The King (of Pop) and I – (Almost) A Michael Jackson Home Story
Although my blog is primarily German, I’ll write this post in English. Since the passing of Michael Jackson, I had lots of inspiring exchanges about him with my stateside Facebook friends. I don’t want to exclude y’all (after all, I became friends with most of you even before Liz Taylor turned Michael Jackson into the “King of Pop” ;-) ).
So, what’s the deal with the “home story” angle of the headline?
When I was working as a music journalist from the early ‘80s to the mid-’90s, I spent about five months a year in New York City (Manhattan), Los Angeles (Hollywood, 90028) and varying additional U.S. cities. In L.A., I became friends with Shirley Brooks, a Japanese-African American who, among other duties, was CBS Records’ liaison for visiting foreign journalists like me.
Her kids were friends with some of the Jacksons’ kids, therefore she had close ties to the entire clan. In 1984, she arranged an interview with LaToya Jackson whose Epic album “Hearts Don’t Lie” was about to be released. Instead of doing this at CBS Records’ L.A. headquarters in Culver City, Shirley suggested a more interesting place – the Jackson family’s home in Encino (San Fernando Valley). Who was I to object! ;-)
When we arrived there, Michael wasn’t home – after the 1982 hype around his “Thriller” album, he had gotten himself an additional private refuge.
At the time, father Joe Jackson (Joseph Walter “Joe” Jackson) and mother Katherine Jackson (Katherine Esther Jackson [née Scruse]) had already split up, but Joe returned to the house because a Japanese camera team was present in order to shoot a cute home story with an intact family.
We got there during a lunch break. The Japanese team was cooking for Katherine and Joe – as far as I remember, the food tasted great! ;-)
When the Japanese team continued shooting after the lunch break, I spent some waiting time in the living room, watching TV. I remember Janet Jackson passing resp. jumping by (in a track suit). Of course, she didn’t remember me – but I had done an interview with her at the office of her record company A&M on La Brea two years ago, when she released her self-titled debut album at age 16.
I was impressed by the fact that LaToya and I did our interview in the private movie theatre of the Jacksons’ home (a 20- to 30-seater). The most memorable part of the interview involved LaToya’s claim that she initially had no interest at all in the music industry. Instead, she studied law. According to her, she only started recording due to pressure from her family.
Although my visit took place two years after Michael’s “Thriller”, fans still were camping outside of the Jacksons’ family home 24/7. Whenever an important-looking car (as opposed to Shirley’s raggedy Honda ;-) ) was passing the gate, some fans were following. Whenever it was more than one car, the fans split up into tag-teams.
I have to add that I was and still am primarily a fan of funkier and more anarchistic jam sounds like P-Funk (George Clinton / Bootsy / Parliament / Funkadelic). But, right after George Clinton and his collaborators like Bootsy, Bernie & Garry, my second favorite producer of all time has always been Quincy Jones.
As I mentioned in my (German) blog post about the 15 albums which had the greatest impact on me, I once experienced ‘the best of both worlds’ on one single day: In 1989, I was on tour with George Clinton & Parliament/Funkadelic (hawking my New Funk Times newsletter). I was offered an interview with Quincy Jones – luckily, it was scheduled on one of P.Funk’s rare days off. I flew from Hamburg to Frankfurt, with lots of greetings from the P. to the Q. Although their approaches are pretty much different, there was a lot of mutual appreciation in effect.
Since Quincy’s solo (?) album “The Dude” came out 1980, I’ve been awaiting anything new by Q. almost as eagerly as new P.Funk releases. Mega projects like his Michael Jackson albums sometimes took a long time, but when they were finished they sounded nothing but perfect. There was a lot of love for detail – e. g., when you heard certain synthesizer lines by Greg Phillinganes, you understood: Finding that particular magical sound probably set the project back for an additional six months.
In the ‘80s, I also had the chance of meeting one of Quincy’s most important accomplices: Swedish-American sound engineer Bruce Swedien who had started working with Q. in Chicago in the ‘60s (recording artists like Count Basie).
I visited Bruce at this Viking Ranch in the San Fernando Valley. After walking around and taking some pictures at the close-by orange plantation, he told me that he used to run an additional safety copy for himself whenever he did a final mix. He had saved a lot of those tapes on the Viking Ranch, and he played me a Count Basie recording from the ‘60s on an old valve amplifier. The sound quality blew me away – it was better than what you got to hear on the vinyl released back then. Apparently, it was pretty tricky to transfer all the aural details from tape to record.
Do you remember the little “Acusonic Recording Process” logo on the Michael Jackson albums? This was something Bruce cooked up with Quincy Jones. The technical part (as explained by Bruce himself) is interesting enough.
But he also told me that, for him, the Acusonic Recording Process was mainly characterized by his personal approach to multi-track recording: Whenever he did the final mix for a track (including Michael Jackson’s “We Are The World” project which he recorded on two 64-track tape recorders!), he tried to make each player’s and singer’s place in the ‘aural landscape’ coincide with their actual position in the recording studio.
If you made it until the end of this blog entry: Thanks for putting up with my rambling! ;-)
And now for some MJ-related trivia: Did you know that the Mick Jackson who co-wrote the funky Jacksons smash “Blame It on the Boogie” wasn’t an alias of Michael Jackson? The other MJ is a German-born English singer-songwriter. Here’s is original version:
My favorite and most concise praise of Michael Jackson was voiced by none other than George Carlin. I don’t necessarily agree with everything he said (the “freaking kids” part is borderline), but – apart from this – the other GC does a good job in 1 minute 7 seconds: