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

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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

 

THE BEST MICHAEL JACKSON SONGS OF 1984: NUMBER 4 – TELL ME I’M NOT DREAMIN’ (TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE)

Michael-and-JermaineTo commemorate the 5th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s passing I’m posting my 6 Favorite Post-Thriller Michael Jackson Releases from 1984 (very specific – I know – but the list fits perfectly within the theme of this blog and the focus of my obsessions).

These are the best songs either sung, written or produced by MJ that came out in the great (greatest) year of pop.

Joining me to discuss today’s song is Cutie Pie, the author of my absolute favorite Michael Jackson blog – All Things Michael!

Coming up today . . .

#4 TELL ME I’M NOT DREAMIN’ (TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE) By Jermaine Jackson and Michael Jackson

If you’ve never heard of this song or if you only have the flicker of a vague memory I need you to stop reading and do the following:

1) Hit ‘play’ on the youtube link below.

2) Turn the volume of your phone/tablet/computer way up (pump her booo, pump her!)

3) While listening, stand-up and dance and perform backing vocals as if you were Randy or Marlon or Tito joining your brothers Jermaine and Michael for a command performance.

4) Repeat if necessary.

If you followed those steps you just shared my experience of re-discovering this song after a couple of decades of forgetting it ever existed. There’s much to love about this record and Cutie Pie agrees! She calls it, “a beautiful collaboration between the two brothers. Their harmonies are strong and smooth.” I’d like to imagine the two of them in the recording studio falling into old rhythms and pulling a lifetime of experience and habits together to make this song.

So if this song is so good – why didn’t it become a hit? Cutie Pie reminded me that the song was never officially released as a single because of legal issues between Michael’s label and Jermaine’s label. The song was only on the B-side of Jermaine’s single, “Do What You Do” but still received quite a bit of airplay.

Sadly, since it wasn’t an official single the brothers never had the chance to make a video. THAT is a tragedy! If Cutie Pie had the power to travel back in time and hire a director for the video that never was she says she’d pick, “Bob Giraldi because Michael seemed to work well with him. He directed “Beat It,” “Say, Say, Say,” and the infamous Pepsi Commercial.  Joe Pytka is another good director that Michael worked well with. He directed “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Dirty Diana,” “Heal the World” and the Pepsi Commercial called “The Chase” during the Bad Era.”

Someone get Cutie Pie a time machine, I think she’d use it very responsibly!

Just the Facts: The song was nominated for a Grammy for Best Performance by a Duo or Group.

Favorite Moment: The fact that you don’t hear Michael’s voice by itself until 1:27 into the song. That’s a nice bit of younger sibling/bigger star generosity.

You Might Also Like:

#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

Michael Jackson: Now & Then

THE BEST MICHAEL JACKSON SONGS OF 1984: NUMBER 5 – FAREWELL MY SUMMER LOVE

To commemorate the 5th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s passing I’m posting my 6 Favorite Post-Thriller Michael Jackson Releases from 1984 (very specific – I know – but the list fits perfectly within the theme of this blog and the focus of my obsessions).

These are the best songs either sung, written or produced by MJ that came out in the great (greatest) year of pop. Coming up today . . .

MJ 73#5 Farewell My Summer Love.

In 1984 everything and anything associated with Michael Jackson turned to gold (or platinum) so it’s no coincidence that in May of that year Motown ‘found’ this ‘lost track’ in its archives and released it. The label used existing Jackson vocals, originally recorded a decade earlier, and added new musical tracks. Hmmmm – a record label crafts a new release from old recordings completely without Jackson’s permission . . .  why does this seem so familiar? Hmmm.

Ok – that’s the last bit of sarcasm you’ll hear from me in this post. Although the label’s intent was to cash in – the effort resulted in the release of one of the sweetest, most tender songs of the summer. When I researched and listened to this song earlier this week I had an equally sincere realization. It occurred to me that I was the same age in 1984, when I heard first heard this song, that Michael was when he originally sang it. And, as it happens, the Spring/Summer of 1984 marked the first time I fell in love. So I’m going to ignore the crass commercialism and connect to the innocent, bittersweet (10% bitter, 90% sweet) vibe of the song.

We should also be thankful that Jackson’s voice sounds so good in this song. Imagine what it would have been like if Michael’s voice had not made the transition from childhood prodigy to adult SINGER. But listen closely and you can hear that successful transition from boy to young man in so many of the notes he hits on this record. (Sadly I did not make the same successful transition; thus my 5th grade star turn as the King in The King and I was my last great public vocal performance).

Favorite Moment:

Ten seconds in, right after the piano intro, Michael’s ‘woooowooowooooo’ is pure joy!

Favorite Lyric: 

 Bye Bye

Don’t Turn Around

You Might See Me Cry

You might also like:

#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

Michael Jackson: Now & Then

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.


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  . . .