The Brothers Johnson – Light Up the Night [A&M ,1980]

The Brothers Johnson - Light up the nightLight Up the Night was the album that Quincy Jones produced in late 1979 soon after helming Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall. As a result, it is a sister sound, perfectly arranged by Jones and also partially written by UK songwriter Rod Temperton.

It is a perfectly calculated piece of superior, smooth groove, with a zingy, upbeat message. All that is missing is Jackson’s breathless focal point. You could imagine Jackson or even George Benson, Jones’ other production charge at this time, singing or playing any of the nine tracks here. In fact, Jackson does appear – co-writing and adding vocals on This Had to Be.

So who were these Johnson brothers? Guitarist George and bassist Louis Johnson had been performing together since their teens with brother Tommy and cousin Alex Weir. After supporting various acts, they joined Billy Preston’s band and came to the attention of Quincy Jones when the played on his Mellow Madness album in 1975. From then on, Jones produced a run of their albums, including 1977’s Right On Time, which contained their sweetened, arguably superior, version of Shuggie Otis’ Strawberry Letter 23.

Light Up the Night was a real UK soul radio favourite at the turn of the 80s, as it was another window into bright, shiny Californian sunshine amid the grimness of the early part of that decade. Treasure featured singer Richard Heath, and fundamentally sounded like a rewrite of track by Heatwave – Temperton’s old band – with Heath sounding like their vocalist Johnnie Wilder.

However, Light Up the Night is all really about its lead single, Stomp, a truly irresistible piece of post-disco groove. It is as good as the best of anything by their peers, Chic, Earth, Wind & Fire and Rufus. Its killer chorus, well-arranged strings and bass breakdown from Louis Johnson make it one of perennial sounds of a Saturday night. It was a US R&B number one, and reached number six in the UK in March 1980.

The Brothers made some more decent albums, before splitting in 1982. While Louis Johnson played bass on Thriller (it’s him on Billie Jean), George played guitar for Steve Arrington; Alex Weir, meanwhile, joined Talking Heads. The Brothers Johnson now reform periodically, but nothing comes close to the glory of this album. The sound of a fun, fertile time is truly captured here.

Daryl Easlea

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. Originally published on BBC Music.

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