Friday Night Music Doubleheader, April 23, 2010: “If I Ever Lose This Heaven” 1974, and “Love, I Never Had It So Good” 1978, Quincy Jones and Company

I fell asleep before I finished and posted this…

These songs made my heart soar in the Seventies. And it wasn’t just Quincy, it was the combination of Quincy plus Leon Ware in the first, and of the influence of Quincy plus Patti Austin and Richard Tee in the second.

Premier jazz musicians are hardly ever alone when they perform. They’re either backed up by a band, a trio, a quartet, a quintet or collaborate with people they’ve come to love and to respect. Quincy Jones was once a trumpeter, but his heart problems precluded him from pursuing this further. He went on to help run Mercury Records, became an arranger for the likes of Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. He then wrote scores for many films and a few TV shows (Ironside, The Bill Cosby Show–“Hikky Burr”–and Sanford and Son) in the Sixties and Seventies.

I don’t know when he decided to do his famous, what I would call his soul-tinged, collaborative “theme” albums in the Seventies, but the first attempt may have been You’ve Got It Bad, Girl in 1973. Jones may have felt the urge for some time to explore soul, R & B and rock and roll for some time after the revolutions in singers, groups and genres from the Sixties. He did a jazz version of “What’s Goin’ On?” on Smackwater Jack (1971) and covers of Edwin Hawkins’ “Oh Happy Day” and Arthur Adams’ “Love and Peace” on the critically-acclaimed Walking in Space (1969). Valerie Simpson (of Ashford and…) appears on You’ve Got It Bad, Girl, but Billy Preston, Stevie Wonder, and Bill Withers, all stars at this time in the Seventies, are uncredited as backup singers. Even Jones himself is the lead vocalist; he can sing, but he doesn’t have range or heft on the title song. He needed help.

The feedback, though, must have given Jones further impetus to stretch out further. Body Heat, his next album, was an arrow aimed straight into the deep dark unknown of “mainstream commercial soul” as Richard Ginell put it at AllMusic. The album went to No. 6 on the Billboard pop chart. Of course, most of the jazz personnel–Herbie Hancock, Hubert Laws, and Bob James and others–are primarily blowing soul/funk, not necessarily jazz. Hancock et al were doing fusion at this time–working the voudou of Miles’ innovations for all it was worth–so people weren’t talking much about (or weren’t given a mic, working or otherwise, to talk about) the sheer apostasy of abandoning “pure” jazz as that baby-faced Wynton Marsalis, barely out of New Orleans, accused folks of doing a decade later.

One of the best moves Jones ever did with Body Heat was one, employ Leon Ware, and two, expand the role of the vocalists in his most successful compositions. This was a year before Leon Ware went on to help produce Marvin Gaye’s I Want You. For the first and title song, composed by Jones, Ware, Bruce Fisher, and Stan Richardson, Jones sets the tone with the likes of Minnie Riperton, Al Jarreau, and Ware himself, along with a few other lesser lights like Jim Gilstrap and Carolyn Willis who would be found on other R & B, fusion and jazz efforts during the decade. There’s lots of bass as well as heat, and instead of playing against the music, the voices create a layered effect of song and the sounds of lovemaking: moans and breathing and even laughing. Ware co-wrote “If I Ever Lose This Heaven,” with Pam Sawyer, and upon its release as a single was covered by the likes of Average White Band, and all the way up to hip-hop artists now. Want to know the lyrics? My favorite part? Minnie Riperton and Leon Ware gently dueling here:

When you’re kind, extra kind
Then suddenly you’re cross
You’re so moody, you get to me
Still can’t turn you off
You’re fascinating, more fascinating
Than the dark side of the moon
You’re so exciting, that I’m re-writing
The book of love called ‘You’

Oh, oh, oh, oh
If I ever lose this heaven
If I ever, ever, ever lose this heaven
Whoa, I’ll never be the same
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
If I ever lose this heaven
If I ever, ever, ever lose this heaven
Whoa, I’ll never be the same

It’s Minnie’s sweetness that I miss in songs like this. In “If I Ever Lose This Heaven,” she made love sound like it was wrapped in innocence and gingham–and incense and rumpled sheets. It wasn’t either/or, it was both.

By the time Sounds…and Stuff Like That! was released, Quincy Jones wasn’t stumbling in the dark. It was 1978, and disco had taken over popular music at that time.  Now he had an identifiable crew of protegées, guests, and hangers-on. “Love, I Never Had It So Good,” which ends the first side of the album, was written by protegé Patti Austin, Tom Bahler (a Jan and Dean collaborator, wha..?), Quincy Jones, and Richard Tee.  It’s breathy but funky dance floor music as opposed “If I Ever Lose This Heaven,” which was made to be listened to by just one or two people.  It shows just how far music tastes had changed, from the intimate to the public.  The song is exuberant and infectious–ain’t no way you wouldn’t be happy after the cut had ended. (When I had a car, it was perfect freeway music that got me home quicker than I believed possible.) What looms for me is the piano of Richard Tee which insinuates itself at the gateway to Patti’s voice and throughout.  While Tom Bahler and Jones may have written the lyrics, it was Richard Tee with Tom Bahler who composed it.

Richard Tee (1943-1993) was a pianist, organist, session musician and arranger, who was a founding member of the New York-based, jazz-funk band Stuff.  Stuff was active for a few years between the mid-to-late Seventies and early Eighties.  They used to hang at a joint called Mikell’s. (It’s reasonable to suspect that Q may have even seen them there.) All of their albums, it appears, went gold, and they were highly popular in Japan.  Their personnel was used in numerous albums by other singers at this time, including Joe Cocker and Aretha.   But Tee seems to have been all over town, as it were, on his own as a session and studio musician.  I’m sure that there are many other better albums where he appeared with musicians like Steve Gadd and Grover Washington, but my favorite is New York Connection with Tom Scott, the former leader of The L.A. Express.

Patti Austin, frankly, is no slouch either. This appearance on Sounds… was an apprenticeship that had gone on since her singular vocals at the Apollo Theater landed her a music contract when she was five. As “Love, I’ve Never Had It So Good” was a tune for stepping out, it was one of many that set the stage for her R & B ascendancy in the Eighties. Even when she doesn’t outright warble sexily, oooh, it sounds like she’s singing it in the lyrics anyway.

Of course, the usual suspects–and newer ones like half of Stuff–are backing up Austin on “Love, I Never Had It So Good.”  But as some critics have said, the music never sounds overcooked on a Quincy Jones album, although there’s every reason to believe that there’s going to be a pile-up of genres and styles with the people that he lined up. And those lyrics. Very simple, nearly like the sounds of love, but unforgettable, because it’s how they’re sung, not necessarily who is singing them, with a smile and a wink of an eye.

I’m shinin’
Got the light of your love
(Ah-Ah-Ah) All over me
You-smilin’
now that I’m into you
(I-I-I) I’m smilin’ too

Love, I never had it so good
Love, I never had it so good
Love, I never had it so good
Love-

I’m shinin’
You’re smilin’
I’m dancing on the ceilin’
You got my body screamin’, screamin’

For your sweet fever
From the touch of your eyes
(I-I-I) I found that I was soon a-
Believer
Takin’ me, shakin’ me
(I-I-I) I can feel it

Love, I never had it so good
Love, I never had it so good
Love, I never had it so good
Love, I never had it so good

Sweet fever
From the touch of your eyes
(I-I-I) I found that I was soon a-
Believer
Takin’ me, shakin’ me
(I-I-I) I can feel it

Love I never had it so good
Love, I never had it so good
Love, I never had it so good
Love, I never had it so good

I’m shinin’ – you’re smilin’
I’m dancin’ on the ceiling
Ya got my body screamin’
Sweet fever
I’m a believer
Ya takin’ me
Shakin’ me I can feel it

Enjoy.

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~ by blksista on April 24, 2010.

 
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