What the hell, I’m jumping on the bandwagon. I don’t have too much to say about Michael Jackson’s death (okay, maybe a little bit at the end of this post), but I did love the man’s music. Like so many of you, I grew up with Thriller, bought Bad the day it came out, and threw up a little when he kissed Lisa Marie on national television. So this week, I thought I’d review some of Michael’s many songs that graced the Top 10 over his career.
A few notes before we begin: would you believe that Michael never had a song at #9 or #8? It’s true. So I took a few liberties across the chart, but every song did indeed reach the Top 10. Also, I don’t think I’ve really come to terms with the fact that Michael Jackson is actually dead (how come there haven’t been any conspiracy theories brought forth yet about this all being a ruse, and Michael is actually living in hiding somewhere with John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Olivia Newton-John’s boyfriend?), so forgive me for switching tenses here and there. I know I did it, I’m too lazy to edit it now. Okay, enough explanation — it’s time for CHART ATTACK!‘s Michael Jackson Edition!
10. Off the Wall — Michael Jackson Amazon iTunes
9. P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) — Michael Jackson Amazon iTunes
8. Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground) — The Jacksons Amazon iTunes
7. Human Nature — Michael Jackson Amazon iTunes
6. In the Closet — Michael Jackson Amazon iTunes
5. Scream — Michael Jackson & Janet Jackson Amazon iTunes
4. Got to Be There — Michael Jackson Amazon iTunes
3. Remember the Time — Michael Jackson Amazon iTunes
2. Man in the Mirror — Michael Jackson Amazon iTunes
1. The Love You Save — The Jackson 5 Amazon iTunes
10. Off the Wall — Michael Jackson
Peaked at #10 on 4/12/80
I’ve known this song for years and years, but I always thought it was called “Enjoy Yourself.” Nope, that’s actually a song by the Jacksons that reached #6 in 1974. This one is written by Rod Temperton, formerly known as “the white guy in Heatwave.” This marked the beginning of a very lucrative collaboration between Temperton and Jackson, as Temperton wrote “Off the Wall,” “Burn This Disco Out” and the awesome “Rock With You” for Off the Wall, and “Thriller,” the underrated “Baby Be Mine” and the just-as-mediocre-as-you-remember-it “Lady in My Life” for Thriller. Apparently Rod had a knack for writing album title songs. Anyway, “Off the Wall” features some lame lyrics and an inexplicable chimp in the opening (no, it’s not Bubbles — this was 1979, remember?), but a great hook in the chorus. That’s really what this song’s all about. If the bassline sounds familiar it all, it might be because Rod wrote a very similar part in Heatwave’s “Boogie Nights.”
Michael performed this one live frequently, both with the Jacksons (Destiny, Triumph and Victory tours) and solo, doing a pretty credible job on the Bad Tour as well. Sheryl Crow’s in the background of this video, singing backing vocals, but good luck finding her under all her hair.
9. P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) — Michael Jackson
Peaked at #10 on 11/26/83
Oooh yeah! Now we’re talking! I love every single thing about this song. It’s funky, it’s got a killer groove, great vocals and awesome synths. Minor points off for any song where Michael feels the need to talk, especially when trying to sex someone up, but it really can’t stop this one from kicking ass. The Pretty Young Things echoing back the “na na na na na” part are Janet and LaToya, not that you could possibly tell.
“P.Y.T.” was originally written by Jackson and Greg Phillinganes as a slower R&B song. Quincy Jones heard it, and apparently liked the title…and nothing else. He and James Ingram re-wrote the song into the version we all know and love. Here’s the original demo that was rejected; will.i.am later mixed the demo for the Thriller 25 album, and this version has been edited by DJ U-Tern, apparently. It’s the only version I can find.
Michael Jackson — P.Y.T. (Demo) (U-Tern Edit) (download)
In 2002, Monica sampled “P.Y.T.” for her single “All Eyez on Me,” which is actually quite good. Jackson actually gave the masters to Monica, and you can hear a few ad-libs not present on the original record near the end.
Monica — All Eyez on Me (download)
8. Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground) — The Jacksons
Peaked at #7 on 5/19/79
When you think about it, it’s kind of impressive that this song made it all the way to #7. For starters, it was the Jacksons’ first hit in three years, since the aforementioned “Enjoy Yourself.” Michael himself was still a few months away from the release of Off the Wall, and hadn’t reached the Top 10 on his own in seven years. But the most impressive thing about this song reaching the Top 10 is that the song never changes chords. Not once. Sure, the groove is plenty solid, but not one single chord change. And the original version of this song is eight minutes long. Eight minutes! The single edit is a merciful 3:45. I’ve listened to the original unedited track time and time again and although it never fails to make me boogie, at some point even I’m thinking “enough.” Plus, the Jacksons don’t play any instruments on it. They just sing backing vocals, and most of those don’t show up until the end of the song anyway. Not that the public cared about who was playing the bass on any Jacksons song (poor Tito), but still. One chord, a notable absence of Jacksons … yet the song hit #7.
Here’s the unremarkable song for the video, featuring equally unremarkable costumes and dance moves. It makes me wonder what it was like to be a Jacksons fan in the late ’70s. I imagine people must have thought they’d fade into obscurity. Nobody had any idea what Michael was about to unleash.
7. Human Nature — Michael Jackson
Peaked at #7 on 9/17/83
It’s nearly impossible to pick a favorite song off of Thriller, but if you forced me to make a choice, I’d probably cite this one. There are a few reasons. The simplest reason is that it’s just so damn pretty, well-composed, expertly executed musically, and brilliantly produced. But the other reason is because it allows one to tell the legendary story of When Toto Screwed Over the Maniac. I just came up with that title. Gather ’round, children! Uncle Jason’s got a story for you!
The story starts with Michael Sembello, a brilliant musician and session player on records by Stevie Wonder and the Jacksons, to name but a few, and the writer of the awesome “Maniac” from Flashdance. Quincy Jones (“Q” to those who know him, which I don’t and that’s why I’m calling him “Quincy”) asked Sembello to submit some songs for consideration for Thriller. One of the songs chosen was entitled “Carousel,” a weird-ass song about a guy who loses his girl at a circus or something. Remember, Michael wasn’t yet a kook, so this song actually does come across as somewhat odd, though pretty.
But “Q” (fuck it, he’ll never know) also asked Toto to submit some songs, which makes sense because Q is awesome and everybody who’s awesome loves Toto, especially early ’80s Toto. So David Paich wrote two songs, recorded ‘em onto a cassette the band had lying around, and submitted them for the project. Q wasn’t impressed with the songs, but he left the tape running while chatting in the studio, and at the end of the tape was a very rough demo of the chorus of “Human Nature,” recorded by Steve Porcaro. Q loved it, asked his friend John Bettis to write some lyrics, and “Human Nature” bumped “Carousel” right off the album. So at this point in 1982, I imagine Sembello is pissed, Paich is wondering why he had to be so goddamn cheap and couldn’t just record onto a new cassette, and both are plotting Steve Porcaro’s death.
Okay, storytime is over. “Human Nature” features a beautiful, fragile and vulnerable vocal from MJ, minus the awkward crying from “She’s Out of My Life.” It’s melodic to all get-out. I adore it and could listen to it for weeks on end. Michael performed the song on the Victory Tour, the Bad Tour, and the Dangerous Tour, but if I were you, I’d avoid ‘em and just go to the original — they get progressively worse, to the point where the Dangerous Tour version is kind of a car accident, and answers my question “why did Michael Jackson stop singing live at concerts?”. But if you’re interested in some nice covers by white dudes, here you go. Just remember, though — nothing beats the real thing.
David Mead — Human Nature (download)
Glenn Case — Human Nature (download)
6. In the Closet — Michael Jackson
Peaked at #6 on 5/30/92
“In the Closet” was a pretty solid jam from Dangerous with a great chorus and a Middle East-meets-new jack swing feel, but really, the only reason I’m including this song here is because of the truly awesome video, directed by the late, great Herb Ritts. Ritts knew how to make a somewhat awkward scenario (a sleeveless Michael seducing a supermodel) electrifying; it’s all in those camera moves. Although I guess we’ll give Michael some credit as well — whenever he started dancing, he changed the game completely. Consider: Michael Jackson kissing Lisa Marie Presley? Gross! Michael Jackson dancing next to Naomi Campbell? Okay, a little uncomfortable at times, but actually kind of awesome and, dare I say, sexy. One of the greatest things about Jackson’s was that he was able to express so much through dancing that he just couldn’t express any other way. Machismo, fluidity, sensuality — it’s all there in the dance moves.
I will admit that the video gets off to a slow start, but it gets a lot better at 3:30. (I love the moves he’s doing from 3:52 to 3:56.) Take a look. And that’s not really Naomi Campbell on female vocals — although credited as “Mystery Woman” in the Dangerous credits, it’s actually Princess Stephanie of Monaco. At one point, this song was meant to be a duet between Jackson and Madonna, but Michael wasn’t a fan of her sexual lyrics. (“‘Cause if it’s achy, you have to rub it,” however, was fine.)
(I have no idea why this clip ends with about 60 seconds of Ryan White on Donohue.)
5. Scream — Michael Jackson & Janet Jackson (download)
Peaked at #5 on 6/17/95
“Scream” is significant for a number of reasons, the first obviously being that it marks the first true duet between the two most famous Jacksons. (Sorry, Rebbie!) “Scream” was their first collaboration since “P.Y.T.,” although calling that track a collaboration is probably something of a stretch. On MTV, Janet called the experience of working with Michael “very fun” and “interesting,” which I think is all code for “freaky.”
“Scream” marked Michael’s first collaboration with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who co-wrote the song with the two Jacksons. Michael is credited with playing “keyboard, synthesizer, guitar, drums and percussion,” but don’t you think it’s odd that we never saw Michael pick up an instrument ever? Other than the guitar he smashes in this video?
Anyway, back to the song. I think it’s a good one. The anger behind the lyrics really works for both Jacksons, and it’s got a catchy chorus. My favorite part, however, is the pre-chorus. Take a listen to the backing vocals in those sections — they’re straight out of Off the Wall. You may not have heard them before, probably because you were too transfixed on the music video which cost a record-breaking $7 million to make. It still holds the Guinness record for the most expensive video ever made. In second place? “Love Touch” by Rod Stewart. (Not true.)
Here’s the video. Directed by Mark Romanek, it features Michael and Janet on some spaceship, doing things that look like they cost $7 million to do. The video definitely helped this song’s success, although it’s sad that in 1995 a Michael-Janet collaboration didn’t automatically guarantee a #1 hit.
4. Got to Be There — Michael Jackson (download)
Peaked at #4 on 12/11/71
For many years, we’ve talked about Michael Jackson like he became some sort of alien, but to tell the truth, he was kind of an alien all along. Think about it:Â at 13 years old, Michael was singing songs like this one, with a vocal sensitivity uncommon among kids who haven’t yet hit puberty. No wonder why Michael Jackson spent much of his adult life searching for childhood — he spent his childhood pretending to be an adult. Not that this song is particularly racy, but “got to be there in the morning when she says hello to the world” does kind of imply that they’re sharing a bed, no? Still, it doesn’t sound out-of-place coming out of this kid’s mouth at all, because of that phenomenal voice. It’s a good thing, too, because the rest of the song is somewhat clunky. Still, the song is significant in MJ history for being his first solo single, and a success at that, reaching #4. The success of this single, followed quickly by “Rockin’ Robin” (#2), proved that Motown could market Jackson as a solo artist while still a member of the Jackson 5. Gotta keep Berry Gordy in silk pajamas, y’all.
3. Remember the Time — Michael Jackson
Peaked at #3 on 3/7/92
Dangerous was Michael’s new jack swing album, co-produced by the originator and leader of the genre, Teddy Riley — and the sound is perhaps most evident on this track, super slick and smooth. But what I remember the most about this song is the video. I bet you do, too. I remember the huge premiere on TV. I remember, even as a young teenager, thinking, “Wow…Magic Johnson can’t act his way out of a paper bag.” Directed by John Singleton, the video is a lot of fun, despite one of the most awkward moments ever in a Michael Jackson video: a kiss between MJ and Iman. Ewwww. If he had danced through it, maybe we wouldn’t be having this problem.
2. Man in the Mirror — Michael Jackson
Peaked at #1 on 3/26/88
Some — many, probably — find “Man in the Mirror” schmaltzy. Yeah, I suppose that’s true — but I’ve always liked it anyway. I believe it was the first of Michael’s solo songs about social change, which is unfortunate because it begat less awesome songs like “Heal the World,” “Earth Song” and, I don’t know, “Cry” from Invincible, which I’ve never heard and will probably never hear (and I’m okay with that). But “Man in the Mirror” had an earnest quality to it, and the fantastic Andrae Crouch Choir, who were also featured on pop singles such as “Like a Prayer” and Rick Astley’s “Cry For Help.” (Ha ha!) It’s somewhat preachy but has never struck me as overly so.
The song was a co-write between Siedah Garrett and Glen Ballard; Garrett had been summoned by my good buddy Q, along with a number of other songwriters, to come up with hit songs for Bad. Ballard and Garrett were supposed to be meeting to work on her solo album, but wound up writing “Man in the Mirror” instead. My best friend Q wasn’t sure that Michael would record it, due to the sheer number of songs coming in over theÂ 11 months they spent on Bad. But Mikey liked it, and Garrett was invited back to sing the backing vocals (along with the aforementioned Rick Astley background singers). A few days later, she was called back to the studio; she figured she’d be finishing up the vocals on “Man in the Mirror,” and only then realized she had been hired to sing a duet with Michael, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” the lead-off track (and #1 single) from Bad.
1. The Love You Save — The Jackson 5
Peaked at #1 on 6/27/70
A couple of weeks ago, I was having a hard time picking a chart for this week. I randomly stopped on July 4, 1970, and began writing up the chart last Thursday, the day Michael died. The #1 track for the week? “The Love You Save.” Spooky? Not in the slightest, but I thought it was at least interesting.
I’m going to keep this one simple. “The Love You Save” was yet another one of the fantastic early Jackson 5 songs written, recorded and produced by the famed Corporation at Motown. While it may be less popular than “I Want You Back” or “ABC,” I’ve always loved the music behind this track more than the other two.
We’ve looked at a lot of videos this week. In fact, this chart took me longer than most of my others because I spent a great deal of time just watching clips of Michael Jackson in action: with his brothers, solo, in concert, on television, in the studio. Watching this clip, from The Ed Sullivan Show, gave me pause. From even this very young age, it was clear Michael was born to entertain. I’m saddened by his death, saddened by the thought that perhaps he could have indeed made a comeback with his London concerts, but saddened more by the feeling deep down inside that he was simply so far past his prime that there was no returning to his former glory. Whatever he did or didn’t do later in life, however, doesn’t make me think differently on any of the songs we’ve presented here today, or the many others we didn’t. I’m thankful for that, at least. And “Lady in My Life” is still a lame-ass track.
To close out this week’s chart, let’s take a look at two more videos, just ’cause I think they’re amusing. I didn’t remember this one until I came across it on YouTube. Every song (except for one) on Bad had an accompanying music video. Here’s the one for “Liberian Girl,” with almost every moment of the video completely dated.
Okay, okay, just one more. Check this out: in 1982, Quincy Jones was working on Donna Summer’s cover of “State of Independence.” The choir on the song consisted of, among others: Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, James Ingram, Donna Summer, Christopher Cross, Lionel Richie, Brenda Russell, Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald — all in the studio at the exact same time. I shit you not. Watch and enjoy.
Thanks for reading and see you soon for another edition ofÂ CHART ATTACK!