MJWN Est. 1998

Remembering Michael

Here is an article we have received from Michael fan Jose Marquez, about Michael’s music and what Michael meant to him.

Remembering Michael

When I look back now and think of Michael, I think of somebody who had natural talent, natural ability, somebody who always looked at ease on stage singing and dancing, a talent sent from above, from a higher power, like Michael himself would say, he felt this gift to entertain was bestowed upon him. He felt he was chosen to entertain the masses through his music.

I think of Michael as being the greatest entertainer of all time, greater than Elvis and the Beatles. This will no doubt be a topic of discussion and debated for many years to come. I completely understand what Elvis meant to his generation and likewise the Beatles, but for me, Michael on stage put on a more complete performance, whilst on stage performing he would show emotions through his music, he would convey his message in songs such as ‘Man In The Mirror,’ ‘Heal The World,’ ‘We Are The World’ and ‘Earth Song.’ You could feel his pain, his anguish and adulation, it has been said many times in the past that Michael looked very much at home when performing on a stage in front of the masses.

Michael, himself once said that when performing to a sea of people he felt safe, that no one could touch or harm him, however, in front of maybe say two or three people he felt isolated, cold, almost unable to associate or communicate with these people because as his critics, we always almost forget that Michael did not have an ordinary upbringing, he did not socialise with people the way we do and indeed take for granted. Let us not forget that, by the age of five, Michael Jackson was already a full time musician/entertainer. At that age I was struggling to work out which shoe went on which foot! By the age of twenty five he was without doubt the most famous person on the planet, God help him! His talent and life took off into the stratosphere and never really came back. To quote Michael; “I want my life to be the greatest spectacle on earth.” In all fairness I do not think that he let his fans or critics down in this respect.

Not only do I think of Michael as being the greatest entertainer of all time, I think of him as being the greatest live performer of all time, for me there is a difference between the two because nobody nowadays or previously has put on a performance quite like Michael. From my own experience I remember in 1997 when I went to the ‘HIStory’ world tour concert at the old Wembley stadium. I remember queuing up for fourteen hours just to get in and then the final ten minute wait was absolutely electric, knowing that your idol was only minutes away from coming onto the stage. I was feeling something that I had never experienced before, the euphoria, the excitement, watching people praying and fainting all around me. This was completely new to me, but I guess it was one of those moments in life when you had to be there to experience and witness it. Then of course the concert starts and I remember being taken on a musical journey from start to finish, from song to song, with ’Billie Jean’ being a moment when I remember saying to myself that I was there at that time when Michael put on his fedora hat, the single white glove followed by the jacket, an absolute master of his craft, a genius at work.

Throughout the years of 1978-1987/8 Michael’s main producer was Quincy Jones, whom Michael had met on the set of the film ‘The Wiz.’ Quincy produced the first three solo Michael Jackson albums, ‘Off The Wall,’ ‘Thriller’ and ‘Bad.’ It is widely believed throughout the music industry that there has not been, nor will there ever be another musical partnership that will rival the Jackson/Jones era. Not only am I talking about the sheer number of records sold, but also the quality of the music produced. In my opinion this relationship was a success because Quincy was looking for a talent to channel and convey his creative ideas and music through and Michael, was ultimately searching for a father figure, as we all know, Michael problems with his father are well documented, so in Quincy he found somebody who did not physically or mentally intimidate him or abuse him, he found somebody in Quincy, who musically challenged him on all fronts.

It is said that that when Michael and Quincy were in the studio together, Michael would always ask Quincy as producer to produce or find a sound that had not yet been heard by the ear, quite a challenge to set somebody. Quincy looked forward to working alongside musicians such as Rod Temperton, Brad Buxer, Bill Botrell and sound mixer Bruce Swedien. Michael would refer to Quincy and these guys as his ‘A-team.’

I believe that ‘Off The Wall’ was Michael’s first solo album where his brothers had no involvement with, whatsoever in the final product. Although I have listened to some of the outtakes of some of the songs which Michael recorded at the family home of Hayvenhurst, you can hear the brothers helping in the background, airing their views and playing some background instruments. The ‘Off The Wall’ album had at that time, a very fresh sound, a very disco sound to it, with such songs as ‘Don’t Stop Till’ You Get Enough,’ ‘Rock With You,’ ‘Working Day And Night’ and ‘Burn The Disco Out.’

