So now I am the proud owner of my shiny, new (and very fat!) Bad 25 box. I splurged on the $35 version-you know, the one with the original Bad disc, the CD of bonus material, the Wembley DVD and Wembley CD. So out of all my new goodies, what was worth the money?
I’ll start with the music CD’s, which seems to me the logical place to begin. After all, without the music, all else is nothing.
And, just to cut to the chase, I think I can safely dispense with the need to go through the tracks of the original Bad album. These are the songs that have already proven their mettle, and have long since passed into the realm of unarguable classics. True, some of the tracks that made it onto Bad were stronger than others, and fans will debate to their dying day which tracks could have been left off in favor of some of the stronger tracks that did not make the cut, but we can’t change history. The original Bad album is what it is, and there is a reason it has stood the test of time. Needless to say, we would not care enough to be participating in this very hyped Bad 25 promotion if the original Bad album hadn’t been the classic that it is.
But I’m sure I can speak for most fans who have bought Bad 25 in saying that it is not those original eleven tracks that have compelled us to empty our wallets once again. If there is an MJ fan who has gone this long without owning a copy of Bad…well, what kind of fan are you, anyway?
No, it is those bonus tracks, and the dangling carrot that is Wembley that has driven those sales.
And without all of the controversy that plagued the Michael album, sell it has! Here is an excerpt from a recent statement released by the estate:
Spike Lee’s Bad 25 documentary is drawing rave reviews from film critics and will air on ABC Thanksgiving night. Entertainment Weekly gave Bad 25 album an “A” calling it “a potent reminder of just how much Bad’s pulsing pop holds up.” Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson the Immortal World Tour” was Pollstar’s top selling North American concert tour in the first six months of 2012, debuts this month in Europe and recently received Billboard’s Creative Content Award. And “This Is It” is the most successful concert film…EVER. The world loves Michael Jackson.
So now that some of the dust is settling, and I’m over the first rush of excitement, what ultimately will survive from Bad 25 as worthy of setting on our shelves alongside all of our classic MJ CD’s and DVD’s?
For sure, the Wembley concert stands in a class all by itself, and I will give Wembley its own post shortly, as is its due.
For now, let’s look at that CD of bonus tracks. What’s hot; what’s not?
Streetwalker remains in my opinion as the ultimate track that “Should Have Made ‘Bad’ But Didn’t.” Fly Away ranks a close second, as one of Michael’s best and smoothest ballads. But again, these tracks aren’t exactly new to us, since both made the Bad reissue in 2001.
I’m also going to dispense with those thoroughly atrocious remixes, none of which were necessary and are a complete waste of space on the disc. I’m not a huge fan of remixes on the whole, but heck, at least Blood On The Dance Floor had remixes that were interesting. The AfroJack remixes of Bad (yes, including that atrocious mess featuring PitBull) and the Nero remix of Speed Demon just sound like so much white noise. My suggestion if you want the most enjoyable experience from the bonus disc: Spin it up to about Track 10, and then remove-pronto!
As for the Spanish and French versions of I Just Can’t Stop Loving You, Todo Mi Amour Eres Tu and Je Ne Veux Pas La Fin De Nous, respectively) they are mostly novelty tracks; interesting if you’re the sort of fan girl who melts over hearing Michael sing a phrase like “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”-in any language! Between the two, I think the Spanish words are a better fit for the song, but then again, I was probably one of those rare people who thought it sounded perfectly fine the first time around, in plain old English.
That leaves us with six tracks that can truly be considered as “new” songs-that is, tracks that have not been previously released.
Of those six tracks, we have four “sort of okay” mediocre tracks and two true stand-outs. Don’t Be Messin’ Round is mostly notable for Michael’s piano playing and its sort of feel-good, summery, bossa nova feel. It’s a nice song, but nothing special. I’m So Blue is still growing on me, but so far, I’m still placing it squarely into the category of nice-but-not-jumping-out-of-my-chair.
