Monday, June 25, 2012

Michael Jackson: Mike's Music And Me

                           The music of Michael Jackson's was among the first I remember hearing. It's one of the view memories that I actually shared with billions of other people. The Michael Jackson I remember very early in my childhood was basically this man you see in the photo above. Gradually as time went on,the scandalous personal behavior,especially his changes in appearance  became the main source of publicity for Mike (the name I and many friends chose to refer to him as) rather than his musical accomplishments. This blog is about Mike's musical accomplishments and how I view it from today's perspective. One of the key aspects to Michael Jackson's musical legacy was how adept he was vocally for uptempo music,especially dance songs. This is a quality now present in the dance/funk music scene with the likes of Beyonce' and R.Kelly. At the same time Mike was the last major pop icon to embrace this ethic. 

                          His earliest solo releases on Motown were very much based in the psychedelic soul/funk of 70's Motown as well as the James Brown music he grew up on. It was pure serendipity that he became part of the Motown legacy that had been part of what drove him all along. When he relaunched his solo career in the late 1970's,his influences had moved from Motown and James Brown to Barry White's late 70's music. Disco-dance music mix of orchestration with afro-latin rhythms was an enormous part of that. As the 80's came on,dance music became more stripped down. Part of this was boogie funk,a genre where string orchestrations were largely replaced with electronic ones. On his breakout release 'Thriller' that showcased this more with it's mixture of live instrumentation,such as horns and percussion were mixed with symphonic electronic orchestrations.

                    As the 80's transitioned into the 90's Mike's music became less orchestrated and reflected hip-hop's influence more,with Mike using his talent for multi tracked beat boxing as percussion tracks often. This was some of the best music of his career. Sadly a lot of it was increasingly ignored as his personal behavior gained more press than his creative accomplishments.  Following his passing,more and more knowledge came into the public about a great deal of unreleased music he'd made over the years,much of it far more innovative and even hit worthy than what he had offered in his lifetime. Unreleased or not what I've discussed here represents the musical legacy of this man. A man who received such colossal adulation that his larger than life persona underscored the creativity and humanity in his art to some people.

                      I am concluding this blog with examples of his music,both released and unreleased that showcase the influences Mike had during the height of his career and how he himself often expanded these sometimes often less known songs out into the public due to his visibility.

Barry White's "Look At Her" from 1978

matched up with

"Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough",released less than a year later

Stevie Wonder's "That Girl",recorded in 1981

matched up with

"PYT (Pretty Young Thing)",an early demo with different arrangement and harmony recorded the same time as Stevie's aforementioned hit

              Those are the two best examples of the cross influential nature of Mike's music when it was at it's most vital and potent.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Prince & My Introduction To His Purple World: Happy Birthday,Prince!

                 Today Prince Rogers Nelson of Minneapolis turned 54. He's one of those few celebrates whom I actually am curious as to how he spends his birthdays for some reason. There's always been something captivating to me about Prince. I haven't seen anyone in my lifetime who has been able to created such an elaborate universe surrounding himself. Not only that but the music he makes is not only fully under his control but is so distinctive. It all comes from already established sources from funk,pop,soul,jazz,blues and rock n roll but somehow it's always this Prince sound. That Minneapolis sound as it was called at it's most popular. So how did Prince and his music first enter my life? And what piqued my interest?

              My first exposure to Prince was in 1984. My mom had a 45 record of "When Doves Cry" but it was it's B-side "17 Days" with it's slow,warped percussion and bassline I kept wanting to hear. This is where I got to understand this was a musical artist somewhat different than others. Than came "Kiss" a couple years later. Prince for a decade until his 'Emancipation' came out. I got very caught up as so many did in the more celebrity aspects of his persona. His fight with Warner Bros.,changing his name to a wordless symbol and so on. After listening to 'Emancipation'...well from than on I explored his entire discography and every new Prince related album that came out I was interested.

               Prince continues to both excite and frustrate me creatively. But that is part of who he is. At once highly spiritual and sexually free,both socially radical and reactionary Prince is so defined by his astrology even he has had to realize it. He is still touring today,surprising audiences with his almost boundless energy and persona that seems full of endless surprises. You never know if he'll begin his music career or...retire to a far away country to become a monk. His unpredictability makes him personally puzzling but creatively...astounding frankly. And you really don't get this effect from one or two songs. You only do when you listen to one or two Prince albums. As Dickens wrote from the point of Scrooge,there's more to gravy than of grave about Prince.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Stevie Wonder & My Summer Of '96

                    Today a very interesting reflection popped into my head. Used to think about it quite a lot . It all happened sixteen years ago when I was...16. And despite the cliche' of that time it was actually a very hopeful and productive time in my life. My final days of public school were full of much unpleasantness  and confusion. Can't deny that. But several years later I was high school age,had been home schooled during this time and was on a journey to discover music in a way I never had before. Part of that journey led me to Stevie Wonder. In fact during the mid 1990's I generally attired myself in a manner...not dissimilar to the way Stevie is in this photograph pictured here.  The more I delved into this mans music,the more it became clear that the visions in the mind,the only visions Wonder himself was physically capable of perceiving,were more key to any creative ventures than I thought. There were a lot of great things happening. I began writing an idea for a television series and conceived of a...sort of fictive record label along the way of this particular journey in life. Than I fell in love.
                 This was a love that came out of a creative endeavor. It was the same person who was helping me not only with my TV script but also was planning on being involved in my record label. I even wrote a song for him called "I'm In Your Arms Tonight",a lyric definitely written with Stevie Wonder in mind. One night I was called home from visiting this friends home to learn that a mutual friend had called my parents to tell them my new friend had schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder. I was shocked and very frightened. It was as if he'd become a stranger. Good thing I had just gotten a CD of Stevie's 'Talking Book' around this time. Even though Wonder was talking about the dissolving of his marriage to Syreeta Wright,also his creative partner I saw many parallels. In particular in a song called "Looking For Another Pure Love". Because my friend didn't want his mental illness to be known,and furthermore was even less happy about my homosexuality he made the choice to dissolve our friendship by making a pass at a member of my family.

               As Stevie said in that aforementioned song this person had become the "problem in my life" where I had very few of them in the outset upon meeting him.  It was one thing to have average youth angst over growing pains. But to have to deal with a very adult concern before your emotionally prepared? Well again Stevie said it best in the same same; "things you cherish most in your life can be taken if they're left neglected". In his case his internal perceptions gave him his own unique outlook on romance. It's also how he was able to create his own unique musical sounds to match the emotions he experienced. Because I didn't possess his musical talent,the only way I had to reflect on this was to spend a lot of time alone listening to Stevie's journey from dispair back to happiness again. I knew that was a time of reveling in angst as if it was somehow tangible. All I wanted was to get beyond those feelings and start again. I don't know even all these years later if I've gotten there. But it's a road still worth travelling. And I still have the music of Stevie Wonder for all the points along the way.

Listen to Stevie Wonder's 'Looking For Another Pure Love' here: