Skip to comments.Michael, McMahon, Farrah and You
Posted on 06/30/2009 4:59:54 AM PDT by Kaslin
The entertainment world lost a few giants last week, and like the rest of the world, my wife, Gena, and I offer their families, friends and fans our most heartfelt condolences.
America's most infamous late-night sidekick, Ed McMahon, favorite "angel," Farrah Fawcett, and the "King of Pop," Michael Jackson, made their final exits, and even in death, they were as big as they were in life. The magnitude of their presence, power in their presentation and the caliber of their giftedness placed them among the most elite of stars.
You might not agree with all that Michael, Farrah and Ed did. You might not like all the ways they managed who they were and what they had. But you can't deny the monumental impacts they had upon entertainment and this world and how most people enjoyed what they offered. They will be greatly missed.
Like you, I have vivid memories of each of them. I was honored to meet two.
Who could ever forget Ed McMahon's curtain call for Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show," "He-e-e-e-re's Johnny!"? I was a guest on Carson's "Tonight Show" several times through the years, and I had the privilege to talk with Ed during my visits. Every time I spoke with him, I easily could tell that he really enjoyed what he was doing on the show. He always knew his was a supportive role and never lost that perspective. He truly was a man's man, and I thought that before ever knowing he was a former Marine. Being an honorary Marine myself, I say to Ed even now, "Semper fidelis!"
I never had the honor of meeting Farrah, but I always admired her for her activism in organizations that benefit victims of domestic violence. After creating a name for herself in the hit '70s television show "Charlie's Angels," she didn't merely stick with roles that were based upon beauty. I know her award-winning performance in "The Burning Bed" as a battered and abused wife helped to open people's eyes and liberate many homes from enabling domestic violence.
When The Jackson 5 were young, I was a six-time undefeated world middleweight karate champion. I was at an event in Los Angeles, and the five Jackson kids were following me around. I would catch them at a distance staring at me, but they were too shy to approach. So I thought I would go up to them and introduce myself, but just as I would try, someone else would come up to me and begin talking. Finally, the Jackson kids came up to me, and I never will forget the few words they said: "We study kung fu." I met each of them, and they all were very polite and nice young men. There's no doubt, however, that Michael had a special charisma -- something that set him apart to be the superstar he was.
The deaths of Michael, Farrah and Ed are repeated reminders that we're not on this planet forever. But they are also reminders that we are called to use our time, talents and treasures to be blessings to others. We all are called to use our greatest potential to serve the greater good. We are called to invest in not only commodities but also people. It's the legacy you leave behind that really matters. That is why I started my nonprofit foundation, KICKSTART
As I quoted in the section about how to rediscover the American dream in my book "Black Belt Patriotism," sociologist Anthony Campolo once did a study in which 50 people older than 95 were asked, "If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently?" An array of responses came from these eldest of senior citizens. However, three answers surfaced far more often than others. 1) If I had it to do over again, I would reflect more. 2) If I had it to do over again, I would risk more. 3) If I had it to do over again, I would do more things that would live on after I am dead.
Celebrity has its costs. Fame ultimately is fleeting. Fortunes come and go. But who you are and what you leave behind in the wake of your life is everything. So let us live by priorities and principles. Let us work so that whenever the final curtain falls, we won't have any regrets.
I love the way Mark Twain put it: "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
Well said, Chuck. Anyone who thinks Jackson did not have a long lasting positive influence on music has never heard “Thriller.” His personal sin and demons are obvious, no less than those of Alexander the Great, who brutally murdered his best friends while conquering half the known world. It doesn’t lessen their impact.
It wasn't Michael's music, but he sang his lungs out on that stuff.
My favourite angel was Cheryl Ladd. She is the only one still doing much in the entertainment game it seems.
But wait! There’s more! If you call now Billy Mays will throw one in for free!
What, buy one Zombie get one free!
Jackson 5 stuff was good, but I don’t think anyone will challenge the reality of “Thriller” and “Off the Wall” as milestones in rock. Several of the Thriller songs were on the top 100 of all time-—I’m not sure any of the Jackson 5 are.
As a writer and former musician, it's almost like creating extracts a toll from your soul. Think of how many musicians or comedians we say "used to be great," or "used to be funny." Look at Boz Scaggs, who had one album containing 3-4 truly timeless knockout songs, and never put together another solid album or Brett Easton Ellis who never could get another "Less Than Zero."
I'll challenge the notion.
