a lone bass voice. The mid tempo “Somethin' Special” again embodies exquisite production, with Hancock's keyboards and Jerry Hey's horns taking on a softer, muted tone. The slight reverb effect on Austin's voice as well as the background vocalists lend a dreamlike quality to the tune, while Ernie Watts's tenor sax solo gives it an R&B edge. Again, be sure to concentrate on the breathtakingly complex keyboard work buried deeper in the mix.
Strings are also a Jones hallmark, and “Turn on the Action” includes plenty of them. Also penned by Temperton, lead singer Austin engages in scat-like lines while horns burst through the chorus and occasionally accent her voice. Add in Louis Johnson's popping bass, strong drums, rhythmic guitar, and a deep layer of strings, and what results is a sophisticated, disco-tinged track. The strings, bass, guitar, and horns merit the most attention while listening through your headphones.
Then there's the title track, a fascinating mix of funk, jazz, and early hip hop. Jackson makes a guest appearance as a background vocalist, but the cowbell-and-handclap-infused percussion, as well as the rock guitar lines, intrigue even more. The offbeat horn parts (led by veteran Hey), vocoder-assisted vocals, and rap add whimsy to the tune, which foreshadows the inclusion of rap into virtually every music genre.
Fans of Jones's jazz work will enjoy “Velas,” an Ivan Lins-penned song featuring Toots Thielemans on harmonica; his whistling also adds to the exotic quality of the tune. Obviously Thieleman's considerable skills take center stage here, but again Greg Phillinganes's keyboards and DaCosta's delicate percussion deserve equal attention.
Keyboardist Phillinganes deserves accolades for his performance on The Dude, particularly his iconic solo on “One Hundred Ways.” James Ingram's flawless singing wouldn't pack quite the same romantic punch without Phillinganes's sleepy bridge solo. To me, that solo alone captures the romantic tone of the lyrics and overall arrangement.
Audiophiles will find much to like about The Dude, which deserves a detailed listen for its deeply, intricately layered elements. Jones's skillful work serves as a master class in what producing and arranging should be: clear, interesting, but never overwhelming for the listener. So don those headphones—or place your CD in a car or home stereo system—sit back, and fully immerse yourself in Quincy Jones's fascinating sonic world.