Since forming in the early ’90s, the musical collective Lettuce have been pushing the boundaries of sound itself with their skillful and often futuristic blend of funk, jazz, hip-hop, soul, psychedelic rock, and myriad microgenres in between. In 2020, they received a much-deserved GRAMMYⓇ nomination for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album for their sixth studio album, Elevate. To celebrate that honor, we turned over our playlist-making machine to Lettuce’s keyboardist and vocalist Nigel Hall, a GRAMMYⓇ winner and unofficial professor of all things Quincy Jones. Here, he gives us an in-depth lesson on the music legend’s deep catalog, including his 21 favorite Quincy Jones songs and some important notes to go with each.
Without further ado, let’s hand this over to Professor Hall:
The following is a list of my favorite Quincy Jones music. Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past 70 years or so, you know that Quincy Jones is one of the most recognizable names in music and one of the most successful producers in music history. If they had smartphones back in the day, his contacts would be only the most famous and dopest musicians, singers, activists, and artists in the history of—well, history! None of these are in any particular order.
Smackwater Jack: Released in October 1971 on the A&M label, this is Quincy’s 21st solo record. (Go ahead and read that again.) It’s really amazing to reflect on the body of work of such an OG. Anyway, here we go. It must be nice to have all the greatest musicians of the day on your Rolodex, itching to play with you. You realize that by this point, Quincy had been on the scene making music for the very fabric of this country’s culture for 20 years. His film score résumé was “ice cold,” and he had spent the better part of 10 years touring with Sinatra. So this record represents a very well established producer, conductor, and arranger. Basically, he had already established himself as the master, and everyone else knew it, too. My favorite songs are: “Smackwater Jack,” “What’s Going On,” and “Theme from ‘The Anderson Tapes.’”
You’ve Got It Bad Girl: This record was only a couple of years after Smackwater Jack, and he’d also issued a compilation on Mercury Records the year prior. A lot of the same people from the last record. You see that this is George Duke’s first run with him, so that always makes for a happy Nigel. It sounds to me like Quincy is very much in his film vibe, although on his version of Stevie’s “You’ve Got It Bad Girl” he shares a modest vocal, while still creating a very conducive vibe that fits any situation. In English, you’ll hear on this record that Quincy is in fact the Golden Child and can do no wrong. Here are my favorite tunes from this record: “You’ve Got It Bad Girl,” “Sanford & Son Theme,” “Chump Change,” and “Summer In The City.”
Sounds… And Stuff Like That!: If I had to choose one record of Quincy’s to take on a desert island, this would be the one. A headphone record for sure. This record I affectionately call the “Oz” record. I feel like he recorded this record in the land of Oz because it sounds so much like The Wiz. It makes sense because he recorded The Wiz the same year. Take a look at the personnel, though. Again, the baddest people in musical history. My favorite moment of this record: On “Tell Me A Bedtime Story,” Herbie’s solo is transcribed and performed by an entire fucking orchestra. You can only do something like that to Herbie’s solo if you’re Quincy Jones. Herbie wouldn’t let you. My favorite songs are: “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You),” “Tell Me A Bedtime Story,” and “I’m Gonna Miss You In The Morning.”
Walking in Space: This record reflects his amazing abilities as a conductor and arranger. Certainly, my favorite arranged record. This record was actually produced by Creed Taylor (from the famous CTI label). Lots of classics on this record too. I listened to this record only the last time I was in Japan. It helped to provide such a vibe! My favorite songs are: “Love And Peace,” “Killer Joe,” and “Walking In Space.”
Mellow Madness: This is Quincy’s 25th record. This is also the record that he had after his double aneurysm. Let me just say, to make a record after surviving something like that is more than a blessing. But this also showcases a different side of Quincy thus far: Quincy’s funky side. If you look at the players on this record, you can see immediately how it differs from the other records. You wanna make a funky record, you gotta go where the grease is. BTW, this is also the debut of The Brothers Johnson. My favorite songs are: “Cry Baby” (featuring Wah Wah Watson), “Is It Love That We’re Missin’,” My Cherie Amour,” “Bluesette,” and “Tryin’ To Find Out About You.”
Body Heat: This record came before Mellow Madness and Q had not had his aneurysm yet, so as you see in the credits, he’s still playing trumpet. But if you listen closely, you can hear the funky side of his nature starting to show—a budding example of his producer skills starting to come alive while adding to the arranger and conductor that he was naturally. My favorite songs are: “Everything Must Change,” “If I Ever Lose This Heaven,” and “Body Heat.”
Lettuce’s new album Resonate is out May 8th.
Photo Credit: Jay Sansone, Human Being Media