Category Archives: Tribute

THE BEST MICHAEL JACKSON SONGS OF 1984: NUMBER 6 – SOMEBODY’S WATCHING ME

He ain't heavy, he's Rockwell

He ain’t heavy, he’s Rockwell

The world couldn’t get enough of Michael Jackson in 1984. Even after the constant radio airplay and video rotation generated by Jackson’s 1983 pop masterwork, Thriller; we still wanted more. And Michael delivered. Instead of taking a break after the insane success of Thriller – Michael Jackson ran a victory lap (pun intended) in 1984.

To commemorate the 5th anniversary of his passing I’m going to post my 6 Favorite Post-Thriller Michael Jackson Releases from 1984. These are the songs either sung, written or produced by MJ that came out in the great (greatest) year of pop.

Read here to see why I think 1984 was such a pivotal year for Jackson.

#6 Somebody’s Watching Me by Rockwell. Chorus vocals by Michael Jackson.
Joining me to discuss this song is Cutie Pie, the author of my absolute favorite Michael Jackson blog – All Things Michael!

Let’s all agree that without Michael this song would not be a hit. It probably wouldn’t exist.  The verses, sung by Rockwell, are fun in a tongue-in-cheek/high quality novelty song kind of way. But then the chorus kicks in and you hear that unmistakable alto delivering yet another unforgettable melody and you think you might be listening to a great B-side from Off the Wall.

One of the reasons I really like this song is because it illustrates Michael Jackson’s loyalty. Jackson and Rockwell (otherwise known as Kennedy William Gordy aka Berry Gordy’s son) were childhood friends. I imagine there were hundreds of wanna be pop stars who were clamoring for a chance to collaborate with Michael in 1984. But Michael chose to sing on the song that would turn out to be his childhood friend’s only hit.

Cutie Pie agrees that Michael makes the song work. “I loved this song the minute I heard it and it’s mostly because of Michael’s vocals.” She also informed me that, “Jermaine (Jackson) is singing background on this song as well as the duo The Weather Girls.”

And despite the fact that this is officially a Rockwell song, Cutie Pie points out that the theme of constant observation, ” . . . could also apply . . . to Michael as he never had any privacy from the press or his fans.”

And finally Cutie Pie makes a great point that this song tied into the themes of George Orwell’s 1984. Indeed!

“Big Brother is Watching . . . Rockwell!”

 Just the Facts: Somebody’s Watching Me went to #2 on the US and UK pop charts and stayed at number 1 on the R&B charts for 5 weeks.

rockwell showerBest Thing About the Video: Without hesitation or guilt I will state that Rockwell gives good shower scene.

Coming up tomorrow . . .  my 5th Favorite Michael Jackson Release from 1984.

You Might Also Like:

#1 – State of Shock

#2 – Centipede

#3 – Say Say Say

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

#5 – Farewell My Summer Love

Michael Jackson at his Best in 1984

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

MICHAEL JACKSON AT HIS BEST: POST THRILLER

Michael-Jackson-The-Jacksons-VictorY-Tour-1984-michael-jackson-17890123-547-800Imagine the pressure an artist feels attempting to follow-up the success of a lifetime. Imagine: You’re Ralph Ellison trying to write the next novel after Invisible Man. You’re Orson Welles planning your next film after Citizen Kane. Now imagine it’s late 1983 and your Michael Jackson. You’ve just recorded and released the most successful pop album of all time. What do you do?

No one would have blamed Michael if he had taken a very long hiatus to enjoy the spoils of his great success. But something tells me Michael didn’t have a choice. OF COURSE he was immediately back in the studio writing, producing, recording and performing; inevitably generating some of the best singles of 1984. I think the most interesting thing about Michael’s post Thriller output is the fact that so many of his recording were collaborations. At one point I thought he was going the way of Prince and creating a family of protégés. But Jackson’s prolific collaborative phase was primarily confined to 1984, the year immediately following Thriller’s chart domination.