Free is notable mostly for capturing Michael’s contagious giggle at the end.
Al Capone is interesting, but compositionally, too close to Smooth Criminal, which ultimately is the superior track. In fact, this seemed to be the case with many of the tracks that did not make Bad. For example, The Way You Make Me Feel and Streetwalker were both similar tracks-flirty songs about being attracted to a girl on the street, and both based on a similar shuffling beat. I know the story Quincy Jones told was that it came down to a narrowing process between Streetwalker and Another Part Of Me. But the reality may be closer to the fact that, both in content and composition, it was too close to The Way You Make Me Feel, and perhaps in the end it was decided that The Way You Make Me Feel was the stronger track (and, much as I love Streetwalker, I have to say I agree with that decision). Similarly, Al Capone just seems to be very much a skeletal version of what would evolve into Smooth Criminal.
That leaves, however, the two true gems that make this a collection worth having.
Song Groove (aka Abortion Papers) has already received its own post here, though my purpose there was mainly to discuss the controversy generated by the song.
But controversy and all arguments as to whether Michael was preaching a pro-life agenda aside, the song is quite simply one of the strongest tracks I have yet heard from Michael’s vault of unreleased material. Lyrically profound, with a strong melodious hook that equals anything released on Bad (and, imo far surpasses some of Bad’s paler tracks) this is the kind of gem that I fantasize about when I think of everything I would love to hear in an unreleased Michael Jackson track. Let’s be honest, every time talk begins to circulate about an album of previously unheard Michael Jackson tracks, don’t you secretly wish there would be another Billie Jean; another Beat It; another Earth Song; another Rock With You waiting somewhere to be unearthed? Well, Abortion Papers may not be that, but I think as far as unreleased demo tracks go, it may be just about as close as it gets.
Then we have Price Of Fame. Even before I was aware of Joe Vogel’s commentary on the song, I recognized that the song’s intro does sound very reminiscent of The Police’s Spirits In The Material World.
But before the naysayers are too quick to pounce on this, there may be a very good explanation for this similarity. Certainly in this age of music sampling-where we now have entire songs on the charts that are merely recycled versions of past hits (whether intentional or not, and whether credited or not) Michael should at least be allowed the same creative license that we routinely these days grant so many far lesser artists. The similarity between the two songs may or may not have been intentional, but when you examine the themes of both songs, it is apparent that Michael, or at least the persona in the song, does feel very much like a spirit caught and trapped in the material world. Only in this case, he is a spirit trapped in the material world of fame. Lyrically, the song offers enough tantalizing and cryptically autobiographical lyrics to keep the fans guessing and the armchair psychoanalysts happy until…well, at least until we get the next big release to talk about (Dangerous 25, after all, is only four years down the road!).
The song itself treads some familiar ground. We could argue that Tabloid Junkie and Privacy were also bemoaning the “price of fame” (at least, the price of becoming a tabloid/media target). In a sense, Billie Jean was about the “price of fame.” (If you’re famous, you will be chased by lots of women who want to have your baby). Leave Me Alone, which did make it onto the original Bad CD (if not the album) became a scathing rant against the media and the price of fame via its accompanying video, which managed to take what had been a simple, straightforward track about a relationship gone bad and to turn it into what would become Michael’s signature “f you” to the tabloids.
So in a sense we have a case once again where two very similarly themed tracks came head to head on Bad. But while Leave Me Alone may have become an iconic video piece, Price of Fame (the song) is a much more personal and darker song, not one that merely lambasts the media, but also one that deeply explores the effects of fame on his own psyche, and becomes in many ways a chillingly prophetic declaration. And yes, the lyrics regarding “my father” are certainly intriguing if we actually pay close attention to the message the father has conveyed:
I took my baby on a river boat,
And she was well aware.
I was excited bout the way that thing might’ve been,
You said it, I don’t care,
But I want a face no one can recognize in disguise,
Someone called out my name, They thought of taking pictures, autographs in the car,
My joy has turned to pain
My father always told me,
You won’t live a quiet life, If you’re reaching for fortune and fame,
I feel the pressure setting in, I’m living just to win, I’m done in my pain, don’t you feel it ?
