MJ Studies Today XLVII

Abstract:
This month’s MJ Studies Today is Part 2 of #StreamingMJ – being the examination of songs selected at random by our columnist Kerry Hennigan’s music streaming service.  The songs in Part 2 are from the 1990s and 2000s and are some of Michael Jackson’s most sensuous compositions.


Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the monthly newsletter, A Candle for Michael, and administrator of the widely-subscribed Facebook group, Michael Jackson’s Short Film ‘Ghosts.


REFERENCE AS:

Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XLVII (14-11-2019).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 7, no. 1 (2019). http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xlvii/.


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#StreamingMJ: Songs of love, desire and danger.  Listening to Michael Jackson on Shuffle Play – Part 2. By Kerry Hennigan

© Kerry Hennigan

In Part 1 of #StreamingMJ (MJ Studies Today XLIII)I wrote about the first songs that came up on a random shuffle play session on my smart phone.  They were mostly from early in Michael Jackson’s musical career, that is, from the Jackson 5 years through to the early 80s.[1]  However, these were followed by a bracket of what are, for me, rather more exciting recordings, coming from the decades (and albums) I listen to most frequently.

The first of these tracks was “Blood on the Dance Floor” which never fails to remind me of the song’s sensuous short film, which Jackson reportedly hated but which, like so many other fans, I absolutely love. Having previously written about “Blood on the Dance Floor” here in the Journal and on my personal blog, there would seem to be little left to say about it. [2]  However, a recent remix by Single White Glove (SWG) is an appropriate cue to mention the matter of remixes.

The Refugee Camp mix, which, for whatever reason (I suspect a mistake) was used instead of the original on the posthumously released DVD collection “Michael Jackson’s Vision” in 2010, does the original track a disservice in my opinion.  Amongst other failings, it lacks the relentless pulsing beat of the original. However, there are some good remixes of what I consider Jackson’s sexiest song, including the new SWG mix which comes complete with an extended version of the short film.  There’s more beat, more dancing, and more MJ.  I recommend giving it a viewing if you haven’t done so already. [3]

“Blood on the Dance Floor’ was followed by “In the Closet” – another sensuous track with an immediately identifiable signature beat. Jackson’s music is full of them – from “Billie Jean” to “2000 Watts” and beyond.  Madonna confirms that Michael approached her with the idea of them collaborating on the lyrics, but what she came up with wasn’t to his liking. [4]  In the end he worked with Teddy Riley with whom he co-produced the song.  Joe Vogel says “he [Jackson] thought the restraint made the song more compelling. Madonna, of course, wanted it to actually deliver.” [5]  However, for most of us, it does exactly that, being another fan favourite, along with its short film co-starring super model Naomi Campbell.

Finally, rounding out this session of randomly streamed MJ songs was “A Place With No Name”, which samples America’s hit song “A Horse With No Name” written by Dewey Bunnell.  On this song, as on “Break of Dawn” and “Blue Gangsta”, Jackson worked with Elliot Straite, a.k.a. Dr. Freeze, who wanted to give the old America hit a 21stcentury makeover.  Damien Shields’ notes in his book, “Michael Jackson: Stories and Songs from the Vault”, that America loved the idea.  As recalled by Dr Freeze, “They found this update absolutely terrific.” [6]

The lyrics open with the protagonist getting a flat tire out on the highway.  When he gets out of his vehicle he is enveloped in a strange feeling “like a mist”. A woman appears out of the fog and entices him to follow her to a beautiful city.  Freeze describes it as “a song where you just close your eyes to find yourself instantly transported into a wonderful world.”  There is a romantic interlude in this place “filled with love and happiness” – so, why would our protagonist ever want to leave? But then, he is reminded of his responsibilities back in the real world:

I went in my pocket took my wallet on out

With my pictures of my family and girl

This is the place that you choose to be with me

When you thought you could be in another world [7]

The beautiful city, the “wonderland” (which, incidentally, is what Jackson intended to call the grand estate he hoped to purchase in Las Vegas) requires the song’s protagonist to forsake those to whom he has made a commitment. [8]  This is the dilemma for all of us – following our dreams can sometimes mean letting down those who love and depend on us, and who choose to be with us, while we dream of being someplace else.  In the case of “A Place With No Name” we are left to wonder at the outcome.