Quincy Jones is the overriding force on both albums, which have waned in influence and impact over the twenty-five to thirty years since their release. "Human Nature" is quite a song, but "Got To Be Starting Something," "Thriller," "Shake Your Body Down To The Ground," "PYT" and "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" are overblown, childish pablum. I think "Rock With You" holds up very well due primarily, again, to QJ's sparse and tasteful production.
In comparison, "Dancing Machine," "Mama's Pearl," "I'll Be There," "Never Can Say Goodbye," "Stop, The Love You Save May Be Your Own," "I Want You Back" and "ABC" are towers of exciting, raw and funky grooviness.
Synths, sequencers and drum machines killed soul and they deadened Michael's long term impact. They sterilized his performances and they robotized his artistry. He expressed nothing but hooplah. He became a phony and he didn't even know it.
You don't believe it now, but you'll watch this perspective emerge in the eyes of the world very quickly. Think Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and Ron Howard.
I doubt it. The top 100 of all time are pretty set. And you can scream “producer” all you want-—see Felix Pappalardi with “Disraeli Gears,” or George Martin with the Beatles-—but it’s the artist, not the knob turner.
Or, to cite another, Gene Krupa nearly ruined his life with weed.
If you're talking album sales, of course. Thriller, Bad and Off The Wall sold more copies than any Jackson 5 album, whose output occurred during an era when 45s were the lynchpin of sales.
And you can scream producer all you want-see Felix Pappalardi with Disraeli Gears, or George Martin with the Beatles-but its the artist, not the knob turner.
Producers weren't knob turners in the sixties, seventies and eighties. They were creative art directors.
In addition, Pappalardi played viola, trumpet and tonette on Wheels Of Fire and Martin played piano on several Beatles recordings (he also provided orchestration).
In those days, engineers turned knobs. Producers chose which songs to record, they cut the songs down to radio playlength, they selected which instrumental and vocal takes made the album, and they had ultimate sayso over all the artistic decisions made in the recording and mixing of each record. The stereo left-to-right-and-back-again panning on Clapton's solo on "Politician" and the inclusion of "Mother's Lament" on Disraeli Gears? Pappalardi's call. Eight hands on the piano at the end of "A Day In The Life," the sax solo on "Lady Madonna" and the random tape splicing of the organ track on "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite"? Martin's call. Solo trumpet (it might be solo flugelhorn) in the choruses of "Rock With You? Jones' call. It was so through each stage of each album's production.
All of Michael's albums with Quincy are halfway...and I mean halfway...decent. His other solo efforts are musical bologna. I know why.
Soon, the rest of the world will too.
By the way, who’s screaming?
Chuck can be a class act...but don’t tell him I called him “Chuck”.
"Billy Jean" and "Thriller" make the lists. I don't think a single J5 do. And yes producers were creative, but still relatively insignificant. It's the songs and the singers, not the arrangers, who are the draw.
And Krupa’s idol, Bix Beiderbecke, drank himself to death at age 28.
My 1970s band, "Rampage," opened for "Steppenwolf" and the "James Gang" (can you say, Tommy Bolin, dead of drug OD?). Our bass player died at my age of a heart attack, but it was 100% related to his abusive lifestyle.
Sad, isn’t it? I guess great talent is hard for anyone to handle.
Makes me thankful that I have none. ;)
I think it's impossible to assess the impact music videos had on the reception those songs had from the public.
Sure, the J5 were on once a week or so on Soul Train or AB or the daytime variety shows, but anyone would admit that that is nothing compared to the exposure from 24/7 MTV.
I agree. But comparing the songs from J5 to Thriller or Off the Wall is like comparing Clapton’s work in the Yardbirds with Cream.
This is an interesting discussion, thank you LS.
The 80s are precisely when the record producer became every bit as important as the artist in terms of the sound recording. I'm not talking about a Peter Asher-type relationship with James Taylor or Smokey Robinson producing The Four Tops. Quincy's production of Michael Jackson was the template for all recorded dance music to follow in the 80s, 90s and beyond.
In the 80s it became next to impossible for any sound recording to chart without an accompanying video, and that's where MJ's true artistry registered. "Great songs" were almost exclusively the domain of country and adult contemporary radio stations. Duran Duran didn't write great songs...they made great records. Prince wrote some great stuff, but his grooves and melodies were the truly innovative component of his music, especially early on. Hall And Oates wrote very radio-friendly stuff and their records sounded good, but they fell apart on video...they were a little too old for the genre...their energy looked contrived. Radio was their salvation.
If you look exclusively at the music, Michael's stuff in the 80s was ordinary in the extreme. It doesn't matter how many lists he makes...as an adult his vocal range was narrow, limiting his melodic choices. While he tried to tell stories, his lyrics were mundane, a step above the tripe we were getting from the pretentious new artists at the time like Flock Of Seagulls and Kajagoogoo- what Frank Zappa called "pitched mouth noises."
