Quincy Jones's greatest ever moments – ranked!

The polymath producer worked with Sinatra, Miles and, of course, Michael Jackson – and that was before two recent interviews proved he’s music’s greatest raconteur

10. Quincy Jones Has a Story About That (2018)

Chris Heath’s 10,000-word profile of Jones is as extraordinary an interview as you’re likely to read this year. At 84, clearly too old to give a damn what anyone thinks, Jones dishes on everyone from the Pope to Marilyn Monroe, from a childhood that involved eating rats to Ray Charles shooting heroin into his own testicles.

9. Miles and Quincy Live at Montreux (1993)

Taped three months before his death, Miles Davis’s final live recording isn’t his greatest – although there’s something eerie and haunting about the fragility of his playing – but it’s testament to Jones’s apparently limitless powers of persuasion: only he could convince the ornery Davis to revisit his mid-60s material one last time.

8. The Quintessence (1962)

The sound of Jones operating in pure jazz mode, fronting a modern big band in December 1961. Concise and fat-free, The Quintessence throws up eight tracks in half an hour: Jones’s originals are coolly sophisticated, but the best thing here might be a frantic, dexterous charge at Thelonious Monk’s Straight No Chaser, over in 180 seconds.

7. Lesley Gore – It’s My Party (1963)

If you’re looking for the roots of Thriller’s vast crossover success, perhaps you should start with Jones’s first US No 1 as a producer. A white teen pop single a world away from his previous work as a jazz man and big-band arranger for Ray Charles, its success was fuelled by a certain killer instinct: Phil Spector had also recorded the song with the Crystals, but Jones found out and beat him to the draw.

Miles Davis, left, with Quincy Jones at Montreux.
Miles Davis, left, with Quincy Jones at Montreux. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

6. ‘The Beatles were the worst musicians in the world’ (2018)

As if to prove Heath’s profile was no fluke, days later another interview with Jones appeared, this time on the website Vulture. Cue more astonishing gossip, not least about Marlon Brando’s sex life, fruity opinions about the Beatles and Michael Jackson, and ample evidence that in addition to his other achievements, Jones may be music’s greatest raconteur.

5. In Cold Blood (1967)

Jones had to face down the racism of In Cold Blood’s author, Truman Capote, who lobbied to have him removed from the film because he was black. Capote’s bid failed, and Jones delivered his most extreme soundtrack work: dark, mournful, harrowing and frequently atonal. It garnered Jones one of two Oscar nominations in 1967: the first African-American to be nominated twice in one year.

4. Smackwater Jack (1971)

1973’s You’ve Got It Bad Girl has his sublime take on the Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer in the City, but Smackwater Jack is the pick of Jones’s early 70s albums, a daring, purist-enraging, oft-sampled melding of jazz, funk and soundtrack work, where blues guitar epics sit alongside TV themes and a gorgeous 10-minute version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On.

3. Frank Sinatra – Sinatra at the Sands (1966)

The greatest of Jones’s collaborations with Sinatra and the apotheosis of the latter’s Vegas years. Jones conducts and arranges the Count Basie Orchestra; Sinatra offers definitive readings of his signature songs and the mind boggles at what the pair got up to afterwards. “Seven double Jack Daniel’s in an hour … [Sinatra] invented partying,” Jones recently recalled.

2. The Dude (1981)

Jones’s polymath skills in full effect: effortlessly slick production, arrangements that straddle R&B and pop while still haunted by jazz; restless music taste evident in its nods to rap and new wave (Ai No Corrida was written by former Blockhead Chaz Jankel); and his remarkable address book – the supporting cast features Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Herbie Hancock.

1. Michael Jackson – Off the Wall/Thriller/Bad (1979-1987)

Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad are indisputably Michael Jackson albums, not Quincy Jones albums with Michael Jackson performing on them. But no one other than Quincy Jones was capable of empowering Jackson’s astonishing talent to soar so high. One apocryphal rumour has Jones coaching Jackson’s vocals by kicking him and shouting “No squeaks, motherfucker!” Certainly, his fingerprints are all over these albums, from the mournful jazz brass line on Billie Jean to the presence of organist Jimmy Smith on Bad. Moreover, he had the team – including songwriter Rod Temperton – and the experience to bring Jackson’s dream of vast, genre-defying success to reality. It was Jones who suggested Thriller needed “a black version of a strong rock’n’roll thing”, hence Beat It. Collectively, they changed pop music for ever.


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Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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