The legendary producer Quincy Jones either has several axes to grind, is into un-burying fossilized bones or just enjoys letting skeletons out of (other people’s) closets.
Or maybe at this stage of his long life he has diarrhea of the mouth and just doesn’t give AF.
In just a single sitting during an interview that was published this week, the 84-year-old mega-producer managed to dish on several dead celebrities (and some living) with whom he closely worked or was BFFs with at some point in his decades-long career, all while singing his own praises in the process.
In the much talked about vulture.com interview with writer David Marchese, Jones – who is arguably the most accomplished music producer still living – dished on everyone from the Beatles (“the worst musicians in the world”) to U2 (they’re not still making good music), and from Michael Jackson (who “stole a lot of songs”) to Cyndi Lauper (who was the lone f*#k-up during the famous 1985 charity recording of “We Are The World”).
Jones also gave his take on politics by echoing a common refrain about the current president (whom he called a “f#*king idiot”) and speaking with assured authority about who killed President Kennedy (Chicago mobster Sam Giancana, according to Jones, who in the same breath redraws the connection between Giancana, Frank Sinatra and the Mafia).
If all of this seems outrageously compelling, well, that’s because it is. Jones gave salacious details where he wanted to (citing sexual trysts between legendary actor Marlon Brando and, among other men, comedian Richard Pryor – both of whom are now deceased) and showed restraint where he didn’t (the Bill Cosby rape allegations are “not to be discussed in public”). That censorship also applied to the topic of the mob’s connection to President Kennedy winning the state of Illinois in the 1960 election – a topic Jones himself introduced before walking it back somewhat.
There was also the old rehashed (but legitimate) attack on rock music (“rock ain’t nothing but a white version of rhythm and blues, motherfucker”), while Jones’ own accomplishments were embellished (everything he ever worked on was “big,” before citing The Brothers Johnson, James Ingram and, ahem, Tevin Campbell as dubious examples).
Truth is, all of those artists and more that Q worked with were “big” at one point or another, but his assertion was given in response to the question “what’s something you worked on that should’ve been BIGGER (emphasis added)?,” the premise of which Jones’ answer incredulously dismissed. Even I would argue that all three of those acts could have been bigger than they ultimately were in their primes.
But I guess the question itself seemed laughable – even insulting – to someone like Jones who has the biggest album ever recorded in his repertoire, Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It’s certainly unfair to artists like Ingram, Campbell or the Bros Johnson to suggest that they could have even approached Michael’s level of bigness, and maybe Jones knew that when giving his answer, protecting his other protégés in a fatherly sort-of way.
And speaking of MJ, Jones didn’t hold back about the artist who likely was his biggest cash cow, with Q having produced the King of Pop’s three biggest albums, Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad. Aside from dismissing MJ’s skin-lightening claims of vitiligo as “bullshit,” Jones asserted that Jackson ripped off Donna Summer’s “State Of Independence” for his “Billie Jean,” stating “the notes don’t lie man.”
Indeed they don’t.
Upon further listening to the two tracks, both of which Quincy produced in 1982, the note pattern is clearly the same on each (although slowed-down for “Billie Jean”) and Jackson would have had early access to Summer’s track, which was released only months before his and on which he sang backup. (This is a surprisingly late realization on my part as I had always likened “Billie Jean” to Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” which has a similar chord progression. Now it seems that both “Independence” and “Moondance” may have been the parents to MJ’s biggest single… but I digress.)
See this video of Quincy and Michael during the recording of Donna Summer’s “State Of Independence” in 1982.
The biggest bombshells of the Jones interview with Marchese were those assertions about Richard Pryor and Marlon Brando, along with writer/activist James Baldwin and late Motown crooner Marvin Gaye, all names that Jones dropped during an exchange about Brando and his propensity to “f*#k anything.” “He’d f%#k a mailbox,” Jones joked. When Marchese challenged him, “(Brando) slept with them? How do you know that?,” Jones just frowned and said “come on, man. He did not give a f#%k,” before smartly changing the subject to Brazilian music.
Perhaps he sensed he was going a bit too far outing people whose skeletons are literally skeletons now, and the uproar it would cause with their still-breathing relatives. Or maybe he realized that his true calling is music, not Wendy Williams-style celebrity gossiper.
And speaking of music, Jones made no bones about his dislike of today’s stuff while speaking with authority about jazz and how any musician worth his weight in platinum has to know those jazz roots. “There ain’t nothing new (out today). The producers are lazy and greedy,” he said. The only current artists who received any Uncle Q love during the interview were Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith and Bruno Mars. Others, he assessed, were limited artistically by their marketing connections to brands like Ciröc Vodka or Phat Farm clothing “and all that shit.”
Quincy Jones, who will be 85 in March, has earned the right to speak on anything he wishes. He’s not unlike any other ornery old guy who has very strong opinions and no longer feels constrained by anything in expressing them. He waxed (in)eloquently on just about everything thrown at him by Marchese, who likely knew he was sitting on a goldmine when he sat down with Jones. Before the ink had even dried, Marchese had already posted a how-to article about how he prepped for his Jones interview.
About the only question Q didn’t answer, though, was whether those kids are really Michael’s (it wasn’t asked by the way – perhaps a fail on Marchese’s part?).
But then, people already know the answer to that, don’t they?
Or do they?