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Showin' how funky 'n strong is your fight
March 27, 2014 1:17 AM   Subscribe

As Michael Jackson couldn’t fluently play any instruments, he would sing and beatbox out how he wanted his songs to sound by himself on tape, layering the vocals, harmonies and rhythm before having instrumentalists come in to complete the songs.
posted by flapjax at midnite (44 comments total) 100 users marked this as a favorite

 
I had no idea.
posted by pracowity at 1:44 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


It's funny how in adulthood I'm learning some respect for people I never had any respect for before, based on media representations that in retrospect I really should have realized were designed for the benefit of the media doing the representing and nobody else.
posted by Sequence at 1:47 AM on March 27 [20 favorites]


It's as if Dokaka were suddenly to start taking himself seriously.
posted by darksasami at 1:54 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


He was in complete control of a multi-timbral voice with a level of invention and nuance unmatched by anyone else since Elvis. Chesty rasp, clear head tones, falsetto, whoops and yelps, unsupported throat tones, gulps, gasps, groans, even swallowings and mumbles come bubbling out of him.
posted by colie at 1:56 AM on March 27 [15 favorites]


This is the first thing that has impressed me about adult Michael Jackson (I do like the Jackson Five). That's not me trying to put him down snarkily, at all; there are too many people whose opinions I respect that said that he was a good dancer, or a good singer, or the like. But for whatever reason, his singing never clicked with me, personally. Ditto with his dancing. So I've just taken it on authority that he's good in some way that I can't sense. Now, at least, when people wax poetic about Michael Jackson, I have some foundation on which to nod along.
posted by Bugbread at 2:11 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Please release those tapes.
posted by valdesm at 2:32 AM on March 27 [5 favorites]


Holy shit.
posted by Jimbob at 2:33 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Please release those tapes.

Looking at the id3 tags of the embedded mp3, they already did -- I count no fewer than 17 demos in the compilation. Damn.
posted by lumensimus at 2:43 AM on March 27 [7 favorites]


Looking at the Wikipedia article, it seems there is an Underground remix of Billie Jean. It's kind of a weird combo, with two different layers of nostalgia.

I was 12 or so when Thriller came out and it was one of the first cassette tapes I bought (at A&B Sound in Victoria BC). Fast-forward ten years or so, and Underworld was a big part of my life...
posted by KokuRyu at 3:23 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Whoops, read that as "Underworld." Well, anyway, still two layers of nostalgia.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:24 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


This made my (early) morning.

Here's the direct link to the mp3 in case you had trouble playing it from the page like I did.
posted by neckro23 at 4:00 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


Yeah this is great. To think that some of these people actually know what they're doing.
posted by Namlit at 4:06 AM on March 27


I Want You Back.

Only so much can be taught. It strains my imagination to think that Michael Jackson didn't suffer from some sort of empathy. If Joe Jackson were my father I wouldn't have been "David Jackson" no matter how hard I tried. Some people have a gift for music and I think Michael Jackson was one of them.

Here is an oversimplified history [completely ignoring punk and rap] for you kids; in the late sixties and early seventies AM radio played everything - Mowtown, Beatles, Pop, British rock, fucking Bobby Goldsboro. In the mid-seventies there was a schism between "black" and "white" music.

Race relations were at a fucked up nadir. MTV played music, but not music by black musicians. I saw Aldo Nova and the Bangles over and over.

Then came "Thriller" and "Beat It" had a solo from Eddie Van Halen - it was a big deal.

It's really hard to overstate the amount of influence Michael Jackson has had on both the music industry and culture.
posted by vapidave at 4:27 AM on March 27 [11 favorites]


John Jeremiah Sullivan: "He starts with tape recorders. He sings and beatboxes the little things he hears, the parts. Where do they come from? Above. He claims to drop to his knees and thank Jehovah after he snatches one."
posted by Asimo at 4:33 AM on March 27


... a level of invention and nuance unmatched by anyone else since Elvis

Not sure Elvis compares. Michael's voice could serve the rhythm of the song just as readily as melody or harmony. James Brown, maybe?
posted by superelastic at 4:42 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


Goddamn
posted by nathancaswell at 4:50 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Deeply, deeply impressive.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:55 AM on March 27


Impressive stuff.
posted by Flood at 4:56 AM on March 27


Wow!
posted by djeo at 4:57 AM on March 27


YouTube clip of MJ beatboxing.

I was a kid in the 80s and he always seemed larger than life to me. I saw the documentary released after his death and he still had the star power with wattage to spare. But you can also see moments of his mental illness popping out when he gets frustrated. It is so sad. Child abuse is a crime. Thanks for posting. A little MJ never fails to brighten my day.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 4:59 AM on March 27 [5 favorites]


I Want You Back.

From the Kleptones' excellent Hectic City blog, you might like this Caribbean-inspired remix.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:59 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


"OK Eddie, it's: boowoooooowaaah, waaaah, weeeee, weeeeee, boodledoodlewoodlewaddlewiddlebiddlewaddlewiddle weeeee, ..."
posted by Flunkie at 5:04 AM on March 27 [14 favorites]


That "YouTube clip of MJ beatboxing" link that St. Peepsburg posted is pretty wild. I am left wondering, though: Why was he (apparently) being asked so often under deposition about how he created his songs? I know he was under deposition for child abuse allegations, but was he also under deposition at some points for plagiarism allegations or something?

