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Answer Records Vol. 7

August 16th, 2010 2 comments

Thank my new friend Charlie for this instalment in the Answer Records series; covering the reply to Universal Soldier was his suggestion. Besides the conflict of ideology, we have Billie Jean creating a bit of a scene and Sam Cooke begging his woman to return to him. But will she, and is the kid Jacko’s son?

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Who does Wacko think he is?

Act 1: Michael Jackson – Billie Jean (Demo) (1982).mp3
Renowned laydees man Michael Jackson’s denial of paternity in relation to Billie Jean’s kid is well known. Our man is not impressed when his disco dancing is disrupted by the appearance of the woman who claims that he fathered her son. He pretends not to know her, but he does admit that he followed Billie Jean into a room (because of her perfume, apparently), and then did not have sex with that woman. Perhaps the excessive consumption of Jesus-juice made Jacko forget the act that spawned a kid with his eyes, as his girl (presumably the one he won in the contest with Paul McCartney) confirms. The kid might have his eyes, but still Michael denies paternity. Not only that, he accuses Billie Jean if all manner of dishonest schemes and duplicity — and of being just some random girl.

Act 2: Lydia Murdock – Superstar (1983).mp3
Billie Jean, it’s safe to say, is rather disappointed by Michael’s denial. In her rather more convincing version, the two had an affair which Michael asked to be handled with discretion. “You became my lover, you said: ‘Let’s keep it secret, let’s not spread it around’.” The trade-off for being a secret lover? Expensive gifts and smooth-talk: “You send me flowers and diamonds, and said that you were in love. You said you never met a girl that you thought so much of.” The cad! And when he had had enough of Billie Jean, he just stopped calling. In an instance of bad timing, Billie Jean soon discovered that she was pregnant. “And when the baby was born I sent you a telegram, but it came back saying you don’t know who I am.” So when Billie Jean goes out dancing (her son presumably in good care) and spots Michael, she goes ballistic: “I did not intend to start a fight, but when you said who am I, you don’t know my face, I went off. I made a scene, I really wrecked the place. And I know you might be a big superstar and the whole wide world knows who you are, but the next time we meet, if you don’t want a scene, tip your hat with respect, ’cause I am Billie Jean.” And some child support would be nice too, she might add.

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Running from an elf

Act 1: Buffy Sainte-Marie – Universal Soldier (1964).mp3
If we want peace, all soldiers must just refuse to fight. It’s an easy equation, but, well, it’s not entirely lacking in naivety. Donovan (or Donovan or, in the original recording, The Highwaymen ) asks how without the universal soldier “would Hitler have condemned him at Dachau?” Which is a bit of a strange question: more likely, the refusenik would have been executed at Dachau for the act of refusing to fight, no? Still, the soldier is “the one who gives his body as a weapon of the war. And without him all this killing can’t go on.” So, until all soldiers turn into conscientious objectors, the argument goes, they are personally to blame for war.

Act 2: Jan Berry – Universal Coward (1965).mp3
The hippy sentiment is not universally shared, least of all among the clean cut youth represented by surfer duo Jan & Dean (Dean Torrence wanted no part of the song, so it was released as a solo record by Jan Berry, who here sports the broken leg that kept him from being drafted. It did turn up on Jan & Dean Rock ‘n Folk album though). Jan is mightily pissed off that the responsibility for war is being shifted on to the runts in the trenches. With soldiers in Vietnam serving what Berry evidently thought was a just cause, the peacenik “just can’t get it through his thick skull why the mighty USA has got to be a watchdog of the world” — an opinion perpetuated by any Dick, Don and Dubya three and a half decades later. Berry defines the peacenik: “He’s a pacifist, an extremist, a communist or just a Yank; a demonstrator, an agitator, or just a knave.  A conscientious objector, a fanatic, a defector — and he doesn’t know he’s digging his own grave.” And then, by way of lazy rhyme, he gets his digs in before arriving at a nonsensical conclusion: “He’s the universal coward, and he runs from anything: from a giant, from a human, from an elf. He runs from Uncle Sam, and he runs from Vietnam. But most of all he’s running from himself.” Give that man some tea!

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Can a cad get forgiveness?

Act 1: Sam Cooke – Bring It On Home To Me (1962).mp3
Sam is heartbroken because he has been left by the woman he loves. At first he laughed it off, literally: “You know I laughed when you left, but now I know I’ve only hurt myself.” So now he is begging her to come back: “If you ever change your mind about leaving me behind, bring it to me. Bring your sweet lovin’, bring it on home to me.” He is making extravagant promises: “I’ll give you jewellery, money too.” And, in case she is not so much of a material girl, “You know I’ll always be your slave till I’m dead and buried in my grave”  — which we know, alas, will be all to soon.

Act 2: Carla Thomas – I’ll Bring It On Home To You (1962).mp3
Sam’s sweet-talk worked. Carla is packing her bags as we speak: “Darling, you’ve made me change my mind. I can’t leave you leave you behind. I’m gonna bring it to you, bring my sweet loving, bring it on home to you.” Carla is satisfied that he has learnt his lesson: “I heard you laughing when I left. So now you know, you only hurt yourself.” Sam gets forgiveness, even though it was he “who stayed out late at night”. She is not a material girl: “Don’t want your jewellery or money too and nothing else you said you would do. I’m just gonna bring it to you.” And then the poignant verse: “You said you’d always be my slave till you were buried in your grave, but you got a little time yet…”

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More answer records

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Twattery in Pop: Rush Limbaugh

July 3rd, 2009 6 comments

What, you may demand imploringly, connects sweaty, saliva-dispersing self-parodist Rush Limbaugh with the world of pop (of course there is no question as to what connects the putrescent pusbucket to twattery)? Has Rush recorded an album of his favourite Motown songs, adding his own twist to the lyrics; perhaps adapting Smokey Robinson & the Miracle’s hit named after Mickey Stephenson autobiographically to read Cheney’s Monkey? Has Limbaugh praised the humanitarian work of Bono, or the operatic stylings of Michael Fucking Bolton, or the art of Yoko Ono (well, obviously not, though he seems psychotic enough to own the complete canon of MFB’s artistry)? Was Rush perhaps ghastly to some of my favourite artists, such as the Weepies or the Carpenters?

Rush Limbaugh’s mind, yesterday.

Rush Limbaugh’s mind, yesterday.

No, on Wednesday Rush Limbaugh contrived to wind his fusilli mind into a palomar knot by virtually blaming Barack Obama for the death of Michael Jackson. Spunk-silo’s take on MJ’s death: “Jackson’s success, if you stop and think of it [amusingly Limbaugh listeners are being asked to THINK!] and this is going to really irritate some people, which I will enjoy doing — Jackson’s success paralleled the rebound of the United States under Ronaldus Magnus [that would be Ronald Reagan whose decomposed salad Sweat-wit is tossing]. Michael Jackson’s biggest successes, and as it turns out his final successes, real successes took place in the eighties. That was Billie Jean, Thriller and all this. I mean he was as weird as he could be [says Rush fucking Limbaugh!] but he was profoundly, because of his weirdness, an individual. He wasn’t a group member [except when he was, of course. Rush evidently couldn’t feel it]. He reached a level of success that may never be equalled. He flourished under Reagan [but his best record, the wildly successful Off The Wall, was a hit under Carter, pop fans]; he languished under Clinton-Bush; and died under Obama. Let’s hope the parallel does not continue.” (Full story here)

I actually don’t think that Limbaugh is as stupid as to believe the ignorant, noxious shit he is disgorging upon the public. His “hilarious” shtick is to try and wind up liberals with such associations. If it wasn’t a sideshow, there’d be no reason why he has not been committed to a caring institution for lobotomised patients. In fairness, he signals his pitiful intent when he says: “this is going to really irritate some people, which I will enjoy doing”. It isn’t really what Limbaugh is saying that is irritating “Them Liberals”; it’s the idea that there are some very dull-witted people who take him and his likes seriously.

I must concede though that the clammy wankmonster — who in older times would have made an accomplished ass-raping bishop of Bath and Wells — might be on to something. Think about all the great celebrity icons who have died. Almost all of them kicked the bucket on the watch of a Democratic president. Jimmy Carter’s reign was particularly grim: Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Bing Crosby, Charlie Chaplin… Bill Clinton has Frank Sinatra, Princess in the Wind and, er, Kurt Cobain to answer for. JFK died during the JFK presidency, as did Marilyn Monroe and Patsy Cline, while Jim Reeves crashed under LBJ. Lately only Johnny Cash, being Johnny Cash, bucked the trend. And there Madonna was happy that Obama was elected.

