I’d like to invite the followers of this blog to check out my new project – a new podcast entitled The Perfect Podcast. The Perfect Podcast celebrates the highest achievements in music, film, literature, food, visual arts and more! In each episode I talk to a different person about the creations they believe achieve perfection. From the perfect short story to the perfect music video to the perfect cocktail to the perfect skyscraper – the show explores and celebrates the artists who have achieved the elusive, intimidating, confounding and 100% subjective state of . . . Perfection!
I plan to tackle some of the subjects I’ve covered in this blog. I definitely think Prince has created a couple of perfect albums, Michael Jackson has created some perfect songs, Madonna and Janet Jackson have starred in a few perfect music videos and Annie Lennox has turned in some perfect vocal performances. I’d love to hear from you about what you think is perfect or ideal in pop culture. Please visit my website and leave a comment and let me know. Thank for checking this out. Enjoy!
Michael Jackson released Off the Wall in August 1979. The album’s influence would stretch across the 80’s, 90’s and beyond and become a pop/R&B classic. Last month filmmaker Spike Lee released the documentary Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall. On this episode of Inside Pop we review the movie and test our knowledge of Jackson trivia. It’s a fun episode in which my co-host, our special guest and I let our Jackson fan flag wave!
Readers of this blog know how I feel about Michael Jackson (in a nutshell – no other musician’s music has meant more to me). So you may be wondering how I felt when I heard that Joseph Fiennes was cast to play Jackson in a TV production about the alleged road trip Michael took with Liz Taylor and Marlon Brando in the wake of the 9/11 attack on New York City. Initially I felt bemused, but the more I thought about it the angrier and more suspicious I became. Yes Michael’s appearance drastically changed over the years. Beginning in the early 80’s and over the next few decades his nose narrowed, his skin lightened and his hair straightened. How much of that change was an act of self hatred? Necessary reinvention? An unfortunate pigmentation disorder? We’re all allowed to conjecture. But casting a white British actor to portray MJ feels like an intentionally blunt way to deal with the world’s most famous – and most complicated – Black entertainer.
And in the current climate where much needed and long awaited conversations about the need for increased diversity in the entertainment industry are finally happening this casting feels additionally insensitive. This isn’t color blind casting. It’s completely conscious – and in my opinion – clueless.
We touch on the controversy in the latest episode of my pocast. Feel free to click below to hear the discussion. Within the episode I also recommend a take on the Jackson, Taylor, Brando road trip that is respectful, moving and yes – even humorous.
In the spirit of pop culture nostalgia I’d like to share the latest Inside Pop podcast. We revisit the 90’s TV classics, The X-Files and Felicity, and see whether they stand the test of time. Hope you enjoy!
The phenomenal 80s albums Purple Rain, Parade and Around the World in a Day were recorded by whom?
If your answer is ‘Prince,’ then please head to the back of the class and receive five demerits.
The correct answer is Prince and the Revolution.
Without a doubt Prince, the solo artist, is a musical GENIUS. But together with his band, his genius expands. In 1984, the multi-racial, sexually ambiguous, mysteriously cool group of men and women known as The Revolution represented a musical and social utopia. It’s a powerful thing to see oneself represented on TV and film and whether you were male or female, black or white, straight or gay – or somewhere in between – you could see a cooler version of yourself reflected in the band’s line-up.
Every time I saw Purple Rain (at least 3 times that summer) , watched one of The Revolution’s videos (dozens of times) or stared at their album’s liner notes (100s of hours) I thought, “this is how the world should be; filled with a diverse group of exquisitely talented musicians – with a penchant for paisley.”
I have and always will be partial to Wendy and Lisa. The fact that these two extraordinary musicians also happened to be impossibly cool, sexy women was enough to captivate me. But once I heard the opening of “Computer Blue” I was obsessed with their narrative and needed the answers to many questions.
What is the exact water temperature Wendy likes? We’re talking bath water, right? And I’m pretty sure I have a general idea of what’s about to ‘begin’ – but I wouldn’t mind details.
As a feminist I can’t applaud the fact that Prince seemed to use the Wendy & Lisa lesbian fantasy solely for male titillation. But the fact that Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman had a committed, years long romantic relationship and an even longer professional partnership (that continues today) makes me think of them as two of the most important LGBT individuals in pop history.
But first and foremost I think of them as musicians. Wendy and Lisa, along with Brown Mark and Doc Fink and Bobby Z and Prince came together to form my favorite band of 1984.
I’ve seen Prince and The Revolution perform twice in concert (two life changing, transcendent experiences!). The last time was in ’85 or ’86 and the show featured the expanded line-up that included Susannah Melvoin, Eric Leeds and Jerome (from The Family) and Sheila E. Towards the end of the show Prince injured himself on stage and exited. The Revolution must have jammed for about 10-15 minutes and they commanded the attention of every person in the audience at Madison Square Garden. I think everyone realized they were witnessing something rare and wonderful.
What most of the fans probably didn’t know was the band was going to break up after the tour. A great band doesn’t last forever but I wish we would have been able to get one or two more albums from them. Sign O the Times is a perfect record – but I can’t help wondering what it would have sounded like if Prince had collaborated with Wendy and Lisa and the rest of The Revolution.
But we’re lucky to have 3 albums – the greatest being Purple Rain. Throughout this month we’re going to celebrate the 30th anniversary of this record (including those amazing B Sides!)
And the greatest Michael Jackson song of 1984 is . . . “State of Shock” by Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger!
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.
Speaking 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?
But 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.
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?”
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.
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).
3. Roger (arguably the most underrated member of the group)
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 12minute 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.
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.”
The 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?
Maybe 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!
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.
This 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.
“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.
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.
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.