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.
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