To commemorate the sad anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death this week I’m going to countdown my 6 Favorite Post-Thriller releases from 1984.

Coming up  . . . the 6th Best Post Thriller Song by Michael Jackson. And the 5th Best Song. But first, let’s look back at the album that set the standard. Below you can check out earlier posts about Jackson’s seminal album, Thriller:

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

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

Calling on all Michael Jackson fans

mj84I’m planning a small tribute to Michael Jackson next week, throughout the week, to commemorate the anniversary of his death ( I can’t believe it’s been 5 years). I’m looking for some MJ fans to participate by sharing their thoughts on a few of the specific songs I’ll be posting about (WHICH songs? Ah – that’s a secret for now)

Please leave a comment or shoot me an email if you’re interested.

Thanks!

JIMMY SOMMERVILLE: NOW & THEN: REVISITING “SMALLTOWN BOY”

sommervilleI recently posted about the impact of Bronski Beat’s first single, “Smalltown Boy.” The record is everything a great pop song should be – danceable, meaningful and unique.

In order to celebrate the 30th anniversary of this single, Bronski Beat’s lead singer, Jimmy Sommerville, has posted a video of a live, acoustic performance of the song. The result? Let’s just say that everything has stood the test of time. Sommerville’s voice still sounds amazing. His miraculous high notes could give Mariah Carey a run for her money! And the song feels just as poignant now as it did in 1984. Enjoy his new performance and then take a look at the original video.

SCREAMER OF THE WEEK: BRONSKI BEAT’S SMALLTOWN BOY. THIS WEEK IN 1984.

small town boyJimmy Sommerville and his band Bronski Beat are the most significant LGBT figures in the history of pop music. Although they haven’t sold nearly as many records as Elton John, or won as many Grammys as k.d. lang, or sold out stadiums like Queen; they are the first band I can think of who were openly gay from the very beginning of their career. Not only were they OUT, but they wore their sexuality like a badge of honor and made it an integral part of their persona and their music.

In 1984 there were a number of pop stars who were challenging hetero-normative standards in different ways. Boy George was unapologetic about his appearance, but coy about his sexuality. Other artists challenged gender norms – either for fashion (Nick Rhodes, Larry Blackmon) or for artistic expression ( Annie Lennox). But in June of 1984, Bronski Beat was the only band I knew of that wrote songs explicitly dealing with gay issues. In their second single “Why,” Sommerville sings the line,

. . . I turn to kiss his lips.

Did you hear that citizens/subjects of Reagan and Thatcher? “HIS. LIPS!” That simple lyric, sung by a man about another man, seemed almost revolutionary!

bronski beatDuring the third week of June in 1984 , WLIR’s listeners chose Bronski Beat’s first single, “Small Town Boy” as the best new song of the week. The song tells the story of a young,  ostensibly gay, man who is bullied and misunderstood. In an act of self-preservation he flees the confines of his hometown. Where is he going?  Far away. Somewhere to be himself, somewhere to find himself.

It’s heartening to think that thousands of teens in NYC and Long Island listened to this record and decided to embrace it as their favorite song of the week. Did the majority of listeners truly hear the lyrics and understand the message? I’d like to think so.

Of course the message doesn’t mean anything if the music isn’t great. Like many bands of the 80’s, Bronski Beat placed drum machines and synthesizers at the forefront of their sound. But more than other bands they seemed to be saying, “Sure – we’ll dabble in New Wave but we’re not done with Disco yet.”

And of course you can’t discuss Bronski Beat’s music without talking about Sommerville’s voice. That soulful, ethereal soprano floats on top of the dance beat and reaches heights that don’t seem physically possible. He is the ‘son and heir’ to the great disco singer Sylvester. Can someone please invent a time machine in order to allow Sommerville and Sylvester to perform a duet together? At very least I need to hear a mash-up dance mix of “Small Town Boy” and “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).”

age of consentIf Sommerville is Sylvester’s direct offspring on the openly gay pop singer family tree – then think of the branches that sprout from Bronski Beat: Antony and the Johnsons, Frank Ocean, Scissor Sisters, Ed Droste (Grizzly Bear) Adam Lambert, Tyler Glenn (Neon Trees). Here’s an idea – each of these artists should cover a song from Age of Consent and release the collection as a Bronski Beat tribute album.

