Thriller Dogfood

Tech companies often circulate test or beta versions of new products within a select group of users as a sort of shakedown cruise. At Google anyway these are referred to as dogfood. Extending this metaphor to pop music, let’s call The Dude, the 1981 Grammy winning album from Quincy Jones, ThrillerDogfood Edition. Hot off his collaboration with Michael Jackson on Off The Wall, Quincy Jones assembled an eclectic all-star cast for his first album of the new decade: Michael, Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, pop-jazz singer Patti Austin, R&B crooner James Ingram, Toto guitarist Steve Luthaker, arranger Johnny Mandel, harmonica man Toots Thielemans. Somehow it works. A cohesive groove runs throughout this over-generous buffet of an album: balancing melody and rhythm, providing cushion for the comfortably virtuosic displays, keeping everything grounded in service of the songs. This is the post-disco mainstream sound of Off The Wall taken to the next level. The only missing ingredient is Michael himself; his appearance on the title track is nearly inaudible. However Patti Austin channels him on the effervescent “Razzamatazz” with sweet sweeping and soaring. “Razzmatazz” hit #17 on Billboard‘s R&B chart while “Ai No Corrida”, “Just Once” and “One Hundred Ways” all crossed over to the pop chart. But the single that defines The Dude never dented either chart. “Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me” was all over WBLS-FM in the spring of 1981, thanks to DJ/program director Frankie Crocker’s visionary taste. Exquisitely sung by Patti Austin and co-written by Stevie Wonder, “Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me” still gives me goosebumps. Listen to how Patti drops her voice in disappointment on the chorus (I bet you *wouldn’t go*) while Stevie’s snaking synth melody seeks to lift her spirits. This song instantly transports me to 1981, yet it sounds even better now.


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