Category Archives: Bad25

Wembley: The Night Michael Was On Fire-Part 2


I realized today that the best thing to come out of doing a Part Two to this post was that it gave me a convenient excuse to get to watch this amazing show yet one more time!

In Part 1, I was mentioning Smooth Criminal and the lack of the lean move. But what’s really amazing to note is that the performance is so flawlessly executed that the famous move isn’t really missed at all (just as I honestly cannot say I missed it in This Is It). This serves as an important reminder that all of Michael’s most iconic moves and dance routines were really just icing on the cake. They were the fancy trimmings; the razzle dazzle. But strip all of that away, and what you have is simply one of the most amazing performers of our time singing some of the most incredible songs of our time. The beauty of Michael is that he didn’t need gravity-defying moves to keep us spellbound. I am reminded of a conversation that I had with someone about the proposed This Is It shows. As per usual, the conversation boiled down to the inevitable questions: “Do you really think he could have done 50 shows?” and “What if he had failed to deliver?”

The thing you have to remember about Michael is that there is no way in hell he would have “failed to deliver.” My answer is one I still stand by. Michael could have come onstage as an old man at 70, and sat on a stool the entire time, and still no doubt deliver a performance more electrifying and mesmerizing that any performer half his age moving all over the stage. The bottom line is that either one has “it” or they don’t. Michael had “it” from the age of five. He didn’t need all the razzle dazzle.

He Transported Us To Another Dimension

But there’s no denying that when he added all of the special tricks, illusions, and gravity-defying dance moves, his performances became something not quite of this stratosphere. He transported us to another dimension. That was his magic quality, and it’s something very few performers have accomplished with quite the same finesse.

Michael And Famous Mime Marcel Marceau. Michael Took The Art Of Miming Seriously, Often Incorporating Elements Of It Into His Performances

As I mentioned before, one of the most fascinating aspects of Wembley for me is seeing many of his performances in this state of transition. One thing very apparent is that he had become heavily influenced during this period by the art of miming. You can see the influence of this art on many of his dance routines here, especially at the close of Human Nature and the beginning of Dirty Diana. (Michael’s use of white accessories and props, such as the white tape often worn on his fingertips, and of course, the white socks, can also be traced back to his fascination with mimes, who often wear white in order to direct the eye to specific hand and feet gestures). There is also a touch of the old time silent performers such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, both of whom were masters of pathos and of pantomine art, and both of whom Michael admired greatly. At Wembley, as he was doing throughout the Bad tour, we can see him introducing more and more of these elements into his stage performances.

While I’m on Dirty Diana, I might as well get to this performance that is undeniably the centerpiece of this concert. I keep up fairly religiously with what MJ fans are saying, and time and time again-when the question has been asked which performance from Wembley is the favorite, or the best, Dirty Diana almost universally tops the list. I had to finally get the disc to see for myself what all the fuss was about.

Let me just put it this way. If the entire disc had consisted of nothing but this one performance alone, it would have still been worth every penny of the cover price. In fact, if this was the night Michael was on fire-well, this was the performance that put the smokin’ hot in that fire!

The appeal of Dirty Diana as a performance piece is due to a lot of factors. For starters, it’s one of Michael’s darkest, hardest edged, and sexiest songs, and that alone is enough to make it a fan favorite. It has all of the element of great drama, with its tale of a souless vixen and the man whose own soul becomes consumed by hers. But perhaps its simple rarity as a performance piece is what has partially generated so much hype around Wembley. The Bad tour would be the only tour to feature Dirty Diana as a routine part of the setlist. By the time of Dangerous, the number had been retired. Michael had planned to perform it for This Is It, but as we all know, that show never came to be and even the rehearsal footage that might have been was never filmed (it was the song Michael was due to rehearse on the day he died). Because the Bad tour was not as heavily documented as the Dangerous and HIStory tours (of which many, many performances are available on Youtube and as downloads) that meant less opportunity for those who weren’t there to experience what a live performance of Dirty Diana was like.

Also, part of the hype comes from the well publicized conversation that took place that night, just minutes before the show, between Michael and Princess Diana. Michael tells that famous story here:


The big question that has been on my mind-and I’m not alone here!-is what to believe? Michael said he had taken the song out of the show out of respect to her, and that it was “too late” to put it back in, despite Diana’s disappointment. So…was a last minute decision made to put it back in? The only other possibility is that this performance may come from one of his other Wembley performances that week, but the disc has been marketed and sold as “The Royal Performance” and from what I can tell, there are none of the obvious, telltale splices that would give this away as an “edited in” performance. It seems to be the real deal. But if so, it still leaves the big question: Was this performance just for “her” and might that explain the especial intensity that Michael put into it that night?

I wasn’t sure if the performance of Dirty Diana would live up to the hype, but then, from the moment Michael stepped out of that tent and into the spotlight, I knew this performance was going to be something special. While the rest of the show to that point had been entertaining-and at times mesmerizing-I knew from the first new notes of Dirty Diana that this performance was going to be the moment of transcendence.

The movie critic Leonard Maltin once said that whenever he sees a movie he knows he is going to love, there is always that one defining moment; that one scene from which he knows there is no turning back. For me, the equivalent of that would be the moment Michael steps behind the microphone at Wembley to sing Dirty Diana. This was the moment I truly realized I was watching more than just a really good Michael Jackson concert. I was witnessing something unique and inexplicably magical-a performance that would take 24 years to be shared with the rest of the world.

And while I am on the topic of Dirty Diana, this performance is interesting for another reason as well. It provides a great opportunity to really see the interplay between Michael and Jennifer Batten, as they share the stage alone-just the two of them-throughout much of the song. There is a moment, right about the 1:04:13 mark into the song (2:47 in the video clip above) when Michael does his spin and drops to his knees as the music slows to a brooding tempo. Jennifer freezes into a slight dip, then as Michael is rising behind the microphone stand as in a kneeling prayer position, Jennifer walks behind him. It’s supposed to be a very serious moment, but just as she is passing behind him, she reaches out and teasingly strokes the back of his hair. This was one of those rare, little moments-totally impromptu and unrehearsed-that makes Wembley such a delight.

But with so much focus on Dirty Diana, let’s not forget the rest of the show! Dirty Diana is immediatly followed up by Thriller, and…here is perhaps one of the best surpises and delights of all! While Thriller is certainly one of Michael’s most entertaining set pieces, I wouldn’t exactly ever call it one of his “sexy” numbers. After all, Thriller is all about choreographed zombies and ghouls stomping around, right? Wrong! At least, wrong here, for this is hands down one of the SEXIEST Thriller performances I have ever seen from Michael! Don’t believe me? Just watch at 1:09 when he rips off the wolf mask and struts his stuff! That expression; those pouts, those solar plexus moves perfectly synched (“you hear the door slam”…bam!), all while strutting the stage like that proverbial “beast about to strike.” Well, you’ll have to tune in here in a few days to catch my Halloween post on the deconstruction of Thriller, but let’s just say this was the most fun I’ve had watching Thriller since This Is It offered up the delightful surprise twist of Threatened at the end.

What follows is yet another extrememly rare treat. As Michael disappears for an extended costume change, the band takes over for a lengthy jam session. We would never again see this kind of extended, impromptu interplay between Michael’s backup musicians, as future concerts became increasingly Michael-centric. Even during the extended costume changes, future concert goers would instead be shown video clips such as the Panther Dance sequence of Black or White in order to fill the void between numbers. Now, while I enjoy watching Michael’s great video clips as much as anyone, I have to say this jam session really got my blood pumping! It is good to be reminded that the magic of a Michael Jackson concert wasn’t just all about Michael, but was instead a collaborative effort that relied on the unique talents of many, including the best backup dancers, singers, and musicians. This segment gives them a “time to shine” (to borrow one of Michael’s own phrases).


This is followed by the intensely high octane Working Day and Night (though I’m not crazy about the Elvis-esque looking outfit he chose for that number) but anyway, while WDAN is a lot of fun, I’m going to skip ahead to Beat It. Just as with Thriller, there is an attitude; a kind of of intense eroticism, if you will-that Michael brings to this performance, giving it a fresh edge. Even though I am always one to say how much I love mature Michael, when I see performances like this it is a reminder that no one could top Michael when he had the advantage of youth on his side. While his performances of these numbers may have remained consistent, it is, in fact, that youthful swagger that makes them so intense here. But perhaps something else, too. These songs were still fresh to Michael, and he still believed in them. When he sang the words, you could tell he still believed intensely in the message behind them. He was still having fun with them. As I said, it’s not that the performances of Beat It and other numbers would become any less consistent as the years wore on, but they did seem at times to become much more rote. That is part of the appeal of Wembley, for it gives those fans such as myself (who have more or less worked our way backwards, starting our appreciation with the later shows and working back to discover the earlier performances) an opportunity to see the youthful energy of Michael Jackson encapsulated. “Ho!” never sounded quite so menacing.

Sadly, perhaps, it also serves as a reminder of the intense pressure Michael was under as he prepared for the 02 shows, knowing people would expect him to be able to do at 50 what he had done here, at 29. But I’ve always believed that the pure enegy and freshness of those shows would have galvanized him. Still, even if they had not, we have to allow the man some slack. He was fifty years old, returning to the stage for the first time in nearly a decade. But if This Is It remains the ultimate glimpse of What Might Have Been, Wembley stands as an important record of What Was. And an even greater appreciation of the enormity of what was lost.

If This Is It Remains The Ultimate Glimpse Of “What Might Have Been,” Wembley Stands

Just a couple of more performances to comment on: Billie Jean, by this point, had pretty much evolved into the routine that Michael would perform consistently for the rest of his career, with perhaps the only exception being that he hadn’t yet introduced the shaving case routine or the element of pathos he would bring to it later. At its core, Billie Jean was a routine that varied little from Michael’s original, legendary Motown 25 performance, the only difference being that he would later add a very extended improv segment where he dances only to the beat of the drum (and which is already fully in place by the time of the Bad tour). Watch these segments of Billie Jean closely, because even though they may look the same, Michael never performed them exactly the same way twice! What especially impressed me about this Wembley performance was the smoothness of his side moonwalk, a step that is, if anything, even more technically challenging to execute than his more famous backwards moonwalk step. I have never seen Michael give a bad performance of Billie Jean, but I have definitely seen some performances that were more “on” than others.

This performance isn’t “the” best but definitely ranks in the top five. As always, he is simply electrifying to watch. And as always, there is a point where one almost wonders if he has ceased to be human, for when Michael dances-and when he is truly in his element-he seems to become something not quite of this world.

Greg Phillinganes

The high energy continues into Bad (another treat as this was also a song that would be retired from live performances after the Bad tour). But while the entire song is great, this is really worth watching for the fun interplay between Michael and the musicians as the song closes out. Michael was never more adorable (and yes, I’m an unashamed fan girl so I can get away with saying that!), whether it is doing a surprise two-step with Sheryl Crow, or even some good natured homoerotic play with keyboardist Greg Phillinganes (and I will quote for you guys what my husband said to me after watching that little exchange-“He’s definitely not gay!” Indeed, only a guy super confident in his own sexuality would have ever allowed that little exchange).

The fun continues with a group of kids who join Michael onstage, including one youngster whom Michael pretends to be irate with when the kid very nearly upstages him (but it’s all in good fun!).

Lastly, Man In The Mirror is as powerful as always. But to reiterate what I have been saying throughout the entire review, everything about Michael seemed to have an especially intense aura that night. As he enters the song’s fade out, and spreads his arms, gazing upward (a gesture that became a kind of prayer or invocation for him) the moment is extended for so long that it almost begins to feel a little surreal, even a bit scary. I watched that moment again tonight, and it seemed as if whatever energy he was drawing at that moment could be palpably felt, even through the monitor screen and across the 24 years that physically separated myself from him at that moment. And yet, I felt it, as real as if I was standing right in front of him.

Michael’s power; his ability to channel whatever that divine energy was that coursed through him and gave vent in his performances, was truly something incredible indeed. And, just for a moment near the close of Wembley-if you allow yourself the moment-you can feel it with him.


