Leon Russell wrote “This Masquerade” and originally released it as the B-side of his 1972 hit “Tight Rope.” The song is about a couple who are going through a masquerade, pretending that they are still in love, when in fact they are both unhappy with the relationship. It’s a lonely game they play.
George Benson was a well-respected jazz guitarist when he released his album Breezin’. Most of the album was typical of his jazz guitar style, but “This Masquerade”, which was the only one on the album containing vocals, became his first hit. It set the stage for more popular vocal recordings by Benson.
On the Breezin’ album, this song runs 8:03. Most radio stations shied away from it, since they didn’t want to devote that much airtime to Benson, who wasn’t well known at the time. The song found some fervent fans, however, including Ty Bell, a disc jockey at the New Orleans radio station WYLD. When Eddie Pugh, who was the National Black Music Promotions Director for Benson’s label, Warner Bros. Records, paid a visit to the station, Bell played him a tidy edit he made of “This Masquerade” running under four minutes.
Returning to Los Angeles, Pugh played the edit for the song’s producer, Tommy LiPuma, but they needed authorization from higher up before they could release a short version. At their Monday morning meeting, Pugh presented the edit and asked that they make “This Masquerade” their focus single, giving it a strong promotional push. to the entire Warner Bros. body of shot callers,” Pugh told us. The brass at the label (including Chairman Mo Ostin and President Joe Smith), were intrigued and swayed by support from Rosalie Trombley, the music director at the Windsor/Detroit radio station CKLW, who was ready to go “all out” on Benson’s Breezin’ album. “The station was a trailblazer, a trendsetter and a powerhouse,” Push told us. “With CKLW in the mix, it was the belief that several major Top 40 stations would follow suit. The final answer on “Masquerade” was given two days later: Yes.”
A 3:17 radio was released, and Benson had his first Top 10 hit.