By Ray McDonald
Quincy Jones celebrated his 80th birthday on March 14th. Over the course of his seven-decade career, Quincy Delight Jones, Jr. has done it all: performer, composer, arranger, producer, businessman – if you want an idea of the scope of his career, this is a good place to begin.
His achievements are far too wide-ranging for one blog entry, so I’ve chosen to focus on one extraordinary period: the years in which he worked with Michael Jackson. The partnership formed in 1977, when they worked together on the big-screen adaptation of the hit Broadway musical “The Wiz.” Michael played the scarecrow, while Quincy served as musical supervisor and music producer. During production, Michael asked Quincy to recommend some producers for his upcoming solo album. Impressed by the young star’s work ethic, Quincy offered to do the job himself.
The result was “Off The Wall.” The 1979 album sold more than 20 million copies and eventually entered the Grammy Hall of Fame. Yet even bigger things were around the corner for Jones and Jackson.
On November 30, 1982, “Thriller” hit the world record market like a thunderbolt. Michael and Quincy’s second collaboration remains the best-selling album of all time, moving somewhere between 51 and 65 million copies – estimates vary widely. Although “Thriller” remains the high-water mark of their collaboration, Michael and Quincy were initially unhappy with the results. They repeatedly remixed each of the nine songs, and Michael spent much of this period fretting over his artistic and personal life.
The pair next collaborated on 1987’s “Bad.” Although it sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, it marked the last time Quincy Jones worked in the studio with Michael Jackson. By this time, the singer had become a phenomenon unto himself, worshiped by millions while plagued by inner demons. Quincy maintained his own frenetic work schedule and, while the pair occasionally spoke of reuniting, nothing came of it. On June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson’s death closed the door on a remarkable artistic partnership. Quincy subsequently appeared on U-S television, speaking candidly about the superstar’s battle with himself:
As he turns 80, Quincy Jones remains a vital, active presence. Next month, he will enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, winner of the Ahmet Ertegun Award for Lifetime Achievement. His accomplishments are legion, yet every time I listen to the crystalline production and dynamic arrangements of their three albums, I can’t help wishing that Quincy and Michael had collaborated just one more time.