Image Credit: Stefanie Keenan/Getty ImagesLegendary producer Quincy Jones is the man to thank for loads of classic records. By crafting hits with iconic artists like Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, and countless others, his track record speaks for itself. But even at 77, Jones isn’t slowing down a bit. Two weeks ago his book with intimate stories studio experiences, The Quincy Jones Legacy Series: Q on Producing, hit stores. And next week (Nov. 9) he’ll release Q: Soul Bossa Nostra, an album featuring today’s pop stars covering their favorite Quincy cuts. The Music Mix caught up with Jones to chat about why his unreleased Michael Jackson songs will stay that way, what he thought of the reclusive Amy Winehouse’s “It’s My Party” cover, and why he’s not paying haters any mind.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You were known to hold some pretty huge talent searches for musicians and singers decades ago. What do you think of shows like American Idol?
QUINCY JONES: I think the attraction of American Idol is about the basic human nature attitude that is, “We can put you up there. But we can take you down.” That’s been around a long time. If you’re asking me what the one component that gets them millions of viewers, that’s it. Even more than the songs, I think it’s to see that the audience can control the popularity of the artist.
Would you ever be a judge on one of those…
No, that’s not what I do. I’ve got too much to do. That’s getting up every day at seven in the morning. That’s not my thing. But it has got its value. It gets people to pay attention to songs. It’s ironic because I hear songs on there like Moody’s “Mood For Love.” Which the first vocalese record James Moody did in Sweden in 1949, man. So it’s exposing people to music they’ve never heard before. That’s the good part. It’s a double-edged sword there.
When the track listing for this album came out, people were excited to hear how Amy Winehouse would cover “It’s My Party.” That was a huge record for you almost 40 years ago. How do you think she did?
I did the first one in 1963 with Lesley Gore. She was 16. They said that I couldn’t do rock & roll. I love challenges, man. And we had 18 hits with her. “It’s My Party” was the first hit. Amy, at first, was going to do “You Don’t Own Me.” She hadn’t recorded in four years. And then she decided to record “It’s My Party.” Everybody just went with what they wanted to go with.
Did you like Amy’s?
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Yeah! I know her work. She sang it like Amy. She has a funny little rap in there, too.
How attached were you to this album? Did you coach the artists like you would your other albums?
These weren’t like sessions where I’m there producing the records. I’m just observing, really. I was just there for them if they needed me. I’m never in my life going to do a record that’s a tribute to myself. I don’t need it. A lot of people have misunderstood that. This is not a tribute to myself. Timbaland came to me six years ago and said, “We’d like to do a tribute.” And I said I’d be honored. Then he said he’s going to let everybody get involved in it. And a lot of people did. A lot of people were in and then out, like will.i.am. He had four smash hits. I love will.i.am. I’m not going to interfere with the success of the Black Eyed Peas.
Were you at all nervous about how all these artists would perform your songs?
People have special memories and such attached to these songs. They might think you should leave the classics alone.
I know they do. And I saw what happened to [Akon’s] “Strawberry Letter 23.” [They said,] “You don’t have the right to remake this.” But I did the original Brothers Johnson record 30 years ago. Today, with the Internet, there’s so many haters, man. You can’t pay attention to that crap, man. The people are sitting there in their basement in their underwear just hating. It don’t mean nothing. They don’t even put their own name on it. They’ve got nothing else to do.
It looks like Sony will be putting out a Michael Jackson album of unreleased songs soon…
Michael and I did our thing. Michael called me in London when they sold the concerts out. I was there and he wanted to come over and bring the kids. And I had a dinner that night and I said I’d see him in Los Angeles. I never talked to him again. It tore my heart out. I was his age when I produced him. I still cannot believe to this day that he’s not here, my little brother.
I know there are tons of songs from the Bad, Thriller, and Off the Wall sessions that were cut because they weren’t as good as the rest. Do you plan on ever releasing those?
No. That’s the reason we took them out in the first place. At the end of a record, I’d take the four that I thought were the weakest out of the other ones and try to find the four that are stronger than anything else on the album. And it always works for me. We went through 800 songs to do Thriller. That’s a lot of songs, man.
With the digital era, the record business has taken some huge hits. Do you have any solutions for the problem? How can artists get back to the days when they’d actually sell their whole album?
You’ve got to have more than one or two hit singles in there. You’ve got to have five to seven hot records in there to make it worth buying the package. I wouldn’t pay for an album either with two records in it. I shouldn’t say that, but it’s true. They put two in and ten turkeys. No, you’ve got to make that sucker pop, man. We’ve got to fix the record business. That’s all I think about now. I see the problem of over the world. I’ve been to the House of Commons and Spain and China. It is a big problem. China’s got a billion people and a hit record over there is a million records. You know that ain’t right.
You’ve worked with so many legends and tell stories about them in your new book. Who was one of you favorite people to work with?