"I Just Can't Stop Loving You." That is the title of a song written and performed by Michael Jackson on his BAD album. The song title sums up the way that many fans feel about him. Despite his scandals, controversies, and sudden death, there are people who just can't stop loving him. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm one of them. I've literally been a fan of Mike since I was at least three years old. He's been around my whole life, so his death hit me the same way it does when you lose a relative.
The Michael Jackson pictured above is the man I remember from my childhood. The soft spoken, crotch-grabbing, moonwalking showman who could do things on stage no other human being could think of. In short, he was the best entertainer ever. No offense to fans of Elvis, Sinatra, and others, but Michael Jackson wrote many of his own hits, generally sang his own background vocals, and choreographed his own steps. These are only some of the reasons why I respected him so much as an artist. The man was the ultimate entertainment machine. I owe a lot to Michael Jackson. I learned at the age of 5 that the girls love a man who can move like Michael Jackson--it was one of my early secrets to winning the ladies over. LOL.
I just got married last weekend, and I haven't been online much, but since the second anniversary of his death snuck up on me, I felt the need to blog.
June 25, 2009
I'll never forget this day. I was preparing for my college graduation. I was in Memphis, TN, visiting my parents and my sister. One of my best friends, Brandon, called me and said that MJ had been rushed to the hospital with cardiac arrest. Two thoughts rushed to my mind--cardiac arrest is no joke. Seriously. However, MJ had 50 concerts coming up for his This Is It tour. I remember back in 1995 when he passed out while rehearsing for an HBO special. I was hoping that maybe he had just worked himself too hard and this was a similar situation. Hoo-boy, was I wrong.
The suspense was annoying. CNN, Fox, and other news outlets kept saying that Jackson was in a "coma." TMZ released a report saying that he died, and my heart sank in my chest. I couldn't imagine Michael Jackson being dead. The man was my hero my whole life. However, TMZ was the only news source reporting his death. It wasn't until 45 minutes later that other outlets began to confirm his passing.
I was crushed, but at the same time, when someone dies, they're gone. I accepted it quickly. I got flooded with calls from family, and even friends I rarely talk to these days. Even old girlfriends I hadn't talked to in years called to console me. My facebook wall was also littered with messages from concerned friends.
I do feel like reminiscing and recalling my favorite videos and albums. I'll do a countdown and explain what I like/dislike about his solo efforts, and I'll list my favorite videos and tour.
1979's Off The Wall is one of my favorite albums from MJ. In fact, it's the album where he became Michael Jackson. MJ was no longer the cute teenager leading his brothers. He was now a man with new vocal abilities, proving he could slide from a growling tenor to a delicate falsetto in a heartbeat. He also wrote three tracks on this album. Don't Stop Til' You Get Enough, Working Day and Night, and Get On The Floor. Rock With You, She's Out of My Life, and the title track were also hit singles from this album. My personal favorite is the Stevie Wonder-penned I Can't Help It. The lonely jazz groove and MJ's stuttering delivery makes the song a winner to this day.
**** Four Stars
Thriller overshadows everything else that MJ did during his solo career, but there are some good tunes here. In fact, MJ wrote four of them--Billie Jean, Beat It, Wanna Be Startin Somethin, and The Girl Is Mine. In my opinion, Thriller's best moment is Human Nature.
That track, to me, sums up what Michael Jackson is all about. It's one of the most beautiful melodies ever recorded, and Michael's lush vocal delivery and caressing background vocals make this song the perfect lullaby. There are two underrated tracks on this album. One is Baby Be Mine, where Michael sings at the top of his tenor. The other is the album's closer, The Lady In My Life, where MJ showcases his most soulful vocals since his Jackson 5 days. (I think this song would also work out well for Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass, or Michael's big brother, Jermaine.)
*** Three Stars
BAD was a big change for Michael. To this day, I respect him and Quincy for not stepping into the studio in 1986 to create another Thriller. BAD was a step into a brand new musical direction, but it still had that Michael Jackson formula. The music had a harder edge, but Michael maintained his boyish voice and layered background vocals. He also wrote 9 out of the 11 cuts on this album. Some critics slammed Michael for shifting to pop music, but in all honesty, his music was still black. For example, the title track is a synthesized version of James Brown funk. (Even the digital horn arrangements are a tribute to Brown). The Way You Make Me Feel is a blues song with the flash and dance beat of a pop track.
