To the former, I begrudgingly conceded, but I could not have disagreed more with the assertion that Jackson one of the Great American Songwriters. In fact, I object to the very idea that Jackson was any sort of songwriter at all, much less a great one.
"But aren't you forgetting that Michael Jackson single-handedly wrote 'Billie Jean' and 'Beat It'?"
Good question, and, no, I am not forgetting anything. The participation of Jackson in the writing process isn't being disputed, but, rather, the fact that he took SOLE songwriting credit for those songs.
Mind you, if we're playing by the "Avril Lavigne Rules Of Songwriting", simply being in the room while the song is being written by others constitutes co-writing a song, which is exactly how Lavigne "wrote" most of her first album, including the mega-hits "Complicated" and "I'm With You". Unlike Jackson, who took full writing credit for hits such as "Billie Jean" and "Beat It", Avril at least gave her co-writers (The Matrix...remember them?) proper credit.
It is impossible to begrudge the quality of songwriting displayed on Michael Jackson's Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad albums. That is not what's being argued here. I'm merely arguing the point that somebody wrote those tunes WITH Jackson and it would merely be nice to give credit where credit is due.
Quite frankly, if we're going to continue to toss the word "genius" around like a set of lawn darts, the very least we can do is get the bleeping credits right.
Trivia Time: Which of the following Top 5 hits from Thriller did Michael Jackson NOT write?
a) Beat It
c) Billie Jean
d) Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'
While some of you may be wondering how I managed to resist adding "e) all of the above", don't think that it didn't cross my mind, but ultimately I chose to take the high road for once.
The correct answer is "b) Thriller", which was written by Rod Temperton.
|MJ circa 1979|
On the advice of engineer Bruce Swedien, Quincy Jones hired Temperton to write songs for Jackson's first Epic Records album, Off The Wall. Temperton responded by penning three songs, including the #1 hit "Rock With You".
For Jackson's next album, Temperton wrote three more songs, including the above-mentioned "Thriller".
Jackson, meanwhile, had not written a single original song for ANY of his previous solo albums for Motown, yet the very first song he writes after switching to Epic Records and befriending world-class music arranger/producer Quincy Jones turns out to be "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough" from Off The Wall.
Prior to Jones' arrival, the material Jackson had been working with was forgettable fluff at best. Suddenly, the minute Jones shows up on the scene, Michael Jackson is writing full-fledged mega-hits all by his lonesome? No way, Jose.
A clue as to what was really going on is revealed in the writing credits for another song from Off The Wall called "Get On The Floor". The song is credited to Jackson and Louis Johnson. Hmm, who is this Louis Johnson, you ask?
He's the bass-playing half of A&M funk legends The Brothers Johnson (best known for the classic funk hits "Strawberry Letter 23", "Get The Funk Out Ma Face", and "I'll Be Good To You"). The song got its start from a bass riff idea that Jackson hummed to Johnson, who then shaped it into the familiar riff we all know and love. Jackson then sang jibberish for the vocal melody until it was time to actually record final vocals for the song.
The same method was employed for the writing of "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" during sessions for Jackson's next album, Thriller, yet Johnson received no songwriting credit. Now, regardless of how well anyone is able to hum a musical idea to someone capable of playing an instrument, the end result is always going to be different when interpreted by a musician. Especially if said musician is, himself, a gifted songwriter like Johnson or Temperton.
|MJ circa "Invincible", 2001|
Four years later, Jackson releases Dangerous, opting to work with producers Teddy Riley and Bill Bottrell instead of the legendary Quincy Jones. While Jackson writes eleven of the album's 14 tracks, this time, he doles out co-writing credits like Pez candy, to the point that engineer Bruce Swedien gets a co-write on the album's opening track "Jam".
The only problem is that none of these songs come within an acre of the quality of the material Jackson was supposedly writing all by himself. Is it merely a coincidence that the moment he stops working with Jones, his songwriting suddenly turns to crap?
Perhaps that's because Jackson was more reliant upon others for the crafting of his songs than he was letting on. Let's face it, even at the top of his game, Teddy Riley was no Quincy Jones and he'd probably be the first to admit this. So much for the staying power of New Jack Swing.
By the time Jackson releases Invincible in 2001, there's barely enough room on the CD booklet to list the myriad of co-writers taking part in the co-writing of Jackson's material at this point. In fact, it took seven writers and four producers, including Jackson, to craft the dreadful "Heaven Can Wait".
This has all the looks of a singer incapable of writing, much less performing his own material, and being propped up by a team of producers and song doctors.
So how did Jackson single-handedly write such timeless classics as "Beat It" and "Billie Jean" when he doesn't even touch the piano in the above interview when asked how he writes a song, even though he's sitting right in front of one, yet he immediately gets up and demonstrates his dancing skills when asked.