Behind the Mask - Michael Jackson's rarest recording?
July 1, 2009 10:40 AM   Subscribe

Michael Jackson penned and recorded lots of songs, many of which remain unreleased. Perhaps the most infamous, and rarest recording, is his version of Behind the Mask. Legend has it that upon hearing Yellow Magic Orchestra's original track, somewhen around 1979, Quincy Jones fell in love with the track, and he and Michael worked together on their own version. Jackson wrote new lyrics for it - adding to those of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Chris Mosdell - and eventually recorded it during his Off The Wall sessions. For unknown reasons the track never made the final cut of, arguably, Jones' and Jackson's greatest work. Not long afterwards Greg Phillinganes, Jackson's keyboard player, released his own version of the song, which was later taken up and re-recorded by Eric Clapton for his 1986, Phil Collins produced album, August. The track has since been recorded/remixed by Human League, Senor Coconut, Orbital and others. Does an original Jones/Jackson recording of the song even exist? Perhaps, as the world continues to mourn the star's sad death, someone will finally allow us a listen.
posted by 0bvious (28 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
I would love to hear it. I'm a huge YMO fan.
posted by Dr-Baa at 10:48 AM on July 1, 2009

always liked the song, had no idea of its legs, other than the Orbital version which is a remix, of course.

Nice post.
posted by philip-random at 10:54 AM on July 1, 2009

What a well structured post. Really takes me on a journey from start to finish. Thank you so much, going to spend some more time with this one!
posted by lazaruslong at 11:07 AM on July 1, 2009

Now that is how you Metafilter. Thank you!
posted by ElmerFishpaw at 11:11 AM on July 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Remember the duet he did with Mick Jagger called State of Shock? Apparently the original plan was for Jackson to sing with Freddie Mercury. Their demo is here.
posted by punkfloyd at 11:41 AM on July 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Here's the Jagger/Jackson version of State of Shock.
posted by punkfloyd at 11:44 AM on July 1, 2009

What I find interesting about Michael Jackson (more than all the other things) is that, as brilliant and hard-working as he was, he still couldn't get past the "two great albums then crap" rule.

I'll assume you're ignoring the Motown era Jackson material.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:46 AM on July 1, 2009

Michael had 4 solo albums before Off the Wall: Got to Be There, Ben, Music & Me, and Forever Michael.
posted by mkb at 12:04 PM on July 1, 2009

Why do I get the feeling I walked into a game of Calvinball?
posted by mkb at 12:28 PM on July 1, 2009 [5 favorites]

And in other news

Tippi Hedren tells Michael Jackson's former pet tigers of his death

There is no way to make that sentence better. It may be the platonic ideal of sentences. Let us savor it.
posted by The Whelk at 12:30 PM on July 1, 2009 [7 favorites]

From the FPP's last link: "Michael Jackson: secret library of 100 songs could be released."

I can only imagine that any future releases will be incredible blockbuster sellers.
posted by ericb at 12:45 PM on July 1, 2009

...secret library of 100 songs could be released...

BTW -- others are reporting that there may be as many as 200 unreleased songs.
posted by ericb at 12:47 PM on July 1, 2009

One thing most folks forget about unreleased songs is that there's usually a damn good reason that they were never released.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:08 PM on July 1, 2009

Won't be the same without video, though.
posted by obloquy at 1:09 PM on July 1, 2009

...there's usually a damn good reason that they were never released.

Not necessarily so in Jackson's case.
"Michael Jackson left his three children a £60million secret treasure chest of unpublished songs to save them from financial ruin, it emerged last night.

In his final weeks, the pop superstar arranged to bequeath them a hoard of original music – said to be up to 200 songs – as the threat of bankruptcy loomed.

The legacy, a rare act of shrewdness from a star legendary for his disastrous finances, means the songs cannot be touched by the many creditors lining up to reclaim their debts from his estate.

It ensures that Prince Michael, 12, Paris Katherine, 11, and Prince Michael II, seven, will be well taken care of following his sudden death at the age of 50 last week.

And it means that tens of millions of Jackson fans around the world can look forward to hearing more of their hero’s music."
There's a market for these songs. A shrewd move on his part to provide for his children after his death -- whether it were to have happened when it did or later.
posted by ericb at 1:14 PM on July 1, 2009

My initial snarky comment aside (and thank you, ericb, for that polite and informative response to my snark - it was more than I deserved!), having now visitied the assorted links in the post, I really like this. I had never listened to Yellow Magic Orchestra before and am glad I did. Furthermore, I'd love to hear Michael Jackson's cover of this song.

In fact, I don't know why I was being so snarky because I actually love this lost song business - even when I don't actually love the lost songs themselves. I'm glad that Jackson's fans have a few releases of unheard material to look forward to.

And I'm very glad to have finally heard Yellow Magic Orchestra, so thank you Obvious for that. I'll try not to snark before reading in the future.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:08 PM on July 1, 2009

I'd never heard of Yellow Magic Orchestra before either. Thanks for the post!
posted by orme at 2:59 PM on July 1, 2009

Supposedly, Mike and Q considered hundreds of songs for Thriller alone. Perfectionist? Control freak? Big budgets? Check, check and check. There's got to be a ton of stuff in the vaults.
posted by box at 3:20 PM on July 1, 2009

You left out the finest version - it's behind the chorus of the awesome GLC track "Your Mother's Got a Penis". Starts about 30 seconds in.
posted by w0mbat at 8:01 PM on July 1, 2009

Mike and Q considered hundreds of songs for Thriller alone. ... There's got to be a ton of stuff in the vaults.

Here's some of the material unearthed from the "Thriller" vaults:

The Demo of "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'"

The Demo of "Baby Be Mine"

The Demo of "The Girl Is Mine"

An excerpt from "Starlight" - the original version of "Thriller"

The Demo of "Beat It"

The Demo of "Billie Jean"

The Demo of "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)"

The full version of "The Lady in My Life"

And here are some other demo tracks that never made their way onto "Thriller":

"Carousel" (ousted from "Thriller" by the last-minute inclusion of "Human Nature")


"Hot Street"

"Nite Line"
posted by New Frontier at 10:39 PM on July 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

One thing most folks forget about unreleased songs is that there's usually a damn good reason that they were never released.

Tupac fans would disagree. I have a feeling him and MJ will be competing for the postmortem song market for years to come.

Awesome post, btw.
posted by mynameisluka at 10:45 PM on July 1, 2009

Excellent post! I meant to dig into it deeper before commenting, but I'm hung up on the Youtube playlist - I had no idea that Jackson could beatbox!
posted by EatTheWeek at 11:01 PM on July 1, 2009

The links in this post are fantastic, but it is a pain in the ass to read through your sentences. Not trying to be mean. Copy edit next time! Sorry. Okay.
posted by damehex at 11:32 PM on July 1, 2009

One thing most folks forget about unreleased songs is that there's usually a damn good reason that they were never released.

Listening to the demo version of "PYT" . . . uhhh . . . NO.

You cannot give me a single good reason why they didn't release that version. I dare say I MUCH, MUCH prefer this one over what actually ended up on Thriller. He could've released this last week, in exactly the raw form we're hearing it in this clip, just before he passed, and I would've completely fallen for this as a brand new track. Not only that, but upon hearing that this was his "latest" release, I would've been thrilled to hear that he'd gotten his old magic back.

/i am not a musician
posted by CommonSense at 12:49 AM on July 2, 2009

Great post. I love posts that are (a) about a topic I would probably never read about unprompted and (b) teach me something before I even click a link.
posted by rokusan at 5:01 AM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Comparing the Greg Phillinganes and YMO versions is actually quite instructive about the American music industry in the 1980s.

Also, the Eric Clapton all-star thing includes footage of Ray Cooper, the only full-time tamborine player outside the pop groups in Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Although Cooper isn't, as far as I can tell, a talking animal.

(Well, he is, technically, we all are, but you know what I mean).
posted by Grangousier at 5:29 AM on July 2, 2009

Yeah, those songs could be the pop equivalent of Mozart's Requiem. Or they could be Roy Orbison's "I Drove All Night", one of the handful of songs I actually paid for but consider deleting each time it comes up on shuffle.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:27 AM on July 2, 2009

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