It’s the price of fame, you pay the price of fame, So don’t be feelin’ no pain ! It’s the price of fame, it’s the price of fame,
So don’t you ever complain, I am the cover of the magazines, what a scene,
They know my every move, Just sign your name on the dollar line, you’ll be fine,
That always bothers me, Get in your car, you wanna take a ride, look behind, Someone is following you,
You try to get away, you turn real fast, but too bad, They know your every move,
My father always told me, You won’t live a quiet life, If you’re reaching for fortune and fame, I feel the pressure setting in,
Im living just to win, I’m putting all this pain, don’t you ever complain !
It’s the price of fame, you pay the price of fame, So don’t you ever complain !
It’s the price of fame, you pay the price for fame, So don’t be feelin’ no pain !
It’s the price of fame, you pay the price of fame ! I’d like to take sometime and get away,
then they’ll say, Is that boy still alive?
Only the strong survive, My father always told me, You won’t live a quiet life,
They startin’ wonderin’ where have you been? I feel their envious looks at me, Their stinkin’ jealousy,
They should be standing in my shoes, and get a taste of my blues!
It’s the price of fame, you pay the price of fame, So don’t you ever complain ! It’s the price of fame,
You pay the price of fame, So don’t be feelin’ this way !
It’s the price of fame, you pay the price of fame, So don’t you ever complain ! It’s the price of fame,
you pay the price of fame, It’s the price of fame, the price of fame, So don’t be feelin’ no pain !
It’s the price of fame, you pay the price of fame!
Father never lies, my father never lies My father never lies So don’t be feelin’ this way boy!
One theme becomes abundantly-and painfully-clear in this lyric. The narrator (whom I think we can safely assume in this case is Michael) has been taught that feeling pain is not an option! And in this case, he makes it very clear who has been responsible for preaching that lesson. Interestingly enough, this song would have been written during a time when Michael was just beginning to open up publicly about the Jackson family dysfunction and his own emotional and physical abuse at Joseph’s hands. In this track, we may very well be seeing him exploring some of these deep-seated personal issues very early on. However, at this time he may have still had ambivalent feelings about coming forward with these issues, which could help explain why this track, like the equally brilliant but potentially polemic and controversial Abortion Papers, ultimately did not see light of day until now.
By the way, you may be interested to know that some sites are confusing Michael Jackson’s “Price Of Fame” with the 2006 Bow Wow track of the same name-and attributing Michael’s lyrics to writers Ronnie Jackson and Shad Moss (the writers of the BowWow track) but they are obviously two very different songs!
Bow Wow’s “Price of Fame”-don’t be confused, or misled!
As always, listening to Michael’s unreleased demos brings a kind of wistful regret for what might have been, had these tracks ever received the finishing polish of the released tracks. I don’t know so much about the rest, but I believe that Abortion Papers and Price of Fame, for sure, had the raw potential of greatness. Whether they were swept under the rug because they were felt to be inferior, or perhaps due to more personal reasons, will probably remain a mystery, for even Michael’s closest friends and those who worked with him on his projects can still only second guess what his real intentions and motivations might have been.
Listening to these tracks also reminds me of something else, too. No matter how potentially good many of these tracks are, I still come away with a justified sense that there was a good reason why, let’s just say, Smooth Criminal made it onto Bad, and Al Capone did not. I am reminded of a sentiment that my fellow blogger Seven Bowie has expressed many times, and I do agree there is a lot of wisdom in it: Michael gave us all the music he intended for us to have while he was alive. It is also a good reality check to keep in mind when we get so hyped up over these new releases and “previously unreleased” material. The sad reality is that nothing new is ever going to match the magic of what he has already given us.
But sometimes, tracks like Abortion Papers and Price of Fame can serve as brilliant reminders that there was many more facets to that magic than we ever knew.