Like the title track, Smooth Criminal is also quite funky, but its synthesized sound gives the song more of a pop feel. Michael was still writing and performing R&B and funk music, but he watered it down enough so that it was easy to digest for people of all races, ages, and cultures. It's something he would do for the rest of his life.
Two of my favorite MJ tracks are found here; Dirty Diana and Liberian Girl. D.D. is a perfect combination of heavy metal and R&B, while the harmonies on L.G. are the best ever. Marvin Gaye and The Carpenters did a great job with their harmonies, but this one song proves that no one can layer their backgrounds like Michael Jackson. He took the art of stacking one's voice to a whole new level. I love Leave Me Alone for the same reasons. Just when you think MJ's voice can't get no higher, it does.
My only issue with the BAD album is that it sounds horribly dated. Quincy and Mike went crazy with the synthesized production. On Thriller, the songs were a mix of a live band sound and synthesized pop. The songs on BAD are terrific, but I wish they would remaster the music with a live band sound for each track. For example, I strongly prefer the funky This Is It version of Smooth Criminal over the album version anyday.
**** Four Stars
It's hard to pick a personal favorite Michael Jackson album, but if I had to, I might lean towards Dangerous. I remember this album so well. I was glued to the TV for the world premieres of Black or White and Remember The Time. Personally, I'm a huge fan of New Jack Swing. (For those who don't know what the term means, NJS is a type of R&B with hip hop swing beats. It was hugely popular in the late 80s through the mid-90s. Artists like Keith Sweat, Bobby Brown, Babyface, and others had hits using this formula). For both professional and personal reasons, MJ left longtime producer Quincy Jones to work with Teddy Riley, who was the king of New Jack Swing. To me, this album gets it right. Michael Jackson has always loved melody. But, he also loved rhythms that make you bust a move. Many of the tracks on Dangerous have gorgeous melodies combined with irresistible rhythms. For example, In The Closet has nice melodies throughout, but the pulsing dance beat is dynamic.
Michael updated his sound without abandoning his trademarks. The layered background vocals are still present, as well as the growling, the falsetto, the hiccups, etc. Who Is It is a New Jack Swing version of 1982's Billie Jean, complete with swirling strings, a funky bass line, dance beat, and lyrics about a woman who doesn't have Mike's best interest at heart. My personal favorites have always been Why You Wanna Trip On Me, In The Closet, She Drives Me Wild, I Can't Let Her Get Away, Who Is It, Give In To Me, Keep The Faith, and Dangerous. Michael Jackson and New Jack Swing were a terrific marriage. Unfortunately, that union would end on his next album.
**** Four Stars
I was never crazy about 1995's HIStory album, even when it was first released. Unlike his previous albums, it doesn't flow. Although there are some terrific tunes sprinkled throughout the CD, it sounds like it was randomly put together. For example, why is a 1988 song (Come Together) included on a 1995 disc of new material? This album was Michael's retaliation to the scandal that erupted two years prior. The man was angry, and his growling vocals show that.
I do like Stranger In Moscow, This Time Around, D.S., Money, You are not alone, Tabloid Junkie, and Smile. The other tracks don't move me. However, if you really want to get to know Michael Jackson, this is the album to listen to. It's his most personal and reflective album.
** Two Stars
Invincible dropped when I was in the 10th grade. I was happy to see Mike back on the scene. He surprised everyone by upstaging N'Sync at the VMAs, and had two sell-out shows at MSG that fall. But I'm not a fan of the music here. The chief producers were Rodney Jerkins and Teddy Riley. Michael and Rodney attempted to use the Dangerous formula, which is to frontload the album with urban R&B, and gradually insert the pop tracks later on. It didn't quite work this time. All of Rodney Jerkins' tracks are overproduced--the album sounded dated the moment it arrived in stores.
Teddy Riley sounds out of his element this time around. With the exception of the brilliant Heaven Can Wait and the latin blockbuster, Whatever Happens, none of Riley's productions impress me. It's the songs that Riley and Jerkins didn't produce that I really like. Butterflies was written by Floetry. On the song, Michael showcases his most soulful falsetto vocals in years. It's a terrific song, and it garnered much radio-play despite not having a video to accompany it. Break of Dawn is another gem, produced by Dr. Freeze. Cry was produced by R. Kelly, but the song is a blatant remake of Man In The Mirror. I was pleasantly surprised that Mike recorded R&B tracks like BOD, HCW and Butterflies. I also like You Rock My World (the video was no prize, in my opinion) and I enjoyed Speechless as well. Another element worth mentioning is Michael's resonant voice on the digital track, 2000 Watts.
