The Jones no one keeps up with

An wholly inadequate selection of Quincy Jones' greatest tracks

The Quincy Jones Prom hits London Monday and if anyone currently operating in modern music deserves one (and one likely to be a bit less po-faced than the one they gave Bowie), it’s the man whose mates call him Q.

He has been making music at the top end of jazz, rhythm and blues, soul and pop for seventy years (that’s fourteen times the length The Smiths & The Velvet Underground lasted) and turned up at the Albert Hall to hear the fruits of his labours. But if you are talented to produce the labours he does, it really doesn’t sound like work.

How to sum up a 70-year career in five tracks? Well, that’s simple. You can’t. You shouldn’t. But if five songs did give an introduction to the great man, these five are as good as any….

Soul Bossa Nova

In some ways, outside of his work with Michael Jackson, Q’s theme tune. A song so full of the joys of life it contains jazz, samba, swing and the two elements of the title, Mike Myers purloined it for Austin Powers, the Dream Warriors half-inched it for My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style and it was also the theme for a German comedy and a Canadian game show (which is where Myers grew up with it) and, most important, Alan “Fluff” Freeman’s Radio 1 show. More than all that, it established Quincy Jones’ credentials as the sultan of swing.


Picking a highlight from his jazz output (which includes work with Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Gene Krupa and Sarah Vaughan), Quincy coaxed Miles into revisiting his recordings from the ‘60s and record them for his last album, live in 1991. To which all you can say is…thanks.

In the Heat of the Night

If you hear this, do you think of Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger? The words “They call me Mister Tibbs”? The devastating, unmistakeable vocals of Ray Charles? (Jones started in music aged 14 when his friend Charles was doing the same aged 16). Or a lifetime of versatility across music scores from this theme, through The Italian Job, The Color Purple In Cold Blood and The Getaway? One of many reasons why a Quincy Greatest Hits doesn’t cut the mustard unless it’s a box-set of treasure chest proportions.


Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me

Before Jeff Bridges, Quincy Jones was The Dude. And after he established his credentials, he released a classic album, establishing his all-pervading Dudeosity. Any track from it is a stone cold soul or funk classic with the likes of Rod “Thriller” Temperton, James Ingram and Toots Thielemans working on the record, but put Steve Lukather’s funky guitar licks, co-writer Stevie Wonder’s synthesizer moves and Patti Austin’s honeyed but heartbroken vocals overseen by the maestro, and you have a sweet slice of something.

Billie Jean

What track to pick from Thriller or Off The Wall? The African inflections of Wanna Be Starting Something combined with a sound of two bits of sandpaper rubbing together. Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough based around a melody MJ hummed in his kitchen or  Louis Johnson’s bass on Workin’ Day and Night. Human Nature later reversioned by Miles Davis and Chaka Khan. Let’s go for the one Michael sang down a cardboard tube. In one take. Engineer Bruce Swedien mixed it 91 times. He ended up going for the second take. But 91!

Former editor of Smash Hits and Q, writes on music here, for the BBC Entertainment & Arts website, and others. Favourite artists include Prince, Blur, Pet Shop Boys, Leonard Cohen, The Beatles, Daft Punk, Joni Mitchell, John Grant, Velvet Underground, Stevie Wonder, The Blue Nile and too many others to mention.