But Limbaugh’s theory of Democratic culpability in celebrity mortality does fall flat. Consider the victims of the Nixon presidency: Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, Parsons and Elliott. Of those, only Cass died a natural death (and even that is disputed by ham sandwich conspiracists). Makes you think, no?

In the case of Michael Jackson, however, I am disinclined to indict Obama. More likely, on the morning of Thursday, 25 June, MJ found his transistor radio had been mistuned. As he surfed the dial he stumbled upon the depraved sound of Rush Limbaugh vomiting his bigotry all over the airwaves, and decided that he could no longer live in a world where that anal itch on humanity — and his idiot listeners — are allowed to exist. And here’s the kicker: my theory makes a zillion times more sense than any of Limbaugh’s deranged splutterings.

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And to celebrate dead celebs:

Frank Sinatra – High Hopes With John Kennedy (1960).mp3
Marilyn Monroe – Happy Birthday, Mr President (1962).mp3
Patsy Cline – I Fall To Pieces (1961).mp3
Michael Jackson – Ain’t No Sunshine (1972).mp3
Cass Elliott – I’m Coming To The Best Part Of My Life (1973).mp3
Elvis Presley – Heartbreak Hotel (Alternate Take 5) (1956).mp3
Jimi Hendrix – Star Sprangled Banner (1969).mp3
Gram Parsons – Big Mouth Blues (1973).mp3

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More Twattery in Pop

The Originals Vol. 18

March 13th, 2009 5 comments

Another batch of originals, looking at Homeward Bound, Hurting Each Other, Blame It On The Boogie, Istanbul (Not Constantinople) and Rose Garden.

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Chad & Jeremy – Homeward Bound.mp3
Simon & Garfunkel – Homeward Bound (live).mp3

chadjeremyIn 1965, Chad & Jeremy were a popular English folk-rock duo when Jeremy Clyde met the songwriter of promising newcomers Simon & Garfunkel at a party for Bob Dylan. Paul Simon was delighted to be asked to play some of his songs for the folk star, and proceeded to play 18 tracks, many of them future classics. One song in particular, Homeward Bound, appealed to Jeremy, and he recorded it with Chad Stuart in London on 26 November 1965 (with Simon dropping in during the session). A few weeks later, in December, Simon & Garfunkel got around to recording their own version of the song which Paul Simon had started writing while stuck at Widnes station (or Dutton or Wigan, accounts vary) in northern England.

Chad & Jeremy considered Homeward Bound for a single release, but having got wind of Simon & Garfunkel considering the song as a follow-up to their hit The Sound Of Silence, they opted for a rocker titled Ballad Of A Teenage Failure. It turned out to be a ballad of a failure, teenage or not. Chad & Jeremy in the end released Homeward Bound in August 1966 on their Distant Shores album. Simon & Garfunkel had a #5 hit with it earlier that year. The Simon & Garfunkel version posted here is a live recording from the soundboard bootleg of their 1968 Hollywood Bowl concert.

Also recorded by: Mel Tormé (1966), Petula Clark (1966), Cher (1966), Richard Anthony (as Un autographe, SVP, 1966), The Quiet Five (1966), Jack Jones (1968), Glen Campbell (1968), Brenda Byers (1970), Buck Owens (1971), Jermaine Jackson (1972), Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (1983), The King’s Singers (1989)

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Jimmy Clanton – Hurting Each Other.mp3
Carpenters – Hurting Each Other.mp3

jimmy-clantonAs previously noted, the Carpenters had a way of appropriating songs first recorded by other people. In part, this owes to an astuteness in often picking songs that weren’t very well known. Once Richard Carpenter imprinted his imaginative arrangements and Karen her marvellous vocals on such a song, it almost invariably was theirs. And so it was with Hurting Each Other, which the siblings recorded in late 1971 (apparently a news segment filmed them putting down the backing vocal track). It appeared on their excellent 1972 album, A Song For You, and the single reached #2 on the US charts.

Hurting Each Other was written by Gary Geld and Peter Udell, whose songwriting credits also included Brian Hyland’s Sealed With A Kiss. The first recording of the song was released in 1965 by teen idol Jimmy Clanton, a white R&B singer from Baton Rouge who had a string of hits (including Neil Sedaka’s composition Venus In Blue Jeans) in what has been called “swamp pop” and then faded into the sort of obscurity that has nonetheless ensured a performing career that continues to this day, complemented by a line in radio DJing.