Michael’s power; his ability to channel whatever that divine energy was that coursed through him and gave vent in his performances, was truly something incredible indeed. And, just for a moment near the close of Wembley-if you allow yourself the moment-you can feel it with him.


Perhaps that was what his open arm stance was really all about. In that moment, he was doing more than just receiving the energy that fed him. He was giving it back, a thousandfold.

So has Wembley replaced Live at Bucharest as my all time favorite Michael Jackson concert? That’s one I will still have to give some thought to. But for sure, this is a disc to be treasured by all fans. We have now, captured forever, our Michael at the height of one of his most fondly remembered eras.

It’s a reminder that even as much as I love mature Michael, there is still something about youthful Michael that can’t be argued. His power as a performer never diminished, but man, oh man, that strut, that attitude, that sheer in-your-face energy…this was Michael in his prime.

And Wembley has captured it. Gloriously.

Wembley: The Night Michael Was On Fire-Pt 1

Michael Performing At Wembley. Those Hip Rolls During Another Part Of Me…Lord Have Mercy On Us All!

I had no sooner thought of this as my all-so-clever subtitle when I realized some might take it as being in bad taste, considering Michael’s tragic Pepsi commercial accident in 1984. The fact that Michael was once, literally, on fire makes such catch-all phrases seem somehow in poor taste, but please hear me out. After having given Wembley many repeat viewings, I simply know no better or more accurate way to describe it. Michael was on fire that night. Not that Michael ever gave a half-hearted performance. But as someone who has watched over hundreds of hours’ worth of MJ concert footage, spanning many eras, I can say without doubt that there was something extraordinarily magical about that night at Wembley.

He was, quite simply, on fire. In a way we would never quite see again, or at least not in the same way. Allow me to explain.

For many years now, the Dangerous Live at Bucharest DVD has stood as my ultimate favorite live Michael Jackson concert. Yes, it may be a bit overproduced and ultra slick, but as a DVD that perfectly captures what a Michael Jackson concert was like when Michael was at the top of his game, it has few rivals. Despite having collected many MJ concerts through the years, Live at Bucharest has always been the one I come back to, especially when introducing newcomers to the magic of an MJ concert-those who, perhaps, may have been too young or those who simply need to know what all the “fuss” was about. It’s easy to see why Michael, the ultimate perfectionist, gave his personal stamp of approval to Live at Bucharest as “the” show to officially represent him.

But now we have Wembley, a concert that captures Michael at the height of the glorious Bad era, and performing with the added zeal of knowing The Royal Couple, Prince Charles and Lady Diana, were in the audience (well, let’s just say with the added zeal of knowing Lady Diana was there, but I’ll get to that shortly). Granted, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen a Bad era concert in its entirety. I’ve also had the Yokohama bootleg for several years, along with a few others. Taken as a whole, the Bad concerts represent an interesting phase in the evolution of live MJ shows, one in which we see him beginning to incorporate many of the polished and ultra choreographed segments of the later shows (the Jackson 5 medley and I Just Can’t Stop Loving You/She’s Out of My Life segments, for example, which would become staples over the years with little variation other than after HIStory, You Are Not Alone replaced She’s Out of My Life). You can see that he was already in the process of shaping and evolving his live shows into a full theatrical EXPERIENCE, not just a concert.

However, for those who value raw spontaneity as part of the concert experience, it has been generally felt that what Michael’s shows may have gained in one apsect, they lost in others over the years. By the time of HIStory, for example, the shows were, without exception, slickly produced, theatrical extravaganzas with little in the way of variation or surprise. Sure, new numbers and new routines were added, such as the great Earth Song, but the performances and shows themselves seemed at times to become more and more mechanical and rote. By the time of HIStory, Michael didn’t smile as much, and sometimes simply didn’t seem to be enjoying performing. His anger had become darker, and real. More and more of the numbers were lip synched rather than sung live. Numerous health issues were starting to take their toll on his body. And though he remained, as always, the ultimate professional and the King of Pop who could put on a show like no other, a crucial ingredient seemed to be missing. But it wasn’t until viewing Wembley that I was able to put my finger on exactly what that “something” was.

It was the sheer joy of performing. Not in feeling the obligation of giving the crowd a spectacle, but in simply feeling the joy of being there, to dance and sing for us.

