Monthly Archives: July 2014

NUMBER 1 – STATE OF SHOCK: THE BEST MICHAEL JACKSON SONG OF 1984

And the greatest Michael Jackson song of 1984 is . . . “State of Shock” by Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger!

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Just like the number three song on this countdown, “Say Say Say,” this song represents the collaboration of musical giants. The lead singer of the JACKSON 5 teams up with the lead singer of THE ROLLING STONES! This was the pop music equivalent of the comic book team-ups I loved as a kid – – – The Justice League Versus The Avengers! Superman Versus Thor! Those graphic mash-ups would always begin with a battle and, as a reader, you’d make a prediction and choose sides. Who was faster? Who was stronger? Who would win? The same thing happened when it was announced Michael and Mick had teamed up. Everyone immediately wondered which super star would out-sing/out-perform the other.

In 1984 I was clearly on Michael’s side. I had loved Michael ever since both he and I were kids. In the early 70’s he had me at having his own cartoon and singing the theme to the great killer rat with a heart of gold movie, Ben. In the late 70’s I listened in awe as older cousins played Off The Wall at family gatherings. And Thriller’s release was perfectly timed with my teenage years. This was the time I emerged as a true music fan and suddenly I was in control of my passion for music.  I was able to buy my own records and choose my favorite artists. And I chose Michael.

State of ShockSpeaking of teenage Sean, if you were to travel back in time and let him know that grown up blogging Sean chose “State of Shock” as the best MJ release of 1984 he would probably be appalled. I liked this song when it came out (because I liked everything Michael produced) but I didn’t LOVE it the way I loved Michael’s other music. I thought “State of Shock” was way too simplistic. I missed Quincy Jones’ slick, layered production.  The song felt repetitive and the lyrics felt childish (“She put me on my knees/please baby please” – oh please). I remember wondering if this was Michael phoning it in, but immediately pushed that thought to the back of my mind. I reminded myself that one could never accuse Michael of phoning it in.

But maybe Mick?

Mick and MichaelBut as I chose records for this countdown and rediscovered this song I had a bit of a revelation. The first time I re-listened to it earlier this month I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. After a few repeated listens (with the volume turned way up) I realized I absolutely loved this song and that it would best “Say, Say Say,” “Somebody’s Watching Me,” and “Farewell My Summer Love” to become my favorite Jackson release of 1984.  Today, “State of Shock” no longer sounds to me like two legends phoning it in. Now it sounds like an ode to the early rock n roll songs that are the basis for every pop song played on the radio. It’s the sound Jagger and The Rolling Stones attempted to emulate throughout their career and the sound Michael was weaned on. I think the ‘call and response’ and simple chord progression is their worthy homage to James Brown and Little Richard and Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins.

Today I listen to “State of Shock” and I hear Michael getting ready to write “Dirty Diana”. I hear two superstars having FUN on a record (“I need mouth to mouth resuscitation” – ha!). I listen to “State of Shock” and I realize I’m still fascinated by the last 15 seconds which qualifies as the strangest ending of any song sung by two heterosexual (no eye rolls) male singers. Mick lowers his register and turns up the sex while chanting, “look at me, look at me . . . .’ over and over until finally Michael emits what I can only describe as an orgasmic squeal. Ladies and gentleman – I can only hope that at some point in your lives you’ve had the good fortune to have made a similar noise. But I will say that I remain as puzzled today as I was in 1984 about the narrative of those last few seconds of the song. Are they singing to the same girl? Or to each other?

If you have any theories – please share them with me in the comments.

Cutie Pie, author of the great Michael Jackson blog All Things Michael!  informed me that this song was originally a duet between Michael and Freddie Mercury – but sadly, because of scheduling conflicts, they were never able to finish it. I think a completed duet AND music video from Michael and Freddie would have been a gift!

