Hate Proof: George Benson’s “Give Me The Night”

George Benson is an American musician, guitarist and singer-songwriter. He began his professional career at twenty-one, as a jazz guitarist. Benson uses a rest-stroke picking technique similar to that of gypsy jazz players such as Django Reinhardt. [Wikipedia]

[Warner Brothers]

[Warner Brothers]

I’ve always been impressed when a musician can sing and play an instrument simultaneously. It’s a difficult skill, and it typically has to be learned young. I can’t do it myself, and despite his godly skill on guitar, neither could Frank Zappa.

On occasion, a guitarist involuntarily vocalizes as they play. The great Albert Collins did, and I’ve heard that Carlos Santana does too. It’s not a bad thing, in fact, in talented hands, it’s great. So it is with George Benson.

Benson has worked with legends like Miles Davis, Chet Atkins and Jack McDuff. In 1980, none other than Quincy Jones produced Benson’s hit album Give Me The Night. Its eponymous single was written by Heatwave keyboardist Rod Temperton, who penned Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” and “Thriller”.  Also on guitar was Lee Ritenour, and jazz singer Patti Austin provided the backing vocals. How could this song be anything short of grand, with that pedigree?

“Give Me The Night” begins with Benson’s distinctive “blip blip” guitar lick, which he repeats flawlessly over the song’s duration. Because this is technically “disco” from 1980, there are string stings and warm horn sections, but they’re low enough in the mix (thank you Quincy) to blend with the overall tone. (These were typical elements of the era; see also “Stomp”, Brothers Johnson.) If you have a problem with this, you’re reading something on another website already.

How about that bass keyboard? It’s probably Herbie Hancock (naturally), but it could be Michael Boddicker, the whiz who gifted us the soundtrack for The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across The 8th Dimension. The late great Mother George Duke is another possible culprit. The lyrics are hilariously mundane, but does it matter? Benson sings with the same cadence as his playing, which sounds fantastic.

Whenever dark has fallen
You know the spirit of the party starts to come alive
Until the day is dawning
You can throw out all the blues and hit the city lights

‘Cause there’s music in the air
And lots of lovin’ everywhere
So give me the night
Give me the night

 Over the chorus, deep male voices intone “EVENIN’ EVENIN'”. I used to think it was humming, until I listened closer. That is funny as hell. Benson is so totally earnest in his love of the Night, he throws in its formal name.

At 3:08, the song breaks down to vocals, highlighting the incredible voices, before bringing the bass and everyone else back for the outro. All throughout, the elements interchange, with Benson’s guitar work gleaming brightest. I’ve listened to this single countless times, and it always sounds brand spanking new.

This was one of disco’s final gasps, as it was among the last singles of that genre to chart. I have the advantage of being too young at the time to develop a serious prejudice of disco. The first band I remember vehemently despising was Kajagoogoo, in 1981. However, I can certainly imagine how awful it was for Zeppelin and Stones fans when the Village People and John Travolta were everywhere.

Does not feature George Benson. Does feature: endless mind-numbing horror.

Does not feature George Benson. Does feature: endless mind-numbing horror.

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Filed under Faint Signals, Late To The Party, Nostalgic Obsessions, Thousand Listen Club