In my honest opinion, this was Mike's worst album. To these ears, the bad outweighs the good. I hate songs like The Lost Children. That's gotta be his worst song ever. What was he thinking? Come on, Mike.
**1/2 Two and a half stars
This is actually a very decent album, in my personal opinion. There is much controversy over the album, especially regarding the authenticity of Michael's vocals on the tracks co-written and produced by the Cascio family. But aside from all that, there are some amazing songs on this album, which is largely a collection of unfinished Jackson tracks that several producers finished up.
My favorites include Hollywood Tonite, The Way You Love Me, Monster, Breaking News, Much Too Soon and the dazzling Behind The Mask. But the shining moment on the album is Best of Joy, a sensational pop ballad where Michael sings so high that he resembles a chirping bird. It's a gorgeous song, and it proves that in 2009, Michael still had pipes. It sounds as if Mike's voice was on the verge of peaking again. This is the Michael Jackson album I play the most and never get tired of. It's short and sweet.
As for the controversy, I try to keep an open mind about it. For example, on Breaking News, Michael's vocals are overly processed. The pitch of his voice has also been raised, and there are people singing background vocals with him. Honestly, I don't think the Cascio tracks sound like Michael Jackson, but that's my opinion.
**** 4 1/2 stars
Favorite Music videos/short films
The Bad short film is my favorite, but you have to see the 19 minute version. Michael plays a kid who goes to a private high school, but it causes awkwardness with his homeboys when he returns to the hood. Wesley Snipes has a large role in this video. This short film marked the first time that many people saw the "new" Michael Jackson, complete with pale skin, a new nose, longer hair and a cleft in his chin.
Who can resist Smooth Criminal? The dancing was phenomenal. I strongly suggest watching the full length Moonwalker version rather than the fast-paced grainy version that was officially released. Man, I loved this video. I knew all the moves even when I was four years old. I could never master the lean, though. lol.
I've always liked this one. I was in Kindergarten when it premiered. Like Smooth Criminal, the dance moves are out of this world. Eddie Murphy, Iman, and Magic Johnson make cameo appearances. I also liked MJ's hair in this video. In fact, before getting dreads, I wore this style briefly in college.
I get sick of the songs on the Thriller album sometimes (they get overplayed where I live) but I never get sick of the video. Most credit Thriller as being the best music video ever, and I don't disagree. Thriller has a hold on me for two reasons: I'm a horror fan. I love, love, love horror movies. And secondly, I've always admired the on-camera chemistry between MJ and his co-star, Ola Ray. They acted like a real couple. Ola was clearly annoyed with him at times, but obviously loved him. Michael, on the other hand, was a taunting prankster who probably would have been forced to sleep on the couch if he hadn't sang to her. lol. Whispery voice or not, Michael played a fun-loving American boyfriend..and convincingly.
My favorite tour is the Dangerous tour. I remember watching the Bucharest, Romania show live on HBO with my family. With the exception of lip-synching a few songs, this was a terrific show. He sounded great when he did sing live, and the band was awesome. (You can't go wrong with Ricky Lawson on drums and Jennifer Batten and David Williams on guitar). My favorite performance is Human Nature. To me, the song has a more dramatic personality when performed live. MJ sounded shaky at first because he was out of breath, but he pulled it together quickly. As the song finishes, he was in brilliant form, wailing with his falsetto and pop-locking into the shadows.
I wish they'd release the second leg of the BAD tour. I'd also like to see the Victory tour in great quality. Hopefully, those tours will be released soon.
This is all my opinion. I know some people agree and disagree with me, which is fine. I just felt that this was the day to do a Michael Jackson blog. I hope you enjoyed the read, and feel free to comment.
"It's all for love. L.O.V.E."
-Michael Jackson (2009)
2013 Update: Now that a concert from the second leg of the BAD tour has been released, I have to say that BAD is without question my favorite Michael Jackson tour. He was in his prime, and although he evolved after this tour, I'm a big fan of the set list. Every song performed is a favorite of mine. And the vocals were live, for the most part. This tour proved that MJ was the last of the great song and dance men.