Wednesday, July 22, 2009

M.J. Tribute - The Solo Years

Here's round two (of three) of my M.J. Tributes . . . moving on to solo Michael. Not that I was alive back then, but what many people seem to gloss over is that it wasn't a forgone conclusion that Michael Jackson the adult was going to be a superstar. Sure, the pint-sized James Brown was a certified sensation, but as he morphed into a gangly teen and his voice wavered from the high-pitched, almost femenine tone to a more mature, yet still feminine, delivery there was a time there when the Jackson 5 were borderline irrelevant, circa 1975-1978ish. They had left Motown, signed to Epic and started recording with Gamble & Huff at Philly International as "The Jacksons" seeing as Motown owned their original name. It wasn't until 1978's "Destiny" album did you begin to see what a mature Michael sounded like. That album is basically a prequel to "Off the Wall".

The 2001 expanded reissue of "Off the Wall" featured some interesting demos of some of the classic songs from the album such as "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and "Workin' Day & Night". These demos, while far from superior to the original give a window into Michael's creative process and the ambiance in the home studio where he doubtless recorded these tracks with his brothers and sisters. This is Michael before the nose-job, before the glove and before the impenetrable security and back when he was really close to his siblings.

I found this 1980 issue of Jet magazine down at my local flea market and couldn't help but pick it up. It talks about Michael's production work on his sister Latoya's debut album (still looking for a cheap copy of this one that doesn't require eBay shipping).

Michael Jackson - Girl You're So Together
This is a strange album. I picked it up at the same place that had the "Joyful Jukebox Music" thinking it was more of the same: MJ from the Motown vaults. It is, but then again it ain't. The vocals were recorded back in the day but all of the instrumental tracks are from the early 1980s as this thing hit the stores in 1984. Sadly, the instrumental tracks are not graced by Quincy Jone's magic touch, but are done by some studio hacks I've never heard of. Most of these tracks plain BLOW, but the following two are at least worth hearing as they build on some pretty great vocal parts from Michael and these ones manage to stand above the rest because the 80s musical stylings are minimal. This first one is a Mizell Bros. composition like the one from the previous post. I can't help but dig the Mizell-MJ collaboration even if it got dumbed-down a decade later.

Michael Jackson - Touch The One You Love
This one's got a horrible opening, but the hook got to me.

Michael Jackson - Workin' Day & Night (original demo)
Like I said above, it's so great to hear Michael in his element working out one of his classic songs.

Michael Jackson - Baby Be Mine
This is probably new to few, but its probably my favorite non-obvious track off of Thriller. It's interesting, I was DJing a little gathering a few years back and there were a couple people that were a few years younger than me - let's say there were born in the 80s - and they had never heard this song! Thriller was such a huge album that for most anyone that was conscious when it came out, all the tracks are probably familiar, but for those who came to know MJ later, they may only know the big hits. Its a sad thing, but oh so true.

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