Wembley is now running neck and neck with Bucharest as my all time favorite Michael Jackson concert, and just may surpass it. While Bucharest may offer MJ polished to a perfected sheen, Wembley offers something else-the pure, raw power of a Michael Jackson performance. What’s more, it allows viewers (especially those newcomers who weren’t on board in 1988) to experience this most interesting phase in Michael’s live performing career-a time when we were just beginning to see the evolution of the larger than life, theatrical extravaganzas, but in a much rawer and more stripped down form. This wasn’t yet the Michael Jackson of the Grande Entrances, who would come out on stage and stand stock still for minutes on end while the crowd went nuts, or who would end his shows by creating the illusion of being rocketed into space. This was still a Michael who could allow himself to get caught up in the spontaneous flow of a gospel impromptu that goes on for minutes on end. Just watch and/or listen to the the “doggone my girl is gone” segment that bridges I’ll Be There and Rock With You; if you don’t get goosebumps from this, you must be dead! This segment takes on an even deeper, darker blues element when you realize that “doggone” is simply a polite euphemism for “god damn.” In this short but powerful exchange, Michael not only showcases his gospel chops but is also connecting to a tradition that goes back hundreds of years, across many generations of African-American injustice and pain. While blues and gospel may seem like complete polar opposities (after all, the one is about spiritual uplifting while the other is about secular heartache often combined with images of lust) they are not so disparate as they seem. Both were direct responses from the slave experience; both became interlinked as a means of survival, endurance, and sometimes just plain communication. In both cases, the music became an outet for a suppressed people to say what words could not. And if, as has so often been said, gospel is “God’s music” and the blues is the devil’s music, is this not then the perfect representation of our own human dichotomy? We strive for an ideal, to unite our soul with our Creator, yet in the meantime we still must  sweat, cry, laugh, procreate and everything else that is uniquely part of being human. “Blues gospel”-a term that acknowledges this age old connection between the blues and gospel as both traditional forms of African-American music based on traditional African customs, is thus a natural blend that isn’t as odd as it may at first appear. In fact, gospel music actually derived from the blues.

Blues Origins

  • Blues music had its origins during the 1800s in the deep South of the United  States when slaves began singing while working out in the plantation fields. The  slaves developed a call and response technique passed down from their African  heritage, where a phrase or lyric is repeated, then another phrase or lyric is  uttered in response. Call and response was also used instrumentally, where a  performer would sing a line, and an instrument would play in response. Modern  blues became popular in southern states like Mississippi and New Orleans, but is  generally considered to have flourished in Chicago, and is distinguished by its  heavy use of electric guitar and bass drums.

Gospel Origins

  • Gospel music developed from blues as slaves became Christians and transformed  their plaintive blues into a more spiritual, yearning style that derived comfort  from celebration of the divine.


The sound quality of this video isn’t great, but does showcase some of the quality of Michael’s amazing gospel runs performed during the Wembley concerts. Here he is exercising the “call and response” pattern that is the traditional hallmark of blues and gospel (and, in fact, would be an essential element of all Michael’s live performances; it’s this traditional “call and response” pattern, after all, that was at the root of all those “hee-hees” and “ows!”).


Michael’s reputation was rightfully earned as The King of Pop, but as such, it is sometimes easy to forget that he was also one helluva gospel singer. Yet there were many performances that would showcase just what a powerful gosepl singer he was. One example that comes immediatly to mind, of course, is his famous Grammy performance of Man In The Mirror (and indeed, MITM would become his ultimate gospel showpiece). But another fine example is I’ll Be There-especially the way he performed it live, with that wonderful vocal run at the end. I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating. When I saw This Is It at the theatre for the first time, you could actually hear the collective “oomph” from the audience when Michael performed that run at the end of “I’ll Be There.”  It is a hard reaction to describe, but it’s like that moment I often experience at poetry readings when, say, a poet has just read a particularly moving line that strikes a collective chord; a collective nerve, in the audience. That moment when no one breathes; no one utters a sound, except to say “um” beneath their breaths. You could palpably feel his connection to the audience in that moment, as the “call and response” reaction that is such an ingrained and integral part of both blues and gospel came into play. We were all in his moment; it became our moment. Yes, we wanted to shout! We’ll be there with you, Michael. Every step of the way.