Every R&B producer of that era wanted to be Quincy...even guys like Arif Mardin. Quincy and MJ's relationship was one of mutual respect, but other producers scoured the countysides of the world looking for artists with whom they could leave an imprint on the universe. This led to the boy bands of the late 80s and all of the 90s, who dominated the charts for a decade...many of whom had no real talent other than to pose for publicity shots.
In R&B and Hip-Hop today, the producer is everything except the pretty face. These guys control everything you hear on pop radio. This is primarily due to the Michael-Quincy relationship and the precedent it set for all that was to follow.
It's the songs and the singers, not the arrangers, who are the draw.
I'm not talking about "draw"; I'm talking about long-term impact and recognition of quality. I'm not talking about "arrangers" either. Arrangers are guys like Tom Scott who did the horn charts on Steely Dan's Aja.
I'm talking about the guy who has ultimate control, the person with the final say-so, who works the recording console like a musical instrument to create final mixes that can't be reproduced live. These people are currently the only creative people working in the urban side of the music business, and it all started with Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones.
The Jackson 5's records are much more real and reflect much more vocal artistry from MJ. These recordings portray actual musical performances...not edited, scoped, layered and textured productions designed to obscure flaws and maximize perfection. Future generations will prefer this music, just as they prefer Sinatra's early stuff to "Strangers In The Night" and John Lennon's music with The Beatles to his Double Fantasy album.
The perception of Michael's real musical talent will be centered in his Jackson 5 performances. I wish I could meet you, wager $20,000 and shake your hand.
Dick Clark said it: "it's in the grooves," and by that, he didn't mean the dials.
Q produced “Off the Wall”, “Thriller” and “We Are The World”. That’s a pretty good legacy for any producer, if that was all he ever did.
Always hated “Thriller”....I have 1 album by the Jackson’s called Destiny..from the days of disco....It was OK....I still like it....
OK, you’ve gone into non-responsive mode where you don’t actually “say things.” Have a good day.
I agree. But the debate is that Quincy “made” Jackson’s hits, not Jackson, which is silly. His subsequent albums weren’t as good, but still had top material, including “Man in the Mirror,” “Bad,” “Black and White,” while you’re hard-pressed to name anything Jones did afterwards that reached that quality.
From a personal perspective, we did our best work without a producer---or when he did minimal work. Vanilla Fudge was the same way: the more a producer got involved, the worse the music was. I'm not saying a great producer can't make great songs even better, but given a choice between a good song and an average producer and a bad song with a great producer, it isn't a choice.
No, the debate is whether Michael's Jackson 5 material will eventually be regarded as superior music (with stronger vocal performances) to his solo stuff.
His subsequent albums werent as good, but still had top material, including Man in the Mirror, Bad, Black and White, while youre hard-pressed to name anything Jones did afterwards that reached that quality.
Okay, look: You don't know what you're talking about and I've wasted a lot of time.
Quincy Jones produced Bad.
By the way! What does Tommy Bolin have to do with the James Gang?
Now who doesn’t know what they are talking about? Tommy Bolin replaced Joe Walsh in James Gang, before then going off to form the Tommy Bolin band.
Asking a question doesn't mean that the person asking doesn't know what he's talking about; it means that he wants to know what the other person is talking about.
Based on your replies and non-responsiveness to germane points in this thread, I expect the distinction to be lost on you.
But you're right, if you think it'll help your point: I (and probably 99.999% of the rest of the people on earth) had no idea Bolin had ever joined James Gang...his tenure with them was unremarkable and folks who know him know his work with Deep Purple and his solo stuff. That's certainly true of me.
Now, back to the topic at hand: You attempted to make the point that Michael Jackson's music on Bad was as good as his stuff from his previous two albums, asserting that it wasn't produced by Quincy Jones and using it as proof of Michael's ability to make good records without him.
The problem is: Bad was indeed produced by Quincy Jones, rendering your point incorrect and absurd.
BTW, those who are Tommy Bolin fans wouldn't think that detail insignificant.
Billie Jean #58
I Want You Back #120
Beat It #337
That's actually less from MJ than I thought---I was sure Thriller would be on there, possibly Don't Stop Till You Get Enough.
The thing about these lists is, almost certainly you aren't going to have earlier stuff jump back up, because the tendency is to add "great" new songs as they come up. It's possible that in the wake of Jackson's death, they might add one or two of his solo works, but I can't see ever going back and adding Jackson 5 stuff.