Also recorded by: Chad Allan & The Expressions ( who would become Guess Who,1965); Walker Brothers (1966), Ruby & The Romantics (1969), Peter Nero (1972), Percy Faith & His Orchestra (1972), Ray Conniff and The Singers (1972), Johnette Napolitano with Marc Moreland (1994), Stan Whitmire (2000)

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Mick Jackson – Blame It On The Boogie.mp3
The Jacksons – Blame It On The Boogie.mp3

Loo & Placido – Should I Stay Or Should I Boogie.mp3
mick-jacksonHow many cover versions have been sung by the namesake of the original performer? Mick Jackson was a German-born English pop singer. His Blame It On The Boogie, which he also co-wrote, sounds like a presentable Leo Sayer number. The Jacksons changed little in the song’s structure — Mick’s original has all the touches we know well, such as the “sunshine, moonlight, good time, boogie” interlude — and yet they turned a pretty good song into a disco explosion of joy, presaging Michael’s Off TheWall a year and a bit later.

Mick Jackson actually wrote the song with Stevie Wonder in mind (and it’s easy to imagine how it might have sounded), but was persuaded by a German label to record it himself. When the freshly minted record was played at a music festival in Cannes, a rep for the Jackson — no doubt alerted by the performer’s name — secretly taped the song, flew it to the US and had the Jackson brothers record and release it in quick time, to release it before Mick could have a hit with it. With both singles out at the same time, the British press had some fun with the Jackson “Battle of the Boogie”. Mick’s single reached #15 in the UK and #61 in the US. The Jacksons’ version became the classic.

The song made a comeback in South Africa in 2003 in a version by a 13-year-old Danish character called Jay-Kid. That version was used in Loo & Placido’s rather splendid 2005 mash-up with the Clash’s Should I Stay Or Should I Go, titled Should I Stay Or Should I Boogie?

Also recorded by: Rita Pavone (1979), Big Fun (1989), Fat Boy Slim (as Blame It On The Baseline, 1989), Luis Miguel (as Será que no me amas, 1990), Dynamo’s Rhythm Aces (1999), Jay-Kid (2003), Captain Jack (2003), Marcia Hines (2006)

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The Four Lads – Istanbul (Not Constantinople).mp3
They Might Be Giants – Istanbul (Not Constantinople).mp3

the-four-lads-istanbulIt casts a reflection of some kind on They Might Be Giants that many people believe the novelty number Istanbul (Not Constantinople) to be their original. It is, in fact, an old swing number from the 1950s written — borrowing copiously from Putting On The Ritz — by Nat Simons and Jimmy Arnold, the latter frontman of Canadian singing quartet the Four Lads. The song was the group’s breakthrough hit in 1953, and they had enough of a career to enable a reconstituted version of the group to trawl the nostalgia circuit.

They Might Be Giants recorded their faster cover version in 1989, drawing from the klezmer style of secular Jewish music to get that Middle Eastern effect (hey, they are Americans…). One may assume that the song would cause some perplexity in Greece, where the Turkish city on the Bosphorus is referred to as Constantinople. (Thanks to Philip)

Also recorded by: The Radio Revellers (1953), Frankie Vaughan (1954), Caterina Valente (1954), Santo & Johnny (1962), Edmundo Ros (1953), Al Caiola (1962), Bette Midler (1977), The Residents (1987), The Sacados (1990), Mad Dodo (1992), Chris Potter & Kenny Werner (1994), Trevor Horn Orchestra (2003), Reggie’s Red Hot Feetwarmers (2005), Ska Cubano (2006), Ayhan Sicimoğlu (2006)

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Joe South – Rose Garden.mp3
Lynn Anderson – Rose Garden.mp3

joe-southOnce upon a time, I hated the song as being representative of everything I loathed about country music. I still didn’t like it when I saw the light and embraced the genre, for Anderson’s hit record is rather naff. Then I heard Joe South’s version, and it became clear to me just how good a song it is. Alas, a few weeks ago I watched an audition for South Africa’s Idols show during which a spectacularly untalented woman performed the song she retitled “Ahr Burk Yurr Pahrrdynn”, singing it aggressively out of tune and with no regard to the correct lyrics. It is her tragicomic version which I now hear, alas, when I think of the song.

In the three years before Lynn Anderson got around to scoring a hit with it in 1971, Rose Garden had been recorded by a soul singer (Dobie Gray), another country singer (Glen Campbell) and three easy listening merchants (Ray Conniff, Ronnie Aldrich and His Two Pianos, and Boots Randolph, under his almost real name Homer Louis Randolph III). For Joe South it was just an album track. He’d have a hit later with Games People Play, and wrote a couple of hits for Billie Joe Royal (Down in the Boondocks and Hush, which would become a Deep Purple classic), The Osmonds and Elvis.

Lynn Anderson almost did not record the song. Execs at her record company, Columbia, didn’t like it much and thought it inappropriate for a woman to sing a song which represents a male perspective (for example in the line “I could promise you things like big diamond rings”). As it happened, there was some spare time during a studio session, and the track was recorded. The label’s micro-managing head, Clive Davis, heard it and decided that it should be Anderson’s next single. It was a big hit in the US and Europe, and Anderson’s version remained the biggest selling recording by any female country artist until 1997.

Also recorded by: Dobie Gray (1969), Glen Campbell (1971), Homer Louis Randolph III (1971), Ray Conniff (1971), Ronnie Aldrich and His Two Pianos (1971), Peter Horton (with German lyrics, 1971), Johnny Mathis (1971), Loretta Lynn (1971), New World (1971), Andy Williams (1971), Dottie West (1971), The Fevers (as Mar de Rosas, 1971), Claude François (as Je te demande pardon, 1971), Bakersfield California Brass (1972), k.d. lang (1986), Kon Kan (1989), Suicide Machines (2000), Tamra Rosanes (2002), Socks (2004), Martina McBride (2005), Southern Culture on the Skids (2007), Aldebert (as Je te demande pardon, 2008)



More Originals

Two of us

April 22nd, 2008 1 comment

My friend Liz, who works for a London magazine publisher, e-mailed to tell me that she had spotted my Doppelgänger while doing a page layout (apparently he’s more heavy-set than I am, which is a relief).

I find the idea of a double very spooky indeed (as would, presumably, my look-alike). I once saw a spitting image of myself sitting at a bar. It was disconcerting observing this incredibly handsome man. Like myself, he his excess of charm, wit and intelligence was observably steaming through his delicate pores. I did not approach him, of course, taking heed of Doc Brown’s warning to Marty McFly and the dangers of upsetting the time continuum. Perhaps that handsome specimen of a man was my future self on a time travelling mission. Which might mean I’ll become a barfly. A good-looking barfly. Not Mickey O’Rourke. Or perhaps my future self had the sense to obtain a sports almanach. What did Doc Brown say about that again?

I suppose meeting my exact double would put to test the promise I (a vain man who favours unrealistic ego boosts over self-deprecation) make to my mirror image every morning: “Hmmm, I would do you.”

Kid Creole & the Coconuts – I’m A Wonderful Thing, Baby.mp3
Michael Jackson – Man In The Mirror.mp3
De La Soul – Me, Myself And I.mp3*

Thriller: 25 years on

December 21st, 2007 2 comments

This month it was 25 years ago that Michael Jackson released Thriller, and we’ve all been rather over-excited about it ever since. Perhaps rightly so. When it came out, it was all quite fresh and innovative, and we had no knowledge of the fame and psychological defects which would eat MJ, even if the dabbles in extreme plastic surgery were already apparent. Like that other epochal album, the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s, the cracks in the hype’s facade are very visible now.

I must confess to what is probably heresy, I’ve always, from the moment I first heard it, hated “Billy Jean”, a track that would have stood out on the far superior Off The Wall for all the wrong reasons. It is still madly popular, so I’ll chalk it up as a classic, my own views on it notwithstanding.

The title track is melodically rather mediocre. Play it on a piano. But that weakness is masked by a fantastic production, Jackson’s iconic vocals and Vincent Price’s menacing voiceover. And then there is that groundbreaking video.

The opener “Wanna Be Starting Something” — despite sounding like the inspiration to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” — remains a fine ’80s disco stomper. “Human Nature” is a lovely little ballad. Written by Steve Pocarco of Toto, it was sampled to good effect by SWV on the “right Here” remix in 1993. It is actually my favourite track off Thriller.

“P.T.Y.”, on the other hand, sounds very much like a product of its time. Play it alongside Phil Fearon at your next ’80s party for that old kitsch effect (I’m being uncharitable towards poor Mr Fearon here). Don’t play the equally dated (though not unpleasant) “Baby Be Mine” — only the diehard Thrilleristas (the type who in 1987 began dressing in leather outfits with lots of zippers) will remember it.

“Beat It”, which had a most hilarious video (a jheri-curled MJ preparing for the feast of comedy that was the “Bad” promo), is flaccid cocaine rock at its worst. I cannot imagine anyone hearing the Thriller album for the first time, and thinking it is one of the set’s better tracks. Unless you like Van Halen’s guitar wankery. And I don’t.

MJ’s duet with Paul McCartney, “The Girl Is Mine”, is a conundrum. Clearly it is a very bad song. But I like it for nostalgic reason; more or less the same reason why I still think the Sweet’s “Poppa Joe” is a great song. Sentiment aside, both are deficient in the artistry stakes. I know which one I’d rather listen to now, though.

And that was the relative mediocrity that was Thriller. Three noteworthy songs, a couple of decent tunes, a couple of plodders. And the clonker which has MJ whimpering: “I’m a luvva not a fighdda”.

Oh no, I didn’t forget “The Lady In My Life”. I bet you did, though.

And for your thrills (oh yes, I’m from the Yoshi school of comedy), the bonus songs from the special edition set released in 2001.

“Carousel” was supposed to be on the album, but was bumped in favour of “Human Nature”. It is not quite clear why Quincy Jones thought that “The Lady In My Life” was less expendable. Or why ten songs seemed excessive. “Carousel” is a pretty good mid-tempo number. Ignore the terrible lyrics, and listen to the chorus: it could be a Steely Dan song. A Michael Jackson track worth owning.
Michael Jackson – Carousel.mp3

“Someone In The Dark”, however is quite awful. MJ was never good at ballads, anyway, but this is a real ’80s dirge. Which means that Celine Dion must be about to record it. Why is it worth owning? Because this was recorded for a storybook of the E.T. story, and features E.T. groaning in the background, possibly anticipating a role for Michael Bolton in Celine’s cover version. And here’s a picture of MJ and E.T. hanging out together. E.T. is the on the right.
Michael Jackson – Someone In The Dark.mp3

I’ve uploaded it before, but what the hey; here is the demo for the song I don’t particularly like, recorded in 1981, apparently in MJ’s home studio. The bones of the song we all love (except me) are there: the hook, the bassline, the rhythm, the guitar break. But no shrieks yet. Which reminds me of the story I’ve heard about Quincy kicking the shit out of Michael for overdoing that “hee-hee” stuff. I want video footage of that.
Michael Jackson – Billy Jean (Demo).mp3

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Jacko, Yoshi & the Heartbreak Hotel

August 30th, 2007 5 comments

Danny Baker’s 1980 article for the NME about Michael Jackson, and his brothers, titled “The great Greenland mystery”, may well be my favourite piece of music writing ever. The subject matter lends itself to the bizarre, of course. For the most part of this pretty lengthy article, the Jackson angle is at once central and peripheral, sometimes at the same time.

The best example of that is an account of a press conference in LA, held to promote The Jackson’s Triumph album (the one with the soaring “can You Feel It”). From experience I know that his portrayal of these events is hilariously accurate. Especially so in the context of entertainment writing, as I experienced during a brief excursion into the field in the early ’90s.

Here then the pertinent excerpts from Baker’s classic and very, very funny article (followed by a few Jacko tracks for your pleasure):

I LOVE press conferences. Nobody says anything for the first ten minutes and then, when someone does, questions fly about in little spurts. In the gaps, hungry hacks eye up and down their comrades’ columns to see if someone is going to ask a question a split second before they open their own cake-holes, thus shutting down their own effort in its first syllable.

Then there’s the all-out strain to see who can project the best image of the seen-it-all pressman. Never admit it’s your first PC. Also sort out where the majors are present. No one wants to admit they’re from the Basildon Non-Ferrous Metals Weekly when you’re sandwiched between the Times and the Telegraph.

It’s wonderful to spot potential questioners. You can see their lips moving as they run over and over the question, ironing it out a full quarter -hour before popping it. And worse! If some bastard creep gets in your query first, they usually get approving nods from all around and you feel like screeching ‘But I was going to ask that!’

