Michael Jackson “Motown 25”
I think I’ve told on FB that upon hearing of the death of MJ I was in living comatose; a calm shock like I had stepped out of my body – my spirit was in the lounge/TV room at work – while I was actually moving around trying to figure out how to process that information. I finally decided, “GO TO HARLEM TO THE APOLLO“; there I found peace where I was able to cry alone, yet with others rubbing my back while we all sang on 125th St under the Apollo awning. There were reporters, bloggers, t-shirt sellers (I bought one of the REAL MICHAEL JACKSON as a 7 – 10 Yr old kid), people with his album collections, etc. I spent about 4 to 5 hours out there just taking in the scene in bereavement.
On the ride back to Brooklyn on the A-Train, I was dead silent, still in shock I guess. When I got back to Brooklyn, I was hungry (hadn’t eaten dinner) and I hopped in my car to go to The Farmer and the Deli in Fort Greene, Brooklyn for what I consider one of the best turkey sandwhiches in NYC for under $6.00 (that was then. have not been there in 3 years). As I was riding there, of course MJ was on every radio station. As the songs came on: “I’ll Be There” “Never Can Say Goodbye” “Bille Jean” “Man in the Mirror” I BEGAN SOBBING LIKE A NEW BORN BABY!
Here’s what I was thinking: “that voice is inimitable, honed from a child to a man with magnificent success; thinking of the height of his success how people, literally EVERYONE, man, woman, child, black, white chinese, was wild, out of body crazy, possessed, by MJ; I myself at the time of its release, sat with the Thriller album with the lyrics sheet, learned and sang every song all weekend long for at least a month straight; the Thriller video (never got those moves down) was such a ground breaking premier and phenomenon; the way MJ sang from his audition in front of Berry Gordy til his last album alive with such passion, i.e. “Heaven Can Wait” on the Invincible album 2001. THAT IS UNMATCHED UNDENIALE SOUL ON A RECORD; NOW, IT’S GONE!!!” And I wept until I couldn’t weep anymore at that loss.
“Where is all of this coming from, it’s not the death anniversary of MJ, it’s not his birthdate??? Well, top of the morning 1AM May 24, 2016 Motown 25 was on PBS. I happen to catch it when Richard Pryor was introducing Michael Jackson and The Jackson Five. I started to think, “I made it to work the day after MJs death announcement, but if I had come home from the weeping ride to get the turkey sandwhich and found Motown 25 playing on my television, that would have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
In the Motown 25 show, how beautiful brown he was (wish he could have just left his face at that); the way he danced and popped and spun and moon walked; the showmanship in his performance. To this day, I don’t think there is a SINGLE GREATER PERFORMANCE by a soloist than that of Michael Jackson performing Billie Jean on Motown 25.
To try and bring this essay to denouement, which will become protracted still; my friend Burton and I would have a Prince / Michael Jackson debate; he Prince, me Michael Jackson. I was never able to quite articulate it but I think some 15 to 20 years later I have the panaceas to that argument maybe for all that get ensnared in it (I guess I can’t say that, my opinion is mine alone).
Why I say MJ was better, because at the time in my provincial thinking of funky beats, soul singing, rhythm & blues proclivity, MJ wins that; even Beat It, Dirty Diana, etc which are to be rock songs, still had a funk / soul / rhythm to them and as I said before, the soul with which MJ laid his lyrics on wax, especially his runs and ad-libs, Prince did nothing of the sort. Add to that, the dancing which MJ always kept funky for you; it appealed to my senses as a Black American brought up on Funk Soul R&B.
Prince, his artistic expression was eccentric and eclectic. He, as we know, can get funky but it was never expressed on the 2 & 4 beat in the dance moves like MJ, i.e. Billie Jean Motown 25 performance. For example, take the song and video for the song “KISS“, very funky song, but Prince was in the video doing a mix of regular and eclectic type dancing with a female dancer. His varying Rock Songs, with the exception of “Let’s Go Crazy“, at the time, they never appealed to me, and it seemed as if they broke up his albums and made them sort of in-cohesive. Prince has many great hits we all know and love but, back then, to me, his music was all over the creative map whereas MJ sort of stayed in the pocket (a unique pocket nontheless).
One thing Prince did greatly were his amorous love songs: Do Me Baby, Adore, Insatiable, (is Darling Nikki considered a love song???), Call My Name / On The Couch (both on the Musicolgy album respectively); Just as MJ’s heart and soul – runs and ad-libs – delivery are unparalleled, what Prince did on those particular tracks is HANDS DOWN THE BEST, NO ONE COULD DO IT BETTER, EVER! The tracks “Rasberry Baret” (RB) and “Pop Life” (PL) on the Around The World In A Day album always bring a certain warmth and ease to my heart, from the very first time I heard them back in the 80s, (PL): “what you puttin’ in yo nose / is that where all your money goes….. is the mail man jerkin’ you round / did he put yo million dolla check in someone elses box tell may.” (RB) “built like she was ahh, she has nerve to ask me / if I plan to do her any harm / so look here / I put her on the back my bike and ahh, we went ridin’ / DOWN BY OLE MAN JOHNSON’S FARM“. In those two songs, once again you can see my proclivity toward the funk soul R&B.
ONE THING PRINCE HAS OVER MICHAEL JACKSON, ARTISTIC CREATION; this damn guy was a despotic, autocratic, megalomaniac, auteur, MUSICAL GENIUS. In these early debates of Prince/Michael Jackson, I could not give Prince’s musical genius proper credit because my ears truthfully only heard and appreciated a third of what he produced; the “Dirty Mind” album hadn’t graced my ears nor sunken in as the masterful masterpiece it was/is. Prince either directly played or personally directed and approved every note on every album/song he ever worked on. Material both released and still in the vaults unreleased IS COLOSSAL! And when we take into consideration Prince’s personal androgynous style which made his star shine even brighter, MAN LISTEN!
Musically, artistically creatively PRINCE WINS! But on Michael Jackson’s side – though (I think he could play a few chords) he never played a damn thing but maybe his finger snaps (which you must admit on “Rock With You” WERE BRILLIANT) and a tambourine – he was an auteur in his own right; let’s not forget this was the guy who turned down perfectly great tracks by the hottest producers in HIP HOP/R&B at the time, “The Neptunes (Pharrel and Chad)” which would have undoubtedly made a better album than Dark Child Rodney Jerkins and other producers made out of “Invincible”, as proved by the fact that Usher’s “8701” album and hit singles in 2001 -those were the Neptunes tracks produced for Michael Jackson – sold more than Michael Jackson’s “Invincible” released the same year.
Though he didn’t play much, – hey I just figured it out (MJ EPIPHANY) – Michael’s ear for melody and hot tracks and how to make a track hot with his voice and ad-libs “Hee, Hee” was his main – used to perfection – instrument, and those indelible stamps were on every record – MILLIONS – he sold, which on a lateral level makes Michael Jackson as great an artist as PRINCE.
I forgot to mention the Prince Falsetto and the ease with which he went/goes back and forth from Falsetto to Barritone was/is classic and untouched (well, maybe not untouched as D’Angelo kind of licked it a few times on the Voodoo album to great effect), but still Prince is the master of the Falsetto Baritone switch up.
I guess what I’m saying here is, if one says, “PRINCE IS BETTER” I understand and respect the polemic with which they come. If one says, “MICHAEL IS BETTER”, “I’m like a dog / I never speak / but I understand” (Jay Z “Never Change” Blueprint album, 2001).