In his time as a producer, composer and conductor, Quincy Jones has hauled in an impressive 27 Grammys throughout the course of his phenomenal career, and earned a record 79 Grammy nominations. What makes it all the more remarkable is that his devotion to sound trancended genre. Whether it was jazz, R&B, hip-hop or teen pop, Quincy made an indelible mark on music as a whole, and to celebrate his 85th birthday we offer our list of top 20 albums produced by the great Quincy Jones.
'"L.A. is My Lady," the final studio solo album from Frank Sinatra – and the last in a long line of collaborations with Quincy – is a true look at a lion in winter. While not as memorable as 1980's "Trilogy" or 1981's underrated "She Shot Me Down," Frank still has a couple surprises up his sleeve, including his first swing at the popular standard "Mack the Knife," which feels both antiquated and yet wholly fresh at the same time.
Six years removed from the groundbreaking "Back on the Block," fans and the industry looked to Quincy for a second act, and he delivered with 1995's "Q's Jook Joint." Once again gathering new and old names in jazz, R&B and hip-hop, the album features work from Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Barry White, Chaka Khan, Ronald Isley, Babyface, R. Kelly, Brandy, Charlie Wilson, Ashford and Simpson, Brian McKnight, Sarah Vaughn, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, LL Cool J, Queen Latifah, and Heavy D, along with pop titans Bono, Phil Collins, and Gloria Estefan.
This album almost didn't happen, but "Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux" serves as an epitaph to the complicated, yet masterful career of Miles Davis, who taped the album with Quincy as a performance three months before his sudden death. While on its own, it doesn't top any of Miles' own lists, the work stands as a living document of a man running out of time, playing his notes with a cautious fragility that also never forgets the power from whence it once came. For Quincy's part, he did wonders ensuring that his friend and collaborator would go down swinging, as the fragility is equally matched with Miles' signature orneriness that makes this last dive into previous material a pleasure.
Talent is a Jones "family" trait, as Quincy was the mastermind behind his goddaughter Patti Austin's "Every Home Should Have One." Carrying the familiar "Quiet Storm" sound that would dominate '80s urban radio, the album is best remembered for the chart-topping hit duet "Baby Come to Me" featuring James Ingram.
A solid outing as a jazz bandleader, 1962's "Big Band Bossa Nova" is best remembered, and earned its place on this list for the light, poppy and truly iconic composition, "Soul Bossa Nova." You might know it better as the de facto theme song for the "Austin Powers" series of films, and it showcases Quincy's autodidactic devotion to complex sounds that come together for something wildly enjoyable.
In addition to his own prolific work in jazz, Quincy was a name in demand for many film soundtracks in the 1960s. His work on "In the Heat of the Night" spawned a memorable title track sung by Ray Charles, giving a weighty and soulful edge to this film about a black cop from the North facing racism in the South. The soundtrack features a uniquely Southern-fried sound complete with some funk that honestly feels a few years ahead of its time.
Make no mistake, the soundtrack to 1972's "Come Back Charleston Blue" is totally driven by Donny Hathaway, but Quincy's influence is woven in every step of the way. The result is an eclectic mix of sound harkening back to Quincy's work with Count Basie while also bringing a funky, immediate sound that moves the action you see on screen. The highlight of this album, however, is Hathaway’s crushing rendition of his "Little Ghetto Boy," which those with a keen ear might remember being sampled by Dr. Dre on his 1992 classic, "The Chronic."
The backstory behind the putting together of "We Are the World" – a mass confluence of star power brought together for a good cause – is certainly lengthy, but for our purposes, it's important to simply note that no one else could've achieved an undertaking of this magnitude other than Quincy. The result is proof of a level of quality that would never be seen again out of such a diverse group of artists, ranging from Lionel Richie to Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson.
Following his landmark collaborations with The Brothers Johnson, Quincy went even funkier, producing "Masterjam" by Rufus featuring Chaka Khan. Just as he did with the The Brothers Johnson, Quincy helped Rufus reach number one on the Billboard R&B chart, with their single "Do You Love What You Feel" also hitting the top of the singles chart.
It might come as a bit of a surprise, but Quincy's powers extended to the world of teeny bopper pop as well. In fact, newcomer Lesley Gore's "I'll Cry If I Want To" was Quincy's first gig as producer to go to number one on the charts. Featuring the hit "It's My Party," Quincy made a star out of Gore, and laid the groundwork for a career of eclectic sound that, if it grooves, likely means Quincy had his hands on it first.
Featuring vocals by Minnie Riperton and Al Jarreau, in addition to an impressive list of studio musicians, including Billy Preston, Herbie Hancock, Bob James, and Hubert Laws, Quincy scored another top album with "Body Heat." For his efforts, the album hit number one on both Billboard's jazz and R&B charts.
The second of four collaborations with The Brothers Johnson yielded what might be considered their best work with "Right On Time," an album that received certified platinum status, reaching all the way to number two on the Billboard R&B chart. Best known for the classic "Strawberry Letter 23," it also won a Grammy for Q.
Only a year removed from their success on "Right On Time," Quincy's third go round with The Brothers Johnson, "Blam!" was also the third consecutive album to go platinum, making it all the way to number one on the Billboard R&B chart.
As conductor and arranger of a number of collaborations between Sinatra and his favorite piano player Count Basie, "Sinatra at the Sands" is by far the best of the bunch. Still a very young man early into his career, Jones corrals the talents of Basie and the effortless charm of Ol' Blue Eyes into a swinging and at times sentimental set that gives listeners a definitive glimpse at an artist at the height of his powers, a legend who sang "like a man."
This collaboration between Quincy and jazz guitarist George Benson hit big paydirt during awards season as "Give Me The Night" won three Grammys, including Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for the title track, Best R&B Instrumental Performance for the funky ode to struggling towards success "Off Broadway," and Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Male for the blusey "Moody's Mood."
Quincy kicked off the '80s with the first in a string of collaborative albums featuring a bevy of talent in R&B and jazz. The first of these concept albums, "The Dude," would come away with three Grammy Awards, including James Ingram's Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "One Hundred Ways," for which Ingram would also get a Best New Artist nomination.
The final album-length collaboration between Quincy and Michael Jackson, "Bad" was a history maker in its own right as it was the first album to have five consecutive Billboard Hot 100 number one singles, including "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" (with Siedah Garrett, a Jones protege who would loom largely on "Back on the Block"), the title track, "The Way You Make Me Feel," "Man in the Mirror" and the infamous "Dirty Diana."
Largely considered by many to be his masterpiece, Quincy's "Back On The Block" is indeed a magnum opus of urban sound. Winning seven Grammys, including Album of the Year, the album is an explosion of jazz, R&B and hip-hop, mixing and melding talents like Ray Charles, Chaka Khan, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Kool Moe Dee and all-star ballads with Luther Vandross, Barry White, El DeBarge and George Duke. It is also notable for the introduction of a young Tevin Campbell, whose debut "Tomorrow" is by far one of the album's highlights. Outside of his work with Michael Jackson, this is Quincy's finest moment.
Although their first work together was on the soundtrack to the film version of "The Wiz," "Off The Wall," the first of three collaborations between Quincy and Michael Jackson, became an instant success, selling more than 20 million albums since its release in 1979, and spawning certified classics "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," "Rock With You," "She's Out Of My Life," and the title track. "Off the Wall" would also take home a Grammy and three American Music Awards.
Not only the greatest album on this list, 1982's "Thriller" is the highest grossing album to date, selling more than 65 million copies, and could quite possibly be the greatest album of all time. Among its accolades, "Thriller" won a record eight Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, and an additional eight American Music Awards. The songs, "Billie Jean," "Beat It," "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)," and the title track became ubiquitous with American culture in the eighties, and solidified Michael Jackson not only as an icon, but also the undisputed King of Pop.