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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

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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

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.

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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

STOP MAKING SENSE REVISITED

sms albumAbout one month ago I saw David Byrne perform an inspired show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in tribute to the Nigerian musician William Onyeabor. Byrne was lithe and charismatic and he was in great voice. I raved about that performance and described how it reminded me of the 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense. You can read that post here.

Last night I returned to BAM to see a screening of Stop Making Sense. The screening was hosted by the great radio journalist Brian Lehrer who decided to honor the 30th anniversary of the film with the screening and a Q&A with the film’s director Jonathan Demme. Seems like I’m not the only person who has decided to celebrate the musical accomplishments of the great (greatest) year of pop music.

The screening was much more powerful and much more emotional than I could have imagined. In fact I welled up with emotions three times during the screening. I was actually caught off guard by a lump in my throat and additional moisture in my eyes. Three times. Trust me – it’s a rare experience for this to happen once – but it happened.

The first time: The audience broke into sincere, enthusiastic applause after the 5th song in the film (“Slippery People”). Usually I’d be very judgmental and accuse the audience of forcing a display of emotion they wanted others to believe they were feeling. But I was caught up in the brilliance of the film as well and found myself tapping my foot, bobbing my head and applauding after every song. And in the dimmed theater I could hear and feel 100’s of others joining me. It was Pauline Kael’s description of the film as, “an austere orgy,” come to fruition.

tmbtp2The Second Time: During every single second of “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)”. This might be the most beautiful love song ( it is a love song, isn’t it?) written by a rock band. And the song is elevated by the performance in the film. The image of the male/female, black/white band on stage, in literal harmony, brought on a surprising burst of joy. And who doesn’t love a lamp dance?

Third Time: Somewhere in the middle of “Girlfriend is Better”.  At some point I just thought how lucky everyone in that theater was. This ecstatic performance of an amazing song played by a great band at their peak was captured on film. And here we were 3 decades later, sharing the experience with friends and strangers.

If you’ve never seen this film or haven’t seen it in a while – check to see if any theaters in your area are playing it. And if not – rent the DVD and invite some friends over and have a party. Have a disco. Fool around!

Interesting facts shared by Demme and his producing partner during the Q&A:

80% of the film comes from one night’s performance. Pick-ups and coverage were pulled from two other nights of performance.

Contrary to other stories, Demme says that he observed all members of The Talking Heads getting along.

The film premiered at the Castro theater in San Francisco. An earthquake occurred earlier that day. When the film played audience members got up and started dancing and caused the theater to literally shake for the second time that day.