I was a liner notes freak from a pretty young age. I was also a Jacksons freak from a pretty young age.
Put them together, and I may have been the only 8 year old who knew who Greg Phillinganes was. Well, outside of maybe the Phillinganes and Jackson families.
Greg got his start at a pretty young age, playing with Stevie Wonder when he was barely out of his teens. Called in by CBS Records executive (and former member of Blood, Sweat & Tears) Bobby Colomby to assist in the making of The Jacksons’ Destiny LP, Greg formed a solid relationship with the brothers. He went on to work with the family group on the Triumph album, and shows up on all of Michael’s solo albums with the exception of 2001’s Invincible. He was an integral part of MJ’s sound, acting as the musical director for Michael’s “Bad” and “Dangerous” tours.
Phillinganes occasionally dipped a toe into solo artist waters, releasing two solo albums. His biggest hit was 1985’s “Behind The Mask,” a song that has a bit of a storied history. Originally an instrumental recorded by the Yellow Magic Orchestra, Michael Jackson heard the song, dug it, and wrote lyrics to it. Considered for Thriller, it didn’t make the final cut, and Phillinganes then decided to record it for his album Pulse. After Greg’s version became a dance hit, Eric Clapton (who Phillinganes toured with) recorded a version and took it to the upper reaches of the rock charts in 1987. Coming (almost) full circle, Michael’s version was remixed and turned out to be damn near the best thing on 2010’s posthumous Michael LP.
There’s an obvious MJ influence in Phillinganes’ rendering of the song, particularly when Greg tries some of Michael’s “hoo!” adlibs towards the end. That said, their musical styles were so intertwined for two decades, it’s hard to tell who really sounds like who.
And, yes, there’s a pretty bad video to accompany it. Man, there were so many shitty videos made during that decade, it just makes the great ones (“Sledgehammer,” “Beat It,” “Take On Me”) stand out even more.
Greg’s got a pretty kick-ass resume, and he was even a member of latter-day Toto for a while. Props to him!