[pre-PC preparations]

Then there’s the well-used but still fresh-looking note-pad that on every page has the standard four lines of shorthand at the top. You have to rattle a pencil around your teeth — never chew it! — until you get an ‘idea’. Then you add another half line of shorthand culminating in finally slamming your notebook shut with a disturbing air of confidence. Then you just sit back, arms folded, surveying the lesser hacks who’ve yet to complete the preliminaries.
[…]
“Once the artists enter you’re treated to a stampede of photographers — forming tight bundles like mating-crazed frogs. […] All the smudges yell ‘This way please Cecil’ even though Cecil never does. They usually nick a glance from somebody else’s successful bid.
Before photographers do all this, they pick straws to see who will be the one who goes around behind the artists and takes a shot or two of All The Other Photographers Taking Photos of Cecil. The runner-up gets to be the essential smudge who stands firm snapping away after the others have retreated. He carries this on until a bouncer leads him away.
[…]
If you meet someone you know at a press conference, you always ask each other what you’re doing here. The you both decide ‘It’s a giggle’, the subject is only fit to be sent up, and ask who was that berk who asked such and such a question halfway through. Then you destroy the berk’s paper.

Michael Jackson and his brothers have entered, “all sporting huge jamtart sized sunglasses”.

The questions are real tat. ‘Ven fill hue be wisiting Sweden, Michael?’ ‘Are you a close family, Michael? (to which the family Michael showed a keen drollery in snapping back ‘No Sir’), ‘Can you give us information about your new record?’
It was pretty bleak until this one poor wretched Japanese looking bloke committed the cardinal sin of any press conference — he tried to crack a joke. Oh, but he did. Y’see there’s a track on their new LP called “Heartbreak Hotel” and this bloke — who had little command of English anyway — thought he had cooked up a real zinger.

‘Ah, Michael’, he stuttered, seizing his chance. ‘Ah if you had not been a hit with your LP, ah, would you have gone to, ah, Heartbreak Hotel?’

In the ensuing silence, the wind blew, crickets chirped and you could hear the guy swallow hard as the apologetic grin froze on his chops. It turns out nobody understood him. Tito asks him to repeat the ‘question’.

‘Ah, Michael, i-if your LP had n-not been success…w-would you have, ah, have gone t-to Heartbreak Hotel?’

By now most of us hacks have caught on to what’s being said and the less valiant turn away and clear their throats. The guy is still grinning although he has stopped blinking by now and is wobbling perceptibly.

A Jacksons aide steps in. ‘Er, Yoshi, what do you mean?’
‘Ah Michael. If your album h-h-had not been su-su-success wouldyouhavegonetoHeartbreakHotel?’

Michael shakes his head and Jackie tries. ‘OK, I got Heartbreak Hotel but that was on our LP — what’s it got to do with Michael?’

Poor Yoshi is drenched in flop-sweat. He is darting his eyes around looking for an ally. His neck has gone to semolina and his palms perspire like the Boulder dam.

‘I-I-I’m playing with words you see.’
Nobody sees and Yoshi’s grasp of the lingo falls an inch short of the word ‘joke’.
‘P-P-Playing with words … words.’

The eyes of the world are burrowing deep inside that tweed jacket of his. He’s trembling like a sapling in monsoon and smoke is starting to belch out of his ears. Then — a voice at the back ends the torture.

‘I think the guy’s trying to make a funny.’
‘Yis! Yis! That’s it!’ babbles the released spirit. ‘I’m making funny! Funny!’

As he begins to appeal for clemency, the final cruel blow sounds. Amidst the unnecessary sighing the aide says: ‘Hey Yoshi. This is a press conference, man. Save the funnies, huh?’

The dumb questions resumed but I couldn’t take my eyes from the broken Japanese. Ruined, he never heard another word all afternoon. Today, I suspect he sits in a bathchair in some far off sanatorium, grey haired and twitching, mumbling to anyone who will listen: ‘The words. Playing with words you see…is funny…’

The Jacksons – Can You Feel It.mp3
The Jacksons – Blame It On The Boogie.mp3
The Jackson 5 – I Want You Back (Remix).mp3
Michael Jackson – Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough (Demo).mp3
Michael Jackson – Billy Jean (Demo).mp3