Back in the 1970s, it was nothing for R&B bands to include instrumentals on their albums. Parliament, Funkadelic, Earth, Wind & Fire, the Bar-Kays, Kool & The Gang and many others thought nothing of having songs with little or no vocals. The Brothers Johnson were no different. Each of their albums featured at least one instrumental piece. In fact, their debut album contained the original instrumental version of “Tomorrow.” Years later, Quincy Jones would include the song, with lyrics written by Siedah Garrett, on his Back On The Block album. The song, with vocals by a then-twelve year old Tevin Campbell, would hit #1 on the R&B chart.
The Brothers Johnson owed their first taste of fame to Jones. George & Louis were featured on Jones’ 1975 album Mellow Madness, contributing songwriting, vocal and instrumental contributions on four of the album’s ten songs. By the next year, the brothers were R&B chart toppers in their own right. Produced by Jones, their debut album Look Out For #1 was an instant smash, propelled by the #1 hit “I’ll Be Good To You.”
After their first four albums were produced by Jones, the brothers decided to produce themselves. Jones used the time to release his album The Dude, as well as work on Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Without Jones, the group found the going a little tougher on their subsequent releases. By the time 1984 rolled around, their fortunes had faded a bit chart-wise, yet there was still quality music being produced. For their Out Of Control album, Leon Sylvers III was brought in to produce a couple songs, with the rest primarily done by the brothers. Sylvers was able to get them a top 20 R&B hit with “You Keep Me Coming Back,” but that was the only single released. Buried in the second half of the album was the instrumental, “Tokyo,” which is today’s Smooth Jazz Sunday song.
Written by Louis Johnson, you can hear his bass popping throughout the track. To me, it sounds similar to what the smooth jazz group Hiroshima was doing with their music around the same time, and even beyond. Sadly, this song may be one of the last examples of a band or group of musicians allowing for instrumental songs on their albums, particularly as bands began to shrink to allow for the electronic music that began to come into vogue in the 80s.
I hope you enjoy the Brothers Johnson’s trip to “Tokyo,” and as always, thanks for reading and listening.