You really cannot question the quality of this album and the tracks which I have mentioned above. This album is regarded by music people and Michael’s critics as his best album ever, even more so than the ‘Thriller’ album. Even nowadays when the above tracks get played in nightclubs they still sound so new and fresh and are guaranteed to get people onto the dance floor.

I firmly believe that whilst working on this album both Michael and Quincy, were already thinking ahead to bigger and better things, the ‘Thriller’ album. I say this because in my opinion, ‘Thriller’ picks up where the ‘Off The Wall’ album finishes, both albums compliment each other.

The ‘Off The Wall’ album would go on to sell more than 11 million copies when it was first released in 1978, that figure has however surpassed the 20 million mark throughout the years and because of this album, Michael would go onto become the first male solo artist ever to sell more than 10 million copies of one album.

In 1983, the year in which I was born, Michael and Quincy would go onto release the ‘Thriller’ album. This album would go onto change the face of music as we know it, forever! In America alone this album would sell in excess of 51 million units, the biggest selling album ever in that country. The world wide figures for this album are in excess of 104 million and rising, bearing in mind that since Michaels passing he has sold a further 30 million units if not more.

‘Thriller’ broke down musical barriers, racial barriers in the way in which it united people from all over the world and music from a black artist, was now being played on MTV where as before it wasn’t and of course with the album came the birth of the music video. Artists before Michael really hadn’t given much attention to the music video and its power to sell albums, whereas Michael really bought into this concept and due to this, he gave us music videos for such songs as ‘Billie Jean,’ ‘Thriller’ and ‘Beat It.’ The video for ‘Billie Jean’ can be summed up in one word, that word being “iconic.” When I think of the video for ‘Billie Jean,’ the first image that comes into my mind is that of Michael walking and dancing down that walkway which lights up with every step that he takes. There is a very well known story that during the shooting of this video, the director asked Michael how many takes it would take him to get the dance sequence to match the walkway lighting up and Michael replied that he would do only one take because he wanted it to be spontaneous. So when you next watch that video, when you watch that sequence, understand that it is the only time he rehearsed. Not bad for improvising!

I remember the video for ‘Beat It’ being just as memorable, with those loud bell chimes at the start and the massive guitar solo from Eddie Van Halen. Towards the end of this video, two gangs come together in song to unite to finish off with an iconic dance sequence at the end.

What can I say about the ‘Thriller’ short film that hasn’t been said before? We all know that still to this day it remains the greatest music video off all time! All I will say is that ‘Thriller’ was a 14 minute film of pure genius from start to finish.

Michael’s last album with Quincy Jones was the ‘Bad’ album in 1987, because in 1991 Michael released the album ‘Dangerous’ which he did working closely with music producer Teddy Riley.

The ‘Dangerous’ album in my opinion is a true creative experience from start to finish, a true creative masterpiece. It was a very political album, with Michael airing his views on the world and the Medias treatment of him in the songs ‘Jam’ and ‘Why You Wanna Trip On Me.’ ‘Black Or White’ was viewed by an estimated figure of 5oo million people worldwide at the same time, not bad for a music video!

For me ‘Dangerous’ was a very strong Michael Jackson album, with Michael musically moving in a different direction compared to his earlier work, this album was dark, moodier, and political with a new jack swing sound. I thoroughly enjoy listening to every song, with some special mention going to such songs as ‘Remember The Time,’ ‘Heal The World,’ ‘Dangerous’ and ‘Gone Too Soon.’ I challenge anybody not to shed a tear when listening to ‘Gone Too Soon,’ especially if you have lost a loved one.

In 1995, Michael released the ‘HIStory’ album, a two disc album, 15 old songs and 15 new songs and I feel, this album was Michael’s most personal album to date. I felt it was an angry album, an album full of frustration, an album created by a person who was hounded, repressed and held to ransom by people and the media and this person needed to be set free.

You really do not get more personal than the song ‘Scream’ with its damning lyrics and its thumping baseline. Lyrics like “as jacked as it sounds, the whole system sucks, damn it” and “I was disgusted by all the injustice” spring to mind as I write this. ‘Scream’ was a monster of a song and was the most expensive music video ever made, eclipsing Michael’s record for ‘Thriller’ back in 1983.

It is believed that the first three songs on the second disc of the album are the strongest first three songs of any Michael Jackson album. ‘Scream’, ‘They Don’t Care About Us’ and ‘Stranger In Moscow.’ ‘They Don’t Care About Us’ is a very political song, with some very controversial lyrics. After this song was released Michael was accused of being a racist towards Jewish people. After those allegations in 1993, America had turned its back on Michael therefore I find the accusations of Michael being a racist absolutely ridiculous, Michael Jackson a racist? I think not, how on earth can you label somebody who writes songs such as; ‘We Are The World,’ and ‘Heal The World’ a racist? The mind really does boggle at times, silly critics.

‘Stranger in Moscow’ is a haunting song. It’s a song that I will admit I did not care for much at first, but now I understand it more and I understand its lyrics and concept more. These lyrics are an insight to the state of mind that Michael was in during the recording of this song and album, Michael was now a very lonely person with only a handful of people he trusted, he was an outsider due to the fact that America, his country of birth, had turned its back on him after those allegations.

Michael wrote and produced ‘Earth Song,’ an anthem for peace and humanity, an anthem to make us aware of the earth’s plight and the world’s problems and the message was simple, its wasn’t the machines ruining the planet, it was us, the people that lived in it. Other songs on this album that should have special mention are ‘Little Susie’ and ‘Smile.’
In 2001, Michael released what would go on to be his last studio album, the album ‘Invincible.’ In my opinion this is my favourite Michael Jackson album because of the material and there are some well written and produced songs on this album. Working with producers Teddy Riley and Rodney Jerkins, Michael challenged them both again to find sounds that the ear had not yet heard.  This album was heavily critiqued because observers within the industry believed that Michael was relying too heavily on past glories and not really developing a new sound. For me, ‘Unbreakable,’ ‘Heartbreaker,’ ’Invincible,’ ‘You Rock My World,’ ‘Butterflies’ and ‘Threatened’ stand out. This album went onto sale more than 11 million copies worldwide, those are good sales figures if you’re name is Justin Timberlake, Usher or Ne-yo but not good enough if you happen to be Michael Jackson, such was the pressure that he would put on himself to always sell more than the previous album.

Aside from the music now, Michael Jackson was a humanitarian. Michael Jackson was raising awareness and money for charities long before it became a fashion accessory. He really was somebody who went out of his way to give everything he had to give to help the sick, deprived and hungry through his music. There is a story told by Kenny Ortega, who was the producer for ‘This Is It’ that once when they were both in Romania on tour, and whilst on a break, Michael and Kenny visited a children’s orphanage. Michael was apparently so upset from what he saw that he refused to get back on stage that night unless guarantees were made to him that the money raised from that one show were going to help rebuild that orphanage. Kenny Ortega also remembers that once inside the orphanage, the children and medical staff seemed to gravitate towards Michael, believing that he had the cures for their illness. His mother Katherine Jackson once said that in his heart of hearts Michael knew that he couldn’t heal the world of all its problems, but that he would do what he could to help with its suffering. This for me is the message that was lost, especially in the last decade amongst the tabloid frenzy to try and destroy Michael. I find it very upsetting that it took his sudden and untimely death for people to remember why they loved Michael.

I’m not sure if I will ever be able to put into words the sense of loss I felt when I heard of Michaels passing, because since my mum bought me my first copy of the film ‘Moonwalker,’ Michaels music has been a constant in my life but I know that he will definitely be a part of my life forever and I refuse to talk about him in the past tense because Michael in my eyes, will live forever in this lifetime and then forever in the next. That is what I call a legacy! I never had the chance to meet Michael in person, but if I had, I would have thanked him for the music and the memories. God is good and I know Michael is. As Michael would say; Love lives forever.

So as Murray pays the price for what he did, I think we should all remember the Michael that we once loved and still love and miss to this day. We should put on his records today and let his music have the last word.

Source: Jose Marquez & MJWN


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