Thursday, April 01, 2010

So this morning on my way to to work, I was in a Michael Jackson frame of mind, so I decided to listen to Thriller As I listened, it took me back to when I was 7, and my babysitter used to play the record over and over, while my brother and I read, doodled and spilled food on the record sleeve. I know every ad-lib, every background vocal, every bass and lead guitar part, and maybe even some things that the mere mortal wouldn't hear on that Thriller album. And then I had an epiphany of sorts, and I realized that part of what makes this album so great is the sequencing.

An album, like the perfect mixtape is all about what songs are put where, and the mood it puts you in as a result. And to me, Thriller was perfectly sequenced:

1)Wanna Be Startin Something: An excellent song to dance to, an aptly titled song, and he even throws in a little chant at the end to give the song a little culture. MJ is setting the tone, and he does a great job.

2)Baby Be Mine: This doesn't quite have the energy of the previous song, but it is still a good dance song for the 35 and over crew. This song actually sounds like it could have found a home on Off The Wall..

3)The Girl is Mine: This one takes the energy level down just a bit more, and you really can't dance to this song (well maybe you can, but I can't). But this is the type of song, where you sit down, bob your head a bit and listen to Michael Jackson just totally overshadow (intentionally I might add) Paul McCartney. Personally, I like it when Paul McCartney hits that really deep note, as if to say to Michael, "Look here you bastard, you can sing better than I can, but you can you hit this deep note b***h? I didn't think so."

4)Thriller: The title track takes the energy level back to where it was in the first song, and this was very significant at the time, because it represented the last song on the "A" side. Back when vinyl and tapes reigned supreme, you wanted to end the first side on a high note, and Thriller allowed MJ to reach that first half climax. Of course now you can't hear the song without thinking of the video, which is fine too. But the lyrics are "scary", MJ sings his ass off, and then Vincent Price (who curiously looks like new DC mayoral candidate Vincent Gray) does his best to scare the sh*t out of everyone with his voice and his maniacal laugh.

5)Beat It: If side "A" has to finish strong, then side "B" needs that same strength to it, and that's what Beat It does. Eddie Van Halen's guitar riff starts off the song, and its one of the first times we hear MJ tackle the rock genre. Its not a really a dance song (despite the video choreography), but it is a PERFECT song to play air guitar too, and ultimately, isn't that the true litmus test? I almost typed "at the end of the day" instead of the word "ultimately" but I realized I'm not an athlete who relies on corny ass clich├ęs..

6)Billie Jean: I'd be willing to bet that MJ knew this song was the centerpiece of the album. Where Beat It starts with the riveting guitar riff, Billie Jean just starts off with the drums, then the drums and the bass, and it just gets better and better from there. This is indeed a dance song, but if you ever have some time, find the instrumental version, the strictly background vocals version, and appreciate the song from that angle as well. As an aside, this morning when this song came on, I was at 14th and I St in DC and the part of the song where MJ says, "People always told me, be careful what you do" came on, and I kicked my leg up like he does at the 2:36 mark of this video. I'm sure people saw me, but I really didn't care.

7)Human Nature: After building up the energy for three straight songs, MJ brings it down a bit with this song, which seems like its a ballad, but its really a little more upbeat. The song (written by Toto) is beautifully sang and sparsely arranged, and it remains my favorite MJ song to date. Its almost as if MJ wants you to cool down, but not really because the next song is...

8)P.Y.T.: MJ makes you dance for the last time on the album with this song, and he brings some friends and family with him (James Ingram, Janet Jackson and Latoya Jackson in the background). I liked this song a lot better before I heard the demo version, which to me is much better. Also, if you have headphones, listen to the guitar playing of the Brothers Johnson, which is just as good as the singing,

9)Lady in my Life: MJ decided to close the album with a passionate ballad..the kind of ballad that MJ never really sang after this. First he reels you in with the soft singing and the thoughtful lyrics, then he finished the song by showing you he knows how to beg. I told the story on the blog one day (I don't remember which day specifically) about how Quincy Jones wanted MJ to really really beg at the end of the song, and MJ was too shy to do that on record in front of people. So he asked everyone to leave the studio, he turned off all the lights and asked Quincy to keep the tape running, and he belted it out.

This was my long-winded way of saying two things. One, I wish people would pay more attention to putting out well-sequenced albums instead of "hot singles". And two, I wish I could have sat down with MJ for 9 days (one for each song on Thriller), and asked him to break down in great detail, how these songs went from an idea to a classic.

And now I will do a complete 180, and continue my week of Ron Carter. This song is from A Tribe Called Quest's Low End Theory, and Ron Carter (unlike Wynton Marsalis) was nice enough to not only embrace rap music, but he played bass on it too. First here is Ron Carter talking about how he hooked with A Tribe Called Quest:

And now here's the song:
Verses From the Abstract - A Tribe Called Quest (featuring Ron Carter)


Sab D said...

The leg kick during the commute to work - golden! Did you do the toe stand too?

Nice break down of Thriller - I'll have to listen to it again. I've always been partial to Off the Wall, but agree Quincy brought out the best in Mike.

Air guitar as a litmus test - golden! (Gotta have the facial expressions to go with it though)

And "at the end of the day" - yeah, it's overused cliche but at the end of the day folks know what you talking about and ultimately thats the goal we all seek to achieve by the end of the day -I can't even type that with a straight face!

spirit_55 said...

Love the breakdown of Thirller, can you regale us with a similar breakdown of Off The Wall? It's my favorite MJ album.

Thank, Rashad!

£ said...


you've outdone yourself with the thriller breakdown! I agree that sequencing played a huge part in the album's overall awesomeness. Not to mention the fact that all of the songs were good. I remember reading somewhere that lady in my life was filler... um what? I'll take that kind of filler anyday. and baby be mine(another track I saw labeled as filler) is easily one of my favorite songs on the album. I have to dance/sing along when I hear it.

I'm with spirit 55, I request an off the wall breakdown next!

(loving the Ron Carter posts too)

maxwellsmusze said...

i agree w/sequencing and how necessary it is. i don't know if anyone is putting much thought into in anymore. i'm pretty sure maxwell did:)

Jazzbrew said...

Ron Carter. That's all I got to say...