Last year, I joined Popdose‘s Jeff Giles and Robert Cass for a column called “‘Face Time,” in which we discussed essential (and some non-essential) cuts in the catalog of Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, one of the most prolific singer/songwriters of the ’80s and ’90s. ‘Face and his partner Antonio “L.A.” Reid were one of the big 3 production teams that ruled pop and R&B during that era. There was also Teddy Riley and his New Jack Swing camp, and perhaps most notably, Minneapolis’s James “Jimmy Jam” Harris III and Terry Lewis. The former members of Prince offshoot band The Time turned out to be legends in their own right, composing and producing hits for a who’s-who of the music industry and proving to be as (if not more) influential than their purple-clad benefactor.
So in 2014, the three of us (and two new team members, fellow Popdose editor/Popblerd podcast co-host Michael Parr, along with badass co-conspirator Dr. Zack) are back to talk all things Flyte Tyme.
Michael Jackson-“Tabloid Junkie” (from HIStory: Past, Present & Future-Book 1, 1995)
Written & Produced by James Harris III, Terry Lewis & Michael Jackson
Purchase on Amazon
Z: Oh boy.
In some ways, this never struck me as an obvious Jam/Lewis production. But the basic rhythm track does recall their earlier work, including much of Rhythm Nation. After Dangerous, it really seemed like MJ was always about 5-7 years behind the times in terms of the production aesthetic of his music.
MJ: I agree with you as far as the production sounding a bit dated.
By the summer of ’95, R&B music was in the throes of a less-busy, mellower sound as typified by TLC, Boyz II Men
, Mary J. Blige
and…yes, Janet (perhaps speaking to the point that she was a lot more responsible for her sound than many give her credit fore) This sounds very ’91-’92 to me.
I do like the song, though. And before you guys accuse me of being a homer for Mike, let me also say that I dislike most of HIStory. This, “Scream,” “This Time Around” and “Stranger In Moscow” are really the only salvageable tracks from that album…
Z: I don’t mind the song. It isn’t a standout on the album by any means (for me, those are limited it its first three cuts). It was one of a few on HIStory that found MJ in anti-media mode, a motif that would get incredibly tiresome by the time Invincible came around. That said, I do use ‘Tabloid Junkie’ as a prelude to my lecture on libel and slander in the media law class.
Back to the datedness though, it’s funny that you mention the broader context of R&B circa 1995. Not only was the sound changing as you noted, but all of the artists you’ve mentioned also worked with Jam and Lewis in the mid 1990s – and those tracks sound a bit fresher in the context of the times. I’m sure we’ll get back to those folks later in this series. Do we know any of the history behind “Tabloid Junkie?” I’m wondering if it was initiated in an earlier era, but MJ insisted it would be a contender in 1995. [To supplement this theory, I remember reading interviews with Teddy Riley, who was resistant to freshen up tracks for Blood on the Dancefloor, as the New Jack Swing era was well over by then, but MJ insisted on polishing some Dangerous leftovers for the EP).
MJ: My understanding of Blood On The Dance Floor was that it came as a result of pressure from Sony to make some money back on HIStory and all of the unreleased songs he submitted were rejects from older albums (which is probably why all of them sound dated.)
Michael may have written “Junkie” at an earlier juncture but he didn’t hook up with Jam & Lewis till ’94, so the production was at least supposed to be fresh for its time.
Also worth mentioning-Jam & Lewis didn’t work with MJB or TLC until later in their respective careers…the only act they had history (heh) with at this point was Boyz II Men.
MP: I had no idea this was Jam and Lewis, but I’m not at all surprised. I think MJ is spot on in his assessment that this has ’91-’92 written all over it. The vocal pads in the pre chorus into the “If”-esque chorus reveals its pedigree pretty easily. If you consider the fact that by ’95 Janet had largely eclipsed Michael in terms on the U.S. market, it makes sense that he’d want to test out her formula.
I don’t know that I’d normally listen to this, but I’d sure as hell mix it in—and/or, out—of Janet’s “If” on a mixtape for great effect.
(why is the video for “If” not available in this country?)
Also, I don’t care what ya’ll think, “They Don’t Care About Us” is a jam.
Z: I’m totally with you on ‘They Don’t Care About Us.’ (Which incidentally, I use in my music class. Seems MJ works his way into my curriculum quite a bit.)
MJ: Parr, never thought about this and “If.” May have to do a test mix. By the way, the harmonies on this song are sick.
Z: This is true. Although I could give or take the song as a whole, the harmonies are tight. By the time of HIStory, MJ had perfected the art of composing and overdubbing rich vocal harmonies with himself (“The Way You Make Me Feel” being an earlier and especially effective example). I’ll also say that the rhythm track is actually pretty dope. It is a good four to five years late, but it’s actually a pretty intricate arrangement between MJ’s beatboxing and the drum sequencing.
JG: I think the MJ scholars in attendance handled this capably. I can’t add to that.
Z: This is veering off topic, but, I was kind of glad that “They Don’t Care About Us” got more attention from This is It onward. It also blew my mind when I finally saw the prison version of the video clip.
MJ: That video is fucking intense.
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