Bronski Beat deserves that tribute. They should be honored for being pioneers. They should also be honored for making some really great pop music.

Check out Jimmy Sommerville: Now & Then to see him deliver a beautiful performance of this great song 30 years after its debut. He still NAILS those high notes.

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Additional Screamer of the Week posts:

The Psychedelic Furs – Heaven

The Thompson Twins – You Take Me Up

Prince and the Revolution – When Doves Cry

R.E.M. – Pretty Persuasion

DEAR CASEY. . . THE EARNEST INFLUENCE OF AMERICAN TOP 40

KasemIn the mid eighties, the highlight of many of my Sundays involved sitting down to listen to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 countdown. Sometimes I’d sit alone in my bedroom – doing homework or reading a comic. Sometimes I’d talk on the phone with a friend who was also listening – a friend equally obsessed with the minutiae of the countdown: Do you think “The Reflex” will go to number one this week?  Will Eurythmics stay in the top 10? Why isn’t R.E.M. breaking into the top 40?!?

Why did I care so much? Why should any of us care whether a song sells more than another in any given week? Does it matter that a single spends 6 weeks in the top 10 before it falls out of the countdown? Does the fact that a song ‘jumps 6 spots’ make us like it any more? Or any less?

Quantifying music sales and airplay seemed antithetical to the act of enjoying music for music’s sake. But Casey Kasem and his weekly countdown inspired a greater appreciation of pop music for generations of fans. He definitely had a profound influence on me.

On his show – pop music became something of a sport. But in addition to supplying a dramatic narrative for record sales – Kasem also supplied context.  He’d share information about where a band recorded their album, who inspired the lyrics of a certain song, when a band was planning to tour, and why a certain song would be a group’s next single. He was a trusted source, full of information, but most importantly, he conveyed a sense that he cared about pop music as much as a 16 year old boy in Brooklyn.

Casey Kasem presented an earnest appreciation, interest and respect for pop. Each week his show told me: This music IS special. It deserves your attention. Your obsession is valid. 

Readers of this blog know that each week I typically include a post about the number one song of the week in 1984. Each and every time I title one of those posts I imagine Casey’s dramatic announcement:

(Drum roll) And the most popular song in the land  is  . . . 

 

 

Letter Never Sent. Message Received.

REM_1984_96128665_213310bIn high school I had a compulsion to figure out the meaning of the lyrics of all of my favorite pop songs. I would read and re-read liner notes with great reverence (hey – if Pearl S. Buck, Shakespeare, and George Orwell were worthy of that attention – so were Sting, Simon LeBon and Larry Blackmon). The act and ability to decipher the vaguest, most surreal lines was empowering. Wrestle the meaning and make sense of the world.

So much has been written about Michael Stipe’s indecipherable lyrics, but it never mattered to me whether I could understand some (most) of the words he sang. I cared less about the meaning and more about the feeling the words, and the sound of the words, evoked.

spotify:track:1ireiGNXpxIgA2szGoHNxe

Heaven is Yours, Heaven is Yours

That may be the only line I’m completely certain of when I sing along. But I still ‘get’ the song.

Loss. . . Regret . . .

But, like so many R.E.M. songs, there’s also hope. That line from the chorus is the first of so many direct, uplifting declarations from the band (You are the everything, Everybody Hurts, No one can see you cry, Every Day is Yours to Win, You’ll be fine).

Who needs a life coach when you’re an R.E.M. fan.

Additional R.E.M. posts:

R.E.M – Pretty Persuasion