Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson, His Music and His Incredible Sidemen

Michael Jackson has left us, well before his time. RIP.

Jackson's impact on me through his music is profound. And his passing reminds me of things I had long forgotten; like how as a kid, I would spend days poring over the guitar chords to songs like 'Ben' and 'I'll Be There'. Innocent times indeed.

Later in my late-teens when I began to get 'serious' and wanted to learn how music was recorded and put together, I would spend hours with headphones on, exploring the audio landscape of albums like Off The Wall and Thriller. It was immediately apparent to me that every song he ever wrote was an absolute lesson in the craft of pop songwriting. And that great arrangements and production values only served to enhance an already great song. And not the other way around.

A savvy artist, Jackson frequently sought out one of my favorite producers in the world, Quincy Jones. Quincy was the perfect foil to Jackson's music and artistry. And the producer's job is to contextualize and create a vision. And what a vision it was.

Together, Quincy and Jackson were unstoppable. And both attained new heights in their respective careers, producing incredible music that I believe will stand the test of time.

Apart from Quincy's masterful production and Bruce Swedien's incredible engineering and mixing talents, Jackson also surrounded himself with great guitar sidemen. Jackson shone the spotlight on guitar heroes of the day, giving them even greater exposure in the pop kingdom :

  • Steve Lukather playing bass(!) and funky rock rhythm guitar on Beat It, topped off with Eddie Van Halen's unbelievable, other worldly guitar solo;
  • Steve Steven's sonic wall of sound on Dirty Diana;
  • the late David Williams' percolating funk guitar on Billie Jean, and almost everything else on Jackson's catalog;
  • Jennifer Batten's incendiary work onstage, on several world tours;
The barrier to heavy rock guitar in the realm of pop music was forever torn down, the cosmos opened up and the guitar became exciting again in the world of pop music.
Journey well, Michael.

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