Or was it just him going off the rails in response to some question about the child abuse allegations?
posted by Flunkie at 5:21 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


I think one of the Philadelphia International Records main guys did this for arrangements too. He could play piano some, but mostly would just sing to his musicians what he wanted from them. Worked pretty good, too.
posted by thelonius at 6:28 AM on March 27


For anyone who wants to do something similar and channel their inner Bobby McFerrin, Loopy Is an iOS app that let's you loop your vocals, making your own little 4 bar glee club.

Simply take the recording to Quincy Jones when you are done. Profit.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 6:38 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


If anyone does know, I'd also be interested in the answer to flunkie's question.
posted by ominous_paws at 7:04 AM on March 27


Here is some info about the 1993 Mexico depositions. He was being charged with plagiarism and copyright infringement, it appears, so they were asking lots of questions about how he composed lots of different songs.
posted by flug at 7:10 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


I'm just a little dubious that this is Michael Jackson's recording; it kind of strikes me as a really good impersonation. I hope it *is* real, and that someone can confirm it. Because it's really really impressive, and if it isn't a fake, it reflects a musical vision on par with Freddie Mercury.

Either way, this is fantastic to listen to, genuine or otherwise.
posted by grubi at 7:12 AM on March 27


Oh, just saw the link to the MJ album where this appears. I take back my dubiosity!
posted by grubi at 7:13 AM on March 27


And — crap — I just remembered I once attempted to do the entirety of "Billie Jean" doing this exact thing. It wasn't MJ-good (by a long shot), but what a fun project to try. I might have to revisit it.
posted by grubi at 7:22 AM on March 27


Listening to this reminds me of Willie Nelson's Crazy: The Demo Sessions, recordings of his demo tapes for his songwriting. Mostly just him singing with a guitar, either himself playing or a single musician. So simple and spare, and way more beautiful than the overproduced glam shlock that a lot of his commercial albums became. His The IRS Tapes album is similarly simple and spare.
posted by Nelson at 8:22 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


...way more beautiful than the overproduced glam shlock that a lot of his commercial albums became.

Yes, I preferred MJs Beat It demo here to the finished version. I think it's fresher, better sounding and more interesting all around! I mean, as good as Quincy Jones's productions are, I'd still rather hear this vocal-only demo. To me it just sounds better, and it's so immediate.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:35 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Wow.

As Michael Jackson couldn’t fluently play any instruments,

Except his voice, the one instrument that all humans have and play from birth, and that most of us never come close to being remotely competent in, considering how much it can do.

Wow.
posted by rtha at 9:00 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


The acapella of Remember the Time has some incredible beatboxing on it that I never noticed before hearing it. Very essential to the track really.
posted by mike_bling at 9:04 AM on March 27


fyi: Working with Michael Jackson on "A Place With No Name"
posted by judson at 9:30 AM on March 27


Listening to this reminds me of Willie Nelson's Crazy: The Demo Sessions... So simple and spare, and way more beautiful than the overproduced glam shlock that a lot of his commercial albums became

The more produced country music gets, the worse it is. See also: everything Steve Earle has ever recorded.
posted by nathancaswell at 11:40 AM on March 27 [3 favorites]


I'm surprised actually that more people don't know this about MJ. He would sit up in his tree at the Ranch and compose music this way into his tape recorder. The man was a genius - an incredible music and movement intuition unmatched in history and he had the work ethic to back it.

Combine this with a student of Nadia Boulanger and Messiaen and you get an album like Thriller.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:36 PM on March 27


I'm glad that people are taking Michael seriously as a musician. I've gotten into big arguments with people who say he was "just a pop star." Also when people say it was all due to Quincy Jones.

Michael is a genius.
posted by girlmightlive at 1:04 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


I don't know what else to say except that this is very, very cool. I'm embarrassed that, as an admirer of his music, I didn't realize how much of it he wrote.
posted by pitrified at 4:10 PM on March 27


Michael Jackson’s ‘The Way You Make Feel’ video minus the music is some serious psycho stalker shit
posted by homunculus at 6:24 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Flunkie: "That "YouTube clip of MJ beatboxing" link that St. Peepsburg posted is pretty wild. I am left wondering, though: Why was he (apparently) being asked so often under deposition about how he created his songs? I know he was under deposition for child abuse allegations, but was he also under deposition at some points for plagiarism allegations or something?

Or was it just him going off the rails in response to some question about the child abuse allegations?
"

ominous_paws: "If anyone does know, I'd also be interested in the answer to flunkie's question."

I can't find a lot about it, but apparently he, Lionel Richie, Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton, and Joseph Jackson were being sued by a group of songwriters for copyright infringement, so he was describing how he wrote songs.
posted by Bugbread at 7:38 PM on March 27


Also when people say it was all due to Quincy Jones.


Not to mention the fact that Quincy Jones himself has said that he's never worked with anybody with as much facility in the studio as MJ. There isn't much higher praise than that.
posted by Dokterrock at 11:12 PM on March 27 [2 favorites]


fyi: Working with Michael Jackson on "A Place With No Name"

That was amazing, the guy gets a job engineering, and ends up tracking a bunch of bass, while MJ is dancing around and playing air guitar in front of him. He must have felt like Mike Stern when Miles would come over and crank up his guitar amp.
posted by thelonius at 1:51 AM on March 28


Thank you that is wonderful
posted by MrMerlot at 4:26 PM on March 28


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