Sunday, January 9, 2011

Michael Jackson: Interpreter

So how about the King of Pop and his interpretive skills? Here are some of the more famous Michael Jackson hits that Jackson did not write:

"Rock With You" (Rod Temperton)
"Thriller" (Rod Temperton)
"Human Nature" (Steve Porcaro/John Bettis)
"Man In The Mirror" (Glen Ballard/Siedah Garrett)
"You are Not Alone" (R. Kelly)

You may be asking yourself, what in the world is a Rod Temperton, author of "Rock With You" and "Thriller" (as well as smaller Jackson hits from that era such as "Off The Wall," "Baby Be Mine," and "The Lady In My Life"), and where can I find one? Let me tell you. A Rod Temperton is a late 70s/early 80s songwriter and performer. You may have heard several of his songs even if you did not know they were his. As a member of the disco band Heatwave, he wrote R&B airplay staples "Always and Forever," "Boogie Nights," and "Groove Line." George Benson's crossover smash "Give Me the Night"? Rod Temperton. James Ingram and Michael McDonald's absurdly cheesy duet "Yah Mo B There"? Rod Tempterton.

Apparently there isn't much of a story behind "Rock With You," but here is what Wikipedia has to say about the title track to the world's best-selling, and therefore greatest, album:
"Thriller" was originally titled "Starlight",[1][2] contrary to other reports of the title "Starlight Love".[3] While the song was titled "Starlight", the song's hook lyrics were "Starlight! Starlight sun...", but after the song was changed to "Thriller" the hook was rewritten to "Thriller! In the night...".[4]

Temperton commented, "Originally, when I did my Thriller demo, I called it Starlight. Quincy said to me, 'You managed to come up with a title for the last album, see what you can do for this album.' I said, 'Oh great,' so I went back to the hotel, wrote two or three hundred titles, and came up with the title 'Midnight Man'. The next morning, I woke up, and I just said this word... Something in my head just said, this is the title. You could visualize it on the top of the Billboard charts. You could see the merchandising for this one word, how it jumped off the page as 'Thriller'.[2]"

While Temperton was writing "Thriller" he stated that he'd "always envisioned" a "talking section at the end" on the song, but did not really know what "to do with it", until deciding "to have somebody, a famous voice, in the horror genre, to do this vocal."[2] Jones' wife, Peggy Lipton, who knew Vincent Price, suggested Price for the vocal part, which Price agreed to do.[2]
As I wrote before regarding "Human Nature," "The song was written by former Carpenters lyricist John Bettis and Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro. That is some serious M.O.R. cred right there." Wikipedia goes on:
Initially, Porcaro recorded a rough demo of the song on a cassette.[1] Fellow Toto band member David Paich then gave the demo, along with two songs written by Paich, to producer Quincy Jones, hoping they would be included on Thriller.[1] Jones didn't like Paich's songs, but enjoyed the rough demo of "Human Nature" at the end of the cassette.[1] Jones explained, "All of a sudden, at the end, there was all this silence, there was: 'why, why, dah dah da-dum dah dah, why, why'. Just a dummy lyric and a very skeletal thing—I get goosebumps talking about it. I said, 'This is where we wanna go, because it's got such a wonderful flavor'".[2] Bettis, who had written lyrics for hits by The Carpenters and The Pointer Sisters, among others, was asked to add lyrics to the song. He completed the song in two days.[3] The producer asked if the song could be included on Jackson's album, to which Porcaro and Bettis agreed.[1] "Human Nature" was the last song selected for Thriller, ousting "Carousel" from the final track listing.
Sucks to be "Carousel." As far as "Man In The Mirror" is concerned, co-writer Siedah Garrett ended up being Jackson's surprise duet partner on "I Just Can't Stop Loving You." I remember thinking "Who the hell is Siedah Garrett?" Well, the answer is, "the co-writer of 'Man In The Mirror'!" Glen Ballard, of course, achieved everlasting pop immortality/infamy by co-writing and producing Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill.

Finally, "You Are Not Alone" brought together two men with notoriously boundary-pushing views on adult/child intimacy:
The song was written by R. Kelly and produced by Kelly and Jackson.[2] Kelly wrote the song after the loss of close people in his life.[4] Kelly was delighted to be able to work with his idol, explaining "I was psyched ... I feel I could have done his whole album. Not being selfish. I was just that geeked about it. It was an experience out of this world ... It's amazing to know that five years ago I was writing songs in a basement in the ghetto and now I'm writing for Michael Jackson ... I'd be a fool not to say it's a dream come true."[5] Jackson contacted Kelly to see if he had any material available. Kelly forwarded a tape recording of the song and Jackson then agreed to work with Kelly on the piece.[5] On the tape sent to Jackson, Kelly sung "You Are Not Alone" mimicking Jackson's vocal style, explaining, "I think I am him. I become him. I want him to feel that as well." Jackson found the interpretation amusing.
I would hope he did. In conclusion, through sheer force of his unstoppable star power, Michael Jackson turned each of these songs into works that may have originated at the hands of someone else, but would never again be thought of as anything other than "Michael Jackson songs." Except by someone obnoxious like me.

1 comment:

Herr Zrbo said...

"but here is what Wikipedia has to say about the title track to the world's best-selling, and therefore greatest, album"