Listen to this track by crossover pop-jazz guitarist and R&B singer George Benson. It’s his 1980 top-40 radio single “Give Me The Night” as taken from the album of the same name, Give Me The Night. This is one of those tunes that’s pretty of its time in some ways, tying into that whole soft rock, light jazz, post-disco vibe of the early ’80s. But, in other respects, it’s a pretty universal song. After all, how many songs have there been over the decades and since about the unifying power of music, and going out at night to hear it?
This was certainly Benson’s biggest hit, scoring a number one on the R&B charts, and number four on the pop charts. And if you recognize some of the production flourishes being similar to a pre-Thriller Michael Jackson, it may be because Quincy Jones (a man who knows a thing or two about adding jazzy flavour, with a hint of the funk, to pop tunes), is calling the shots on this one.
Benson too is not to be sidelined, being an accomplished jazz guitarist, and quite a deft vocalist as well. The way I see this song, and Benson’s artistic path that went into its creation, this is a direct line from one of Benson’s forerunners – Wes Montgomery.
Montgomery was also a jazz guitarist who dabbled in pop music a number of years previously. Benson carries on the tradition here on this tune. Yet, he had seen a way through when it came to pop and jazz crossover from much earlier on in the 1960s, recording a whole album that tributed the Beatles’ Abbey Road on his album The Other Side of Abbey Road, as well as having worked with Miles Davis on Davis’ Miles In the Sky in 1968, one of Davis’ first albums to feature an electric guitar.
And when it came to soul, his early work with soul-jazz pioneers Lonnie Smith, and Brother Jack McDuff positioned him pretty well to incorporating soul music and R&B into his Django Reinhardt-influenced, Wes Montgomeryesque jazz guitar chops. His 1976 album Breezin’broke all kinds of records as one of the best-selling jazz records of the decade (it was the first jazz album to go platinum), as well as allowing Benson to crossover into the pop world. By Give Me The Night, Benson was pretty well established, and then able to put himself across to a new pop audience pretty overtly, with Jones’ production helping him along.
“Give Me the Night”, like the musician performing it, has plenty of pedigree. This is not to mention how downright joyful it is, how optimistic. To me, it’s a song about simple pleasures, about the joy of being alive, surrounded by friends, and by soon-to-be friends. That this song fluidly incorporates jazz, soul, funk (listen to that bassline), and pop hooks too, is almost secondary to it’s being tremendously life-affirming.
George Benson is an active musician today, still expertly blurring the lines between soft-rock, soul, and jazz. You can learn more about his career and some of his other work on the George Benson Official website.