Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Remember days when we never had a dime - George Benson's 'Give me the night' (1980)

What can you say about an album that ticks all the right boxes for all the wrong reasons? Because that's what I struggle with in this review of George Benson's give me the night, this should be, by all estimations and atrocious album yet it is just brilliant! 

I vividly remember buying it aged 16 at the HMV on Piccadilly Circus on a weekend's leave from school. The album screamed 1980s from the front cover, an affected shot of Benson in a salmon pink jumper grooving to some unknown beat mid finger-click. 

An initial look at the liner notes (written by producer Quincy Jones) and the stellar cast also let's you know that you are in store for an unashamedly groovy experience, leading luminaries like Nathan East, Greg Phillinganes and Steve Gadd are joined by stellar guest stars like Herbie Hancock and Lee Ritenour. Perhaps the biggest credit though should go to Rod Temperton who writes a number of the tracks on the album, this was the very same man who had composed 'Off the Wall' and 'Thriller' for MJ as well as heatwave's 1977 smash 'Boogie Nights'. 

The album has all the right ingredients so far, cheesy cover, incredible musicians, dynamite production and an artist who was reaching his artistic and commercial peak. In a previous post about Chistopher Cross (insert date) I made a bold claim that certain artists had one great album in them on which they created the wave and then sank without a trace. Although benson was never to match the giddy heights that this album flung him to again, he was already an established and widely respected jazz guitarist who had already been recording for almost 20 year - with a few hits and a couple of high charting albums (mainly instrumentals) - so he was no stranger to the industry. However this record was to catapult him aggressively into the mainstream showcasing his talents as an R&B Soulster across the pop airwaves. 

For me, a little like Ian Dury's fantastic 'Do It Yourself' this cut is really evocative of its time, a turnig point if you will, a transition between the 70s and 80s, much of it screams the former but certain production and song structure meanders to the other. 

'Love x Love', the first track, is by far my favourite, where Benson's soaring vocals are backed by his lyrical if slightly dated picked guitar riffs on his trademark Gibson. The start is so summery and you could imagine sitting in a white linen suit, cigar in hand (corona, not too small, not to large) and a vodka rocks in the other as some bikini clad floozy basks by the pool drenched by the warming rays of the sun. 

'On Broadway' is an instrumental that I can put up with, but it ends up sounding like incidental music from Saturday Night Fever, and it must be said is a tad repetitive. Weirdly enough this is one of the critics favourites, and the can keep it. 

Track 3, 'Moody's Mood' is a standard which finds benson at his scatty best, flexing his vocal muscles to deliver a gentle but beautifully rendered tune which is guaranteed to bring a smile to you face, accompanied by a very subtle electric organ and some considerate drumming it's musically one of the album's best!

The title track is next and is probably the best known song on the album with its catchy chorus and hedonistic vibe. The ludicrous video sees benson in his element tan suit and all playing the guitar and roller skating down the Venice Beach promenade simultaneously. It certainly conjures up the image of sunny southern climbs and wild nights at the disco way back when a time when drink, drugs and fast women were the norm  - at least for George Benson that is! 

My other favourite cut on the album closes the first side,'What's on your mind' has Quincy Jones's paw prints all over it, with a powerhouse horn section and some impassioned vocals from Benson. The structure is tight and there's a fantastic guitar riff that bridges the whole thing together in classic . 

Side two is a more ballad heavy affair, opening with breezy instrumental 'Dinorah, Dinorah', which for me is pleasant enough if a little bit throwaway, despite a notable guest performance by Herbie Hancock on keys! 

Thinks then get a little smooth, soulful and illicit with tracks like 'Midnight Love Affair', 'Star of a Story' and 'Turn off the Lamplight' mainly concerning secret trysts and forbidden lovers, it's all highly melodramatic if not very racy in the slightest. 

Of course each of these numbers is well produced and well executed, but this is definitely an album of two halves of which the former is by far the stronger. They are pleasant enough but not particularly earth-shattering and certainly not chart material.

For this slightly lesser side I am going to award 'Give me the night' a respectable 7/10, it's a curate's egg of a record - good in parts! 

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