Few would dispute Quincy Jones' towering influence on the music world--he stands as a producer and arranger par excellence, his pristine and multilayered recordings sounding as fresh today as they did when first released. In addition to producing blockbusters for others--most notably Michael Jackson's Thriller and Off the Wall albums--he sporadically released discs under his own moniker. Thanks to his reputation, Jones could recruit the best musicians, songwriters, and singers for his projects. One of his best, 1981's The Dude, made a star of James Ingram and spawned numerous hits ("Just Once" and "One Hundred Ways," for example). An underrated cut featuring R&B vocalist Patti Austin on lead vocals lingers long after the song has faded out: "Betcha' Wouldn't Hurt Me."
Co-written by Stevie Wonder and Stephanie Andrews, "Betcha' Wouldn't Hurt Me" succeeds due to four elements: Wonder's swirling synthesizer riffs, Steve Lukather's rhythmic guitar, the intricate percussion, and Austin's warm voice. Try to sit still when the beat kicks in, followed by Lukather's tasteful but funky guitar. Austin enters in with her honeyed voice, at first sounding like a starry eyed romantic: "Loving you came easily," she croons. Then her voice slightly drops to signal her disillusionment: "Yet it made me blind to all there was to see / Now my heart is filled with pain." Her voice drips with shock and disappointment, crying "where's the man that once was you?"
In contrast to the lyrics, the music stays danceable and even upbeat. Wonder's synthesizer crashes in during the chorus: "If you really cared about anyone else / I know you wouldn't hurt me," Austin sings, Wonder punctuating her frustration with forceful chords. "If you cared about more than yourself / I bet ya wouldn't go," she continues, her voice lowering and sustaining the word "go." Wonder repeats the synthesizer pattern after each line, stressing the percussion along with accenting the melody.
Another element that makes "Betcha' Wouldn't Hurt Me" a typical Jones recording is its pristine mix and attention to sonic detail. Hear the track through headphones, and new sounds will emerge with every subsequent listen. The percussion is understated, not booming through the mix, yet its Latin elements render it intricate and intriguing. While the bass remains buried, it keeps a steady tempo through the track; like the percussion, it appears simple, but in reality is quite complicated. Jones understands that each instrument represents a piece of a larger puzzle, and he ensures that no note is wasted in creating a robust sound. He wisely avoids over-embellishment, using only a slight echo to deepen the sonic quality. Virtually all tracks on The Dude bear these Jones hallmarks.
"Betcha' Wouldn't Hurt Me" was never released as an A-side single, which remains a puzzle. Its catchy chorus and danceable beat would have resonated on the R&B and dance charts. Nevertheless, the track is a buried gem that deserves renewed attention, if not further appreciation of Jones' considerable gifts.