Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday Funk

Today, the so-called King of Pop turns 50. Everything else aside, he was once the greatest figure in pop and r&b music. Creatively and culturally, he's fallen pretty far from those graces. It's perhaps one of the most tragic tales in popular music. How did one man go from dominating popular music & culture to putting out irrelevant music and becoming beyond eccentric?

Like many, I have a history with Michael Jackson. I would venture to say that he's the first celebrity that I could identify. (I don't know this for a fact, but I can't see who would have preceded that in my youth.) I have many memories of listening to my mother's copy of Thriller growing up, including dancing in the basement with my sister and cracking my head open on the brick hearth.

Thriller was huge and important to me growing up, but Bad was where I really became an MJ maniac. It started when we went to Disney World in the summer of 1987. Captain E.O. blew my mind. (Note: some friends and I recently watched it thanks to the intertubes, and it was horrible.) I decided in the theater that MJ was my favorite recording artist ever.

Bad was the first tape I ever owned. I played the hell out of it. I remember seeing the long version of "Bad," the premiere of "Smooth Criminal," the Pepsi commercials, so desperately wanting to see MJ at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena in 1988, feeling ripped off because the compact disc had an extra song, etc. etc.

Bad admittedly doesn't hold up well beyond a snapshot of 1987. Thriller and Off the Wall have stood the test of time and remain great pop records. Bad is a little more of a product of the late-80s production style. But still, it holds a special place in my heart.

I recently got a copy of the Yokohama broadcast of the Bad tour. There are a number of things interesting about this performance. First, the setlist. The only songs from Bad are "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" (featuring Sheryl Crow!) and the title track. The rest of the set is Thriller, Off the Wall and material from the Jacksons' catalog. It's a very funky set.

Secondly, no lip synching! I was astonished. It's very clear that he's singing live, as it's imperfect. Apparently the second leg of the tour was when he started relying more on lip synching and by the Dangerous tour, you could count the live vocal tracks on one hand (and probably have a remainder).

All of this led me to the conclusion that although Thriller is a record breaking cultural phenomenon, the Bad period was when MJ was at the top of his game. He was still incredibly cool. You could tell your friends at school that you liked MJ and nobody had a problem with it. His performances in this period were solid. He was still somewhat sexy. If he'd had no further plastic surgery, things would have panned out much better for him today. And although Bad sounds "so 1987," at the time it was still a great album, having 5 #1 singles, plus one at #11 and another at #7.

Just an observation.

But based on that, here are two videos from the era. Both are live. The first is the official video for "Another Part of Me," which I pulled because it's one of the less frequently mentioned songs from the album.

And lastly, from that Yokohama DVD, one of my favorite MJ songs - "Working Day and Night."

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