For Cutie Pie – this song wasn’t a slow burn – she liked it immediately. “I really love this song! It’s so fun and energizing! It’s one of those songs that makes me happy . . . Michael’s versatility as an artist was amazing as proven on this song. He went from bubble gum soul, to R & B, rock, classical, even experimented with a little gospel feel. You name it, he did it. I can almost “hear” Michael dancing his heart out while recording it.”

Just the Facts: “State of Shock” went to Number 3 on the US Billboard Hot 100 charts. According to the record’s sound engineer, Michael made Mick Jagger do vocal scales for over an hour before they started to record.

Favorite Moment: Those last 20 seconds! It is simultaneously the sexiest and most sexually confusing moment on any song I’ve ever heard.

You Might Also Like:

#2 – Centipede

#3 – Say Say Say

#4 – Tell Me I’m Not Dreamin’ (Too Good To Be True)

#5 – Farewell My Summer Love

#6 – Somebody’s Watching Me

Michael Jackson at his best in 1984

Michael Jackson’s Thriller: Let the Truth Unfurl Part 1

Michael Jackson’s Thriller: Let the Truth Unfurl Part 2

THE REFLEX: NUMBER ONE THIS WEEK IN 1984

In honor of the anniversary of the Fab Five’s first number one US hit I’m reposting my recollection of attending their first show at MSG.

MY FIRST TIME (WITH DURAN DURAN)

On March 21st, 1984 I attended my very first concert. Duran Duran’s Sing Blue Silver tour arrived in New York City and sold out two nights at Madison Square. Despite my parents’ assumption that riots were guaranteed to break out at any and every rock show, I was able to score tickets and permission (in that order) to the concert. A few days before the show I found out that pop station Z-100 was going to broadcast the concert live. I immediately set up a plan that would enable me to relive this historic moment in pop history over and over again.

I was able to convince my mom to agree to tape the show for me. This was a decision she would quickly regret.

Step 1 Teach her how to record radio on my boom box:  “I’m going to leave the radio on all day in my room so all you have to do is push the play and the record buttons at the EXACT same time at EXACTLY 8:00pm. Don’t push play and then record – you HAVE to push them at the same time, ok?  Alright, then come back at about 8:50 and as soon as the band finishes whatever song they’re playing QUICKLY flip the tape to side B, rewind to the beginning if necessary, and then IMMEDIATELY hit the play and record buttons again.”

Step 2 – Trial Run (“OK – see you hit the record button too late. You have to use two fingers! No – I’m sorry, I’m not raising my voice, it’s just that …”)

Step 3 – A few hours before the show call home and make sure Mom has retained her lesson. Also remind her that the benefit of listening to the show is the added peace of mind of knowing that the state police have not been called in to halt the Duran Duran riots.

Step 4 – Get a friend to tape the show – just in case.

I attended the show with my friend Diana. At the time we were friendly, but not the best of friends, but our mutual appreciation of Duran Duran set up a solid foundation.

The exultant anticipation of walking into MSG to see a show for the first time is an experience you never forget. Getting from the street to your seat literally takes a lot of time and effort. First you have to make your way past the sketchiness of 34th street/Penn station. Then, relieved you haven’t been mugged or pick-pocketed, you walk through a cavernous under ground bunker into the lobby, through the ticket gate, and finally begin your ascent – up, up, up the escalators. And at MSG when you’ve only paid $12.00 for tickets you spend a lot of time going up the escalator.

When Diana and I arrived at our seats we realized we were in the rafters but that didn’t temper our excitement. We ignored the opening band (the cool thing to do) , chatted with a couple of other concert goers and then . . .

the lights dimmed . . . and then . . . the eruption of screams from thousands of frenzied pubescent girls. And the screaming did not stop for the next two hours. At first it was fun, but three songs in,it quickly grew tiresome.  “I get it – three of the five band members are REALLY hot (I didn’t have the nerve to say) but can we tone down the screeching and focus on the music, just a little?”

Duran Duran T

An exact replica of the t-shirt I owned. I may need to buy a new one on ebay.

