by Jeff Fiedler
Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.
Though he’s put out dozens of albums out under his own name, Quincy Jones (best known, of course, for having produced Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, Thriller, and Bad, though he’s also produced many more Top 40 hits for the likes of Lesley Gore, Aretha Franklin, the Brothers Johnson, Rufus, James Ingram, Patti Austin, and Donna Summer) ironically rarely actually plays on his own records, usually just serving as arranger/conductor, producer, and occasional composer while leaving the vocal and instrumental duties to an all-star cast of guests, and 1981’s The Dude is no exception. In fact, The Dude boasts a tremendous array of talent, from session greats like David Foster, Louis Johnson (the man responsible for the legendary bass riff on “Billie Jean”), Toots Thielemans, Steve Lukather of Toto, John Robinson, and Abe Laboriel, to bona fide music legends like Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Herbie Hancock. The album also marks the recorded debut of one of the finest R&B vocalists of the ‘80s and ‘90s, James Ingram, who sings lead vocals on three tracks.
Yet, in spite of yielding three Top 40 hits (two of which remain regular fixtures of smooth-jazz radio to this day) and being nominated for a record-breaking twelve Grammy awards, including an Album of the Year nomination, and taking home three of those Grammies, the album is so rarely talked about these days by critics and music writers that most younger music fans familiar with the name Quincy Jones simply know him as “Michael Jackson’s producer” and don’t realize he ever made his own records, never mind one that made Grammy history. It’s a real shame, too, because Jones’ own body of work is impressive in its own right, and The Dude is arguably one of the greatest R&B albums of the ‘80s, as good as anything R&B greats like Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Whitney Houston, Anita Baker, Sade, Chaka Khan, Rick James, or Luther Vandross made during that time.
While Jones doesn’t write all that frequently (he only co-wrote one track on this disc), a large part of his genius as a producer is that he just has an incredible instinct for picking material, and that skill is evident in full force on The Dude. Former Heatwave member Rod Temperton (best known for penning Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” “Rock with You,” and “Off the Wall,” along with countless other Top 40 hits for artists as varied as Michael McDonald, Manhattan Transfer, and The Brothers Johnson) contributes several wonderful songs here, the incredibly fun title track (which features Ingram on lead vocals, the King of Pop himself singing backup, and Stevie Wonder soloing on synthesizer) and the jazzy Patti Austin showcases “Razzamatazz,” “Somethin’ Special,” and “Turn on the Action,” all featuring Hancock on electric piano.
Stevie Wonder contributes the incredibly soulful disco of “Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me,” featuring Austin on lead vocals and Wonder filling the gaps with some deliciously slippery synth lines. The track wasn’t a single, but it sounds like a hit in the making, and the chorus ranks as one of Stevie’s catchiest. (Wonder inexplicably had got in the habit around this time in his career of giving some of his catchiest songs away to other people, including Michael Jackson’s “I Can’t Help It,” Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway’s “You Are My Heaven,” and Jermaine Jackson’s “Let’s Get Serious.”)
The album opens with one of the more surprising covers you would ever expect to hear on a Quincy Jones album, the groovy and danceable R&B-tinged new-wave of “Ai No Corrida,” written and previously recorded by Chaz Jankel, the former guitarist for Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Jones thankfully stays largely faithful to Jankel’s original arrangement, and the cover is a surprisingly first-rate one and deservedly became a Top 40 hit. You never hear it on the radio today, but the song is incredibly addictive and remains Jones’ most underrated single.
Even the instrumental “Velas” is a keeper, thanks to the incredibly beautiful harmonica playing of “Toots” Thielemans. Best of all, however, are the album’s two ballads, both featuring James Ingram on lead vocals. The timeless love song “One Hundred Ways” is a smooth-jazz classic that creatively features both a slippery synthesizer solo from Greg Phillinganes and a smooth saxophone solo from Ernie Watts; it shouldn’t work, but it all comes together perfectly. The album’s most iconic track remains the ballad “Just Once,” penned by legendary husband-and-wife songwriting team Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (who also wrote such ‘60s classics as the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” the Drifters’ “On Broadway,” and the Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”) The song is one of the most devastatingly pretty R&B ballads of all-time and interestingly changes keys entirely several different times during its final minute-and-a-half to impressive results. The rhythm track is breathtaking and lovely in and of itself, highlighted by the piano work of David Foster and Robbie Buchanan, but the majestic melody of the song could not have been captured more perfectly than it is here through the passionate vocal work of Ingram, whose singing here is nothing short of a revelation. (Ironically enough, Ingram was originally just meant to be the vocalist on the song’s demo, but Jones heard the demo and decided he wanted both the song and the singer!)
For all the many fine albums Quincy's released under his own name (including Body Heat, Mellow Madness, Sounds ... and Stuff Like That, and Back on the Block, just to name a few others particularly worth listening to), this is arguably the greatest of all of them. Take one listen to this disc, and you’ll quickly discover, to borrow a line from this album’s title cut, “the reason why he’s ‘the dude.’”