Crazy P, Daft Punk, Cajmere, Stanley Clarke and Michael Jackson make an appearance in DEL’s Essential George Duke Playlist, compiled for his column Foundations.
Related: Foundations: George Duke: Master of the Game
I Want You For Myself
(’79; #23 Dance-Disco / #23 R&B charts) – Solidly on my list of songs to play at my funeral party, I play this timeless classic as much today as I did when it first came out. Lynn Davis’ vocals, T H E piano solo of all solos, and the percussion-for-days break make this song virtually PERFECT! Tons of great edits like (Crazy P) Ron’s Re-edit, Keep Schtum’s Rework, Ramsey Hercules’ Edit, and Chicago’s own Cajmere & Gene Farris’ interpretation w/ “Edge of the Looking Glass” are worth a listen. LOVE THIS SONG!
Reach For It
(’77; #2 R&B / #54 Pop charts) – Pure unadulterated, jazz-funk, with some P-Funk influences thrown in too. This was George’s biggest seller. It is essentially an instrumental that meets a fun improv with riffs and the repetitive “dance” shout-out. The three female background singers, that his band was lucky to have shine in a limited role here. Duke, once proclaimed, “… the singers were icing to an already slammin’ cake.” The formula and the song worked, as it became THE sampled track of his entire repertoire. For example, Ice Cube used it liberally on “True to the Game”.
(’81; #6 R&B / #19 Pop charts) – Stanley Clarke / George Duke – Come on you have to sing it with me…”Ohhhh you… Sweet Baby…”. A classic ballad with a groove, written and sung by Duke and performed with another all-timer in Clarke! Duke wrote this in an afternoon while looking over the water in Berkeley, CA – an historic creation for an historic hit.
(’82; #36 Dance-Disco / #15 R&B / #41 Pop charts) – This song was literally – BIG IN JAPAN! Duke never understood why but I did: strong production with a bright and upbeat cadence that supports a solid vocal. Guitar and bass solos rock and carry the funky break. You can hear George’s self-described Earth, Wind & Fire influence on this one. Check out the DJ “S”‘ Bootleg “After Hours” Dance Remix.
(’78; #4 R&B chart) – This early hit could have easily been released by the “other” George at the time: Clinton. It’s thick funk with layers of expert instrumental highlights. Paris and Spice 1 both used this as a sample.
Thief in the Night
(’85; #21 Dance-Disco / #37 R&B charts) – Love the “reprise-like” intro that builds with lush percussion before an ethereal and rock-laden vocal begins to ride the dubby and FX heavy song. This was the title cut from Duke’s first album on Electra. While it was his biggest payday, he felt that he didn’t deliver, overall, on the entire album.
(’86; #57 R&B charts) – From the requisite broken glass Fx at the onset, to the beat-box, the surprise jazz interlude, and finally the vocoder’d vocals… you’re in for a B-boy/girl jam that will have you thinking of another jazz-dance cross-over genius, Herbie Hancock. The 12″ version is a must.
Look What You Find
(’79; uncharted) – Those in the know will look at this choice and seriously question my sanity BUT, I will share a secret – the initial 45 seconds was a special weapon for me! I used it as a funky intro on my radio show back in the day or to start a night/change the mood in a club… there – a FOUNDATIONS gift for you. Additionally, the song really is great – tons of percussion, strong horns, and a killer male-female call and response vocal battle! Finally the funk-rock guitar break is an electric sensation.
I Love You More
(’79; uncharted) – I included this due to the significance it had as the FOUNDATION for one of the hits (“Digital Love”) for a small group today… Daft Punk, back on their second album in 2001. As for the OG, it is a pleasant enough R&B mid-tempo song that you were likely to hear on urban radio back in ’79.
Off the Wall (LP)
(’79; 20 MILLION albums sold!!) – Michael Jackson – Included to illustrate another impact that George Duke had: as a “sideman” with so many other stars. In this case doin’ the keyboards, synthesizers, and programming WERK for MJ on this EPIC album on Epic Records!
DEL’s Foundations column is published each month with alarming consistency in 5 Magazine. This article originally appeared in our July 2014 print issue.