The next day I proudly walked the hallways of my high school, ears ringing, wearing my Duran Duran concert tee. Girls I didn’t know came up to me to ask for details about the show. They jabbed their fingers against my chest, tracing the outlines of their favorite band member, “Oh – Nick is my favorite – how did he look? How was his hair?!?”

 

 

Most of my friends found it hard to believe how much I liked the group. They understood why so many 9th grade girls liked the band – but why was I so enthralled? I’d argue, with 100% sincerity, that these guys had every right to be compared to the Beatles.

“Rolling Stone Magazine called them the Fab Five.”

“These guys are real musicians who play their own instruments and write their own songs.”

“Their lyrics are really deep. Take Union of the Snake  for example. Of course it’s about sex – ‘the UNION of the SNAKE’. But it’s also about our inability to communicate, ‘If I listen close I can hear them singers/Voices in your body coming through on the radio.’ Think about it.”

In truth – I did like Duran Duran’s music – it was catchy and fun and danceable. And when Nile Rodgers started working with them (The Reflex single remix, Wild Boys, Notorious) their music also became interesting. But I was also drawn to the image  – the band’s look and their looks. I embraced the aforementioned Rolling Stone cover story because it a) gave the group some musical cred and b) gave me the chance to stare at those pretty, pretty faces.

duran-duran-rolling-stone-cover

They’re looking through me.

And in case you were wondering – here’s how they ranked (16 YO Sean and Sean of today have similar taste, although today I might swap Simon and Roger).

5. Nick

4. Andy

3. Roger (arguably the most underrated member of the group)

2. Simon

1. John

 

Alas, mom did a great job taping the show (the second tape ran out during the final song – but who could have predicted Duran Duran would do a 12 minute encore version of Girls on Film!!??)

Last year while working at Fuse I met John Taylor –  backstage at Madison Square Garden. It was a nice ‘full circle’ moment. I made a point to tell him that 29 years earlier he and his band mates had the honor of providing me with my first concert experience. I think I expected him to be a little surprised (there weren’t many boys at the show and the only other black people in the arena were the two back-up singers and Nile Rogers). But without a pause he thanked me for being a fan and remarked how quickly the time had passed. I guess when you were at one point the biggest band in the world you assume everyone was a fan.

John Tayor and SDJ

Apologies to the colleagues who I cut out of this shot – but this is a two man band.

John Taylor was gracious and funny and his well aged cheekbones were still on point! Later that night I sent a little psychic message to my 16-year-old self. “Duran Duran may not be your favorite band forever (or even later this year) but for now – your love of the Fab Five is completely justified.”

 

 

 

 

 

 Duran Duran at MSG – March 21st – The Set List

1. Tiger Tiger

2. Is There Something I Should Know

3. Hungry Like the Wolf

4. The Reflex

5. New Moon on Monday

6. Union of the Snake

7. New Religion

8. Cracks in the Pavement

9. Of Crime and Passion

10. Rio

11. Friends of Mine

12. The Seventh Stranger

13. The Chauffeur

14. Save a Prayer

15. Planet Earth

16. My Own Way

17. Careless Memories

18. Girls on Film

NUMBER 2 – CENTIPEDE: THE BEST MICHAEL JACKSON SONGS OF 1984

Michael-And-His-Older-Sister-Rebbie-michael-jackson-31713447-283-309The second greatest Michael Jackson song released in 1984 is . . . Centipede by Rebbie Jackson, written and produced by Michael Jackson. Are we beginning to see a theme evolving on this countdown? So far Michael’s greatest songs of 1984 include a chorus sung on the record of a childhood friend, a duet with an older brother, a featured music video cameo for a sister and now, at number 2, an R&B /pop classic written for the eldest Jackson sibling, Rebbie.

In 1984  Michael Jackson emerged as a superstar solo artist but, in many ways, he was still laying claim to his role as a member of the Jacksons (the family and the group). Did Michael plan to continue to collaborate with the members of his clan ( the way Prince worked would work with The Time, Sheila E. , The Family, Apollonia and Vanity 6, etc)? Or was this his year of bestowing parting gifts? Was he giving his family one last brush of his Midas touch before ascending further into his identity as a solo artist?

centipedeMaybe Michael wasn’t even sure, but whatever the motivation he succeeded in writing and producing a sexy, slinky pop tune that only seems to get better with age. Play this song within earshot of any Gen X’er and you’re bound to induce involuntary exclamations of, “Ohhhhhh this was my jam!!!”

Good for Rebbie! Record one indelible hit, exit out of the spotlight and go on to become ‘the Marilyn Munster’ of the Jackson clan.

 

Just the Facts: It’s a family affair. Michael and Latoya sing backing vocals on the song (as well as The Weather Girls). “Centipede” reached number 4 on the R&B charts and went up to 24 on the pop charts.

Favorite Moment: 1:50 into the video Rebbie delivers a great MJ impressions when she strikes a classic Jackson pose and sings, “Don’t You Know!”

Also – she shoots lighting bolts from her palms. Hundreds of them!

You Might Also Like:

#3 – Say Say Say

#4 – Tell Me I’m Not Dreamin’ (Too Good To Be True)

#5 – Farewell My Summer Love

#6 – Somebody’s Watching Me

Michael Jackson at his best in 1984

Michael Jackson’s Thriller: Let the Truth Unfurl Part 1

Michael Jackson’s Thriller: Let the Truth Unfurl Part 2

NUMBER 3 – SAY SAY SAY: THE BEST MICHAEL JACKSON SONGS OF 1984

And as Casey Kasem would say . . .the countdown continues. The 3rd greatest Michael Jackson Song from 1984 is  . . .

Number 3 – Say, Say, Say by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson

Joining me to discuss this song is Cutie Pie. Please make sure to check out her blog – All Things Michael! for a comprehensive and passionate tribute to the King of Pop.

First of all,  I will admit that I’m playing a little loose with chronology by including this song on the list. “Say, Say, Say” was released in October of 1983 BUT during the first week of January 1984 the song was sitting at the top of the pop charts. When the year begins with “Mac” and “Jack” at number one, you know you’re in for a great (the greatest) year of pop music.

paul-mccartney-michael-jacksonThis song is all about pedigree. A Jackson (THE Jackson) and a Beatle team up and record a song at Abbey Road studios. I imagine there was a lot of pressure on this song to be a mind-blowing, life changing, world peace creating masterpiece.  I love the fact that instead of attempting to create something that sounds like the confluence of pop genius the duo crafted an easy, breezy mid tempo tune.

Cutie Pie has seen my complete list of 6 favorite MJ songs from 1984 and I believe this is her favorite.

“I love the collaboration of Michael and Paul.  Paul McCartney is my favorite Beatle.  I loved Linda (god rest her soul) as well.  This song is another example of the light, fun hearted side of Michael. I like the timing and the beat of the song as well as the harmonica.”

And both Sweetie Pie and I also love the ‘short film’ that accompanied the song. The fact that Paul and Michael allow themselves to be so goofy makes the video feel so extraordinarily cool. In late ’83 and early ’84 I watched this video every chance I could get – and since this was a cross over hit (aka equally loved by people both Black & White)  – I was able to see it on Friday Night Videos and Ralph McDaniels’ Video Music Box.

Just the Facts: Jackson stayed with Paul and Linda while recording this song. It was during this visit that Paul told Michael about the value of owning song catalogues. Jackson took this advice to heart and mind and later purchased the Beatles catalogue.

Favorite Moment: Latoya’s cameo! If casting your sister as a love interest in your music video is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

You Might Also Like:

#4 – Tell Me I’m Not Dreamin’ (Too Good To Be True)

#5 – Farewell My Summer Love

#6 – Somebody’s Watching Me

Michael Jackson’s Thriller: Let the Truth Unfurl Part 1

Michael Jackson’s Thriller: Let the Truth Unfurl Part 2