Moments Like These Weren’t A Rarity During Wembley, But The Norm. His Joy Was-And Remains-Contagious

In watching Wembley, this effect is doubled as Michael seques from I’ll Be There into the impromptu “call and response” ad lib of this little segment (which I call “doggone my baby is gone” for lack of anything more specific to call it, lol).

Then we are in for yet another treat as this powerful little gospel segment segues into a COMPLETE and FULLY LIVE performance of Rock With You, a track that sadly would all but disappear from Michael’s live setlist after the Bad tour. (Dirty Diana would also become a casualty after the Bad tour, yet ironically , perhaps, these songs emerge for me as two of the truly stand-out performances of this concert).

Watch those first few moments after Michael says “I think I wanna rock!” Look at that smile. That is pure, exuberant joy right there. And it is this pure, exuberant joy that carries the performance. Several times he can’t resist the urge to break out in spontaneous grins, whether it’s being caught in the moment, or catching someone’s eye from the sidelines. This kind of goofy interplay might have ruined a lesser performance, but here it is both masterful and perfectly synchronized, without ever once feeling forced. It is also, sadly, the kind of spontaneous joy that we would begin to see less and less of, at least until This Is It, when the intimacy of rehearsal would again connect audiences to that Michael who loved to laugh and just be silly sometimes, even as he was always the perfectionist showman.

But just as in later shows, Smooth Criminal would mark the transition-that point in the show when he would leave behind (at least for a little while) his r&b roots for the more current, pop oriented material. Even his costume change marks a kind of shift in identity, as he comes out nearly unrecognizable in a wide fedora hat, the brim pulled low to give him a more menacing and anonymous (yet suavely seductive) appearance. This, as I often call it, is the transition into Michael Jackson, Mack Daddy. And no one ever did it better than, well, Michael Jackson (take heed, Chris Brown!).

Smooth Criminal (note I am referring here to the performance as opposed to the track) as it eventually evolved was a setpiece that was shaped over many years. There are roots of it as far back as the live performances of Heartbreak Hotel on the Victory tour, and even the “do wop” chorus that is first heard at the beginning of Streetwalker. Here we see that Smooth Criminal has pretty much solidified into its most familiar form, with the do wop intro, the neon hotel sign, and Michael dancing in silhouette. But guess what famous feature is noticeably missing? Yep, tha’s right! The famous lean move-now inextricably linked with Smooth Criminal-hadn’t yet been introduced as part of the routine. So again, Wembley allows us a glimpse of a routine-in-progress, and a wonderful opportunity to trace the evolution of one of Michael’s best known performance pieces.

In part two, I will continue my look at Wembley with an analysis of a performance to truly end all MJ performances…or to put it more aptly, the performance that truly put the fire into this night that Michael was on fire.

Was it because of her? And what is the real story behind this performance that wasn’t even supposed to exist (Michael told us he took it out of the show that night and why, remember? So now we learn he not only DID leave it in, but probably gave his all time greatest performance of Dirty Diana that night- all while Prince Charles sat in the audience listening? Hmm. Boy, do inquiring minds want to know all about that one!).


Michael Told Us He Took It Out Of The Show Out of Respect For Her, But As The Story Went, Di Was Disappointed. “That’s My Favorite Song!” He Said It Was Too Late To Put It Back In…So Why Is It In The Show? What Changed His Mind? Hmm. The Never Ceasing Mystery Of Figuring Out MJ, Lol!




The Standout Tracks of "Bad 25"

Michael Paid “The Price Of Fame”…And Prophesized About It On One Of Bad 25’s Two Truly “Stand Out” tracks

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:

MJ Estate : Michael Jackson’s Wembley Concert is the No. 1 selling DVD in the world

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 May Have Suffered From Being Too Compositionally And Thematically Close to Smooth Criminal

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.

“Father Never Lies…So Don’t Be Feeling This Way, Boy!”-Lyrics From MJ’s “Price Of Fame”

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.