That’s my interpretation of the lyrics, anyway.  Following its official release, I had an interesting discussion with a fellow fan about whether or not the mystery woman who appears in the fog is a temptress.  For me, that last verse clinches it.  The music video created for the posthumously released track seems to bear out my conclusion. Featuring some out-takes from the “In the Closet” short film as well as new footage, the video for “A Place With No Name” was directed by Samuel Bayer and has the distinction of being the first ever official video premier launched on Twitter.  I remember streaming it at work, in the middle of the day, South Australian time.  It was/is my favourite song off the “Xscape” album (though I prefer the “original” version – which is one of the final ones Jackson worked on – to the posthumously “contemporised” version used in the video).  [9]

Regardless of how one wishes to interpret the lyrics, it’s easy to appreciate why the song appealed to Michael Jackson, who first worked on it in 1998 and revisited it many times up to 2008.  You can hear it in his performance.  “When he came into the studio to record, he stood before the microphone and set fire to the song,” says Dr Freeze.  “As he left, the studio was in ashes and our jaws on the floor. It was really impressive to see.” [10]

This bracket of songs, selected for me at random by the streaming service Deezer, carry similar themes – love, lust, temptation, danger of one sort or another (commitment or a knife in the back, possibly) and provide us with some of Michael’s most sensuous vocal performances.  His work on these three songs also takes us from the period of time he spent working on the Dangerous album right through to the last 12 months of his life.

Despite being tragically cut short, Jackson’s life was certainly NOT one left creatively unfulfilled.  Few, if any, artists achieve such success over as many successive decades.  And despite all the fame, being the focus of media attention and false allegations, he kept on writing lyrics, beatboxing tunes and recording with cutting edge producers.  Rather than unfulfilled, his was a life left cruelly unfinished.  His audience – the world – is the poorer for it.

Sources:

[1]  Hennigan, Kerry. “#StreamingMJ : Random Songs from the Life of a King.  Listening to Michael Jackson on Shuffle Play – Part 1, MJ Studies Today XLIII (14-08-2019).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 6, no. 4(2019). http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xliv/

[2]  Hennigan, Kerry. “’This is delicious’: Michael Jackson’s ‘Blood on the Dance Floor’ – Twenty-One Years On, MJ Studies Today XXXI (16-07-2018).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 5, no. 4(2018). http://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xxxi/

[3]  Single White Glove “Blood on the Dance Floor” SWG extended remix https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wg_qTYZfBBA

[4] Madonna on Michael Jacksonhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKlMpM-oKU4

[5]  Vogel, Joseph Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson(2019) pp 243-245

[6]  Shields, Damien Michael Jackson: Stories and Songs from the Vault(2018) pp 57-75

[7]  Straite, Elliot; Jackson, Michael and Bunnell, Dewey “A Place With No Name”. Released 2014 on the posthumous album Xscape.

[8]  Las Vegas Sun “Michael Jackson eyed Vegas ‘Wonderland’” (13 Aug 2009) https://lasvegassun.com/news/2009/aug/13/jackson-nearly-settled-his-vegas-wonderland/

[9]  Gottlieb, Steven “Michael Jackson “A Place With No Name” (Samuel Bayer, dir.)” (14 Aug 2014) https://www.videostatic.com/watch-it/2014/08/14/michael-jackson-place-no-name-samuel-bayer-dir

[10]  Shields, Damien p 68

Artwork:

Photo montage compiled by Kerry Hennigan.  No infringement of photographic copyright is intended in this not for profit, educational exercise.

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