Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ten Lost MJ Gems

Ten Lost MJ Gems

In the wake of Michael Jackson's death I spent weeks listening to every song I could find in an attempt to make the ultimate mix. I knew I wanted it to be no longer than two CD's, which was a challenge. I also worked to listen to everything with an open mind and not dismiss anything out of hand. He deserved that much for all the joy he had brought into my life.

Eventually, I ended up with a fantastic collection that we listened to addictively for months. I burned a copy for one friend who listened to it so much in her car I had to burn it again about a year later.

But I still had that playlist of "MJ Rejects" on my iPod. Some songs had been left off to avoid redundancy, like demos of hits or too many songs from one album. Others just seemed bad, too sappy, or half-baked. But time can change how we feel about things so I revisited the rejects today, on his 57th birthday to see if any of these songs struck me differently.

All Night Dancing - Destiny is actually a very consistent album and it was hard to leave any songs out of the playlist. This track is pure energy and the album seemed to hint at a bright future for The Jacksons as a group.

Scared Of The Moon - This demo could be a ballad from a high-budget Disney film. He sings with such purity - and none of the tics associated with his later work - that it's impossible not to sit in awe.

Monkey Business - Sly and sexy, this shouldn't have been left off Dangerous. I think the horn players (or it might be a synth) are having as much fun as MJ - - too much monkey business, indeed.

Stranger In Moscow - MJ's intimate delivery on this sleek bit of R&B balladry could warm up winter in Russia - or anywhere.

Burn This Disco Out - There's not really a bad track on Off The Wall and this jam features pretty much everything that makes MJ great. He constructed his songs like a choreographer which makes them so much fun to dance to.

Unbreakable - MJ seemed to have an uncomfortable relationship with hip-hop and I'm not sure he entirely understood it. This track featured the Notorious B.I.G., who is more up to the challenge than some of the rappers MJ worked with, and an aggressive groove that sounds better than I remembered. It's from his last album, Invincible - don't sneer, it sold 13 million copies.

Things I Do For You - This funked up song from Destiny is nearly an Off The Wall contender.

You Can't Win - The other MJ song from The Wiz is absurdly danceable and super-smooth. You can hear a mature artist being born and full of joy.

In The Closet - This still sounds futurist, not only because of the tricky production but also due to the left-field harmonies. The lyrics refer to "The truth of lust woman to man" - interesting noun placement - but sometimes I think MJ was looking toward a post-racial, post-gender utopia. His tragic attempt to reach it was written on his body.

Butterflies - Invincible had a somewhat tortured genesis but you'd never know it from this stripped down, cozy ballad. Break Of Dawn from the same album is nearly as good. Any R&B singer today would give their eye teeth for a song this great.

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