Abstract: In this column, Kerry Hennigan analyses Earth Song, the meaning and importance of this classic in Michael Jackson’s catalogue.
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.
Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XVI (14-04-2017).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 3, no. 4 (2017). https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xvi/.
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Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” – an anthem for Earth Day and every day. By Kerry Hennigan
It’s no secret to those who know me that Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” is probably my favourite MJ song. I have LOTS of special favourites, but “Earth Song” moves me like nothing else can.
In celebrating Earth Hour 2017 last month and Earth Day this month (April 22) the timing is perfect to examine “Earth Song” – what it means and how important it is in Michael Jackson’s catalogue of classic tracks.
In “Earth Song. Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus” Joseph Vogel reveals that the song began its life in 1988 as an anthem for the earth, informed by Michael’s evolving religious views and growing awareness of global issues. (1)
Like the earth whose anthem it was intended to be, “Earth Song” was an embryo that required a long period of gestation before coming to full term and being fit for launching into the world.
Michael’s vocal performance is incredibly powerful on this song. Bruce Swedien used one of his M-49 microphones to capture what he describes as “a very breathy, sensuous vocal recording sonic image.”
“I used no windscreen. I placed him as close as he could possibly get to this incredible old mic. ‘Earth Song’ is a piece of music which has many different effects and reverbs as part of its sonic image.” (2)
Michael Jackson put his heart and soul into this masterwork. The ad libs at the end were recorded on the last night of the HIStory studio sessions. Rob Hoffman recalls “the reason why it was left for last is because he destroys his vocal cords in the end. He knew it had to be the last thing he was gonna sing because nothing was gonna follow it for some time.” (3)
As evocatively documented by Vogel, it was a “hair standing up on the back of their necks” moment for his recording team. “From the control room, Bruce Swedien and his crew of assistant engineers couldn’t see anything. Yet what they heard roaring out of the darkness was astonishing; it was as if Jackson was channelling from the lungs of the earth – a pained, fierce, prophetic voice, giving utterance to the suffering of the world.” (4)
In her little eBook “Michael Jackson’s Love for Planet Earth”, Veronica Bassil explains that Michael “didn’t begin this way as a nine-year-old singing, ‘I want you back,’ but as he saw the mounting damage to earth’s ecosystems and human cruelty to its own species and to nonhumans, he became more and more alarmed.” (5)
It takes experience, accumulated knowledge, mature understanding and a broadened world-view to develop the kind of love and appreciation for the environment that Michael revealed to us in “Earth Song”.
The song, its short film and live performances spotlight Michael’s awareness of the planet as a living organism and his concern for its health and future wellbeing. It seems only fitting that it was the last song he sang at rehearsal the night before he died.
In writing and recording “Earth Song” Michael Jackson employed his unique and exceptional creative gifts to awaken us to the plight of the environment on which our survival depends.
It always makes me want to stand up and cheer.
- Joseph Vogel “Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus” (2nd Edition) BlakeVision Books 2012.
- Bruce Swedien “In the Studio with Michael Jackson” Hal Leonard Books 2009
- Brice Najar “Let’s Make HIStory. An Insight into the HIStory album” 2017
- Vogel “Earth Song”
- Veronica Bassil “Michael Jackson’s Love for Planet Earth” Kindle Edition 2013.