Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Following my recent post on Michael Jackson's voice, I've been really going back to those records and thinking about his career. Recently, I challenged Matt to a duel - each of us making a career-spanning MJ mix. This is what I came up with, along with some brief annotations on my justification for the selections.
1. Jackson 5 - I Want You Back
There were a number of J5 songs that I axed due to time. "Dancing Machine" and "Looking Through the Windows" were the two most regrettable cuts. I went with this one because it is hands down the quintessential Jackson 5 song, musically and vocally. And how can you hear this song and not think of the accompanying dance routine?
2. The Jacksons - Enjoy Yourself
The first of three Jacksons tunes on the disc. The Jacksons selections point to my bias for MJs earliest and best dance material. This song is just a fun little number. What kept it from getting cut were those great syncopated brass hits.
3. The Jacksons - Blame it on the Boogie
Destiny is probably the best Jacksons album, and hints at what MJ would do with Off the Wall. I had "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)" in the lineup, but it's 7 minute length had to be sacrificed. There's also a great promo for this, which I've tacked on to the end of this post.
4. Rock With You
Although a great song, "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" is overplayed, so I went with "Rock With You" instead. The synth flute is infectious, MJ's voice is full of youth and energy, and if you recall, he had that great sequin jumpsuit. The first side of Off the Wall is so incredibly solid, it blows my mind. I can't say the same for the second side - I'm not into the cheesy ballad "She's Out of My Life," or the McCartney/Stevie Wonder covers.
5. Working Day and Night
Hands down the best song on Off the Wall, and perhaps eking it way into my heart as the best MJ song of all time. The rhythmic vocal track, the brass, the whole arrangement is just spot-on. This is as close as MJ ever got to doing a James Brown song.
6. Get on the Floor
I recently rediscovered this gem, which is sadly overlooked. While it can be said to be somewhat akin to side 2's "Burn this Disco Out," the latter seems to lack the integrity of this track. "Burn" seems more faddish, but "Get on the Floor" seems more legitimate in lyric and music. The strings are a great touch, and another great vocal performance.
7. The Jacksons - This Place Hotel
When MJ played 2 nights in Pittsburgh on the Bad tour, local (and long defunct) entertainment show Evening Magazine did their entire show on MJ both nights. Of course I didn't have tickets, so this was the best I could do. It was on this show that I first heard a clip of "This Place Hotel," which I immediately loved. It wasn't until years later that I tracked down the Triumph album from whence it came. It's just so atypically dark and weird for MJ.
8. Billie Jean
How couldn't I? That bass groove is killer. I wanted to include the 12" version (which emphasizes this groove even moreso), but I couldn't find a digital copy.
9. Baby Be Mine
The lost classic on the Thriller album. His vocal performance is stellar, the groove is tight (particularly from a rhythmic standpoint) and the juxtaposition between chorus and verse is really interesting. Why is this the one song on the album that gets no love? (ok, maybe "The Lady in My Life" is similarly neglected, but that was at least sampled by LL Cool J.)
11. Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'
The two hottest dance tracks on Thriller. I'm perhaps partial to PYT, but both will get people dancing, I promise you.
12. Leave Me Alone
Partially included for its novelty, partially because I actually think it's a pretty good song. The video, while interesting, cheapens the compositional and performative quality of the song I think. But then, the entire home video of Moonwalker cheapened Michael Jackson as it was such a self-indulgent and self-laudatory film. On the other hand, did you ever think you would see Michael Jackson, Sean Lennon and Joe Pesci share scenes? Me either.
13. The Way You Make Me Feel
Probably my favorite from the Bad album. I love his vocal, I love his layered backing vocals, I love the the bass groove - simply a great pop love song. I've also really wanted to do this at karaoke, but it's way out of my range. There are two songs in MJ's catalog that I think I can pull off at karaoke, but I'll let you try to figure out which ones.
14. Smooth Criminal
Another of those "how could I not include it" selections. I actually remember when this video premiered and thinking it was the coolest thing ever. Although I don't quite understand the lyrics. Is MJ the 'smooth criminal?' If so, why is he speaking in the third person? If not, who is?
15. Who is It
I was not expecting this to be included. I've previously mentioned in conversations that Dangerous is pretty much a dated and not very interesting album. I stand by that remark, but there are bright spots. This is certainly one of them, and also a song that (unlike the rest of the album) doesn't sound *so* 1992. I remember MTV had a contest where people made videos for the song and sent them in. They were all shown during a special, and maybe people called in to vote, I don't remember. But the winner was supposed to get their video as the "official" video for the song. I actually don't think that panned out. The video I remember seeing as the 'official' version was just a bunch of stock MJ footage strung together, but there were some really interesting submissions as I recall.
16. Remember the Time
Here's one from Dangerous that DOES sound totally dated. Taking that into account, it's a pretty good pop tune. Although again - why does it have to be accompanied by this ridiculous video starring Eddie Murphy, Iman and Magic set in an Egyptian theme? And John Singleton directed it? Jesus.
There are three songs that I actually like on HIStory, and this is the best of them. "They Don't Care About Us" and "Stranger in Moscow" are the others, but both of those also have pretty high cheese factors, and I probably like them for sentimental reasons more than anything. The rest of the album is dookie, and this is where I stopped paying attention. I did buy Invincible, but couldn't even make it through the entire album because it was even worse than HIStory. Alas.
Blame it on the Boogie: