She Dances to His Needs

Joie:  So, Willa, it’s a new season for Dancing with the Elephant, and I thought we could start by talking about some of the new Michael Jackson material. And I have a confession to make that I think might shock you a little bit. I’m actually not very fond of Xscape.

Willa:  Wow, Joie, you’re right – I am shocked. I prefer Michael to Xscape but I like them both and listen to them a lot. So do you actually dislike Xscape, or is it just not your favorite? I mean, it’s up against some pretty stiff competition – Thriller, Dangerous, HIStory … and I know how much you love Invincible

Joie:  Well, that’s true, I do love Invincible. But maybe I should rephrase my earlier statement. It’s not that I’m not fond of Xscape, it’s just that there wasn’t much on the album that was new to me.

Let me explain … for a long time, even before Michael passed away, I had been sort of obsessed with scouring the Internet for unreleased MJ material. So, most of what was on the Xscape album had been in my collection of unreleased material for a few years. The only ones I hadn’t heard before were “Chicago” and “Loving You.”

Willa:  Oh, I see what you’re saying, and that makes sense. I was really surprised when I first heard “Love Never Felt So Good” on Xscape – I’d been listening to that demo version for so long I’d forgotten it hadn’t been released! It was like listening to a new album and suddenly hearing “The Way You Make Me Feel” come out the speakers. I was thinking, Hey, what’s that doing on here? So I know what you mean, and I know how impressive your collection is! – much better than mine. In fact, I think almost all of the unreleased songs I have came from you, along with demos of released songs.

And I have to say, I love listening to Michael Jackson’s demos. In fact, I really haven’t listened to the “contemporized” songs on Xscape that much, but I’ve listened to the demo tracks a lot. And I know I’ve said this before, but I really wish they’d release the demos for Michael. I’m so happy they did that for Xscape, and hope they’ll continue that practice with all his posthumous albums. It’s a great idea, I think – they were really smart to offer Xscape that way.

Joie:  I agree, it was a smart thing to do. And I agree without a doubt – I also prefer the original versions of the songs over the “contemporized” versions. But there is one song on the album that sort of puzzles me. It’s “Slave to the Rhythm.”

I don’t really know if “puzzles” is the right word, but the thing is … the version of this song that I first came across online doesn’t sound anything like the enhanced, “produced,” “contemporized” version on the album. But I was really shocked the first time I listened to the untouched demo version because the version I have doesn’t sound anything like it either. And I have to say that I much prefer the version that I’ve been listening to for a couple of years to either of the two on the album. It’s really strange.

For the longest time I didn’t have any information at all on the version that I found online, so I had no idea who mixed it or who was behind it … or even if Michael had anything to do with it or not. But I believe it sounds truer to a finished product that Michael would have released than either of the versions on the album.

You know, the bad part is that it’s been so long now, for the longest time I honestly didn’t remember where I first came across it, and I still don’t. But thanks to the power of YouTube I was able to find it there recently:

Apparently it’s a remix made by Tricky Stewart that was leaked online in 2010, although it really seems like I’ve had this version in my collection for a lot longer than that, but maybe not.

Willa:  Wow, Joie, I’ve heard the two Xscape versions and the Justin Bieber version (here’s a link to that in case someone missed it) but I’ve never heard this one before. Whether it was sanctioned by Michael Jackson or not, whoever produced it somehow had to have access to his vocal tracks, right? And they were hard to find before the demo came out on Xscape, weren’t they? I mean, even you didn’t have a copy, with your extensive collection. That’s really intriguing. I wonder where it came from …

Joie:  But the mysterious version is not the only interesting thing about this song. I happen to just love the song itself for many reasons- not the least of which is the lyrics. The song opens with these lines:

She dances in the sheets at night
She dances to his needs
She dances ‘til he feels just right
Until he falls asleep

So right off the bat, he sets a very distinct tone with this one. We know from the first few lines that this is a woman who caters to her man, whether that’s what she wants to do or not. “She dances to his needs.”

Willa:  It is very interesting that he starts this song that way, isn’t it? A lot of his songs feel really cinemagraphic to me, if that makes sense – it’s like they describe a series of visual scenes, just like a movie – and the “opening scene” of this song, if I can describe it that way, is of them in bed having sex. It doesn’t feel right to call it “making love” because expressing love doesn’t seem to have much to do with it. It should be a moment of intimacy, but it isn’t. It’s her serving his needs, which is excellent foreshadowing for what the song is about.

Joie:  Exactly. And Willa, this is where the three different versions make things really interesting for me, because I feel like in the Tricky Stewart version, the music sets an almost menacing tone for this song that I don’t feel is there in the other two versions. And I think something really gets lost in translation without this menacing, ominous beat.

Willa:  That’s so interesting you should say that, Joie, because I’ve been pondering that very thing – about whether this song feels menacing or not. To be honest, the first time I heard the demo version I felt really unsettled by it. I thought this woman was in an abusive situation, and it felt very threatening to me. I just wanted her to grab the kids and go. And when she decides to come back to him at the end and stay in that situation, I was really disturbed by that. Anything would be better than letting a man abuse her children and her.

But as I’ve listened to it more, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think he is abusive, though he’s definitely not a nice guy. He’s domineering and self-centered and emotionally distant, and he takes everything she does for granted – as Michael Jackson sings so convincingly, “She works so hard … For a man who just don’t appreciate” – but I don’t think he’s physically abusive. And really, this song isn’t about him. It’s about her and the choices she makes, and why she makes the choices she does. As you say, Joie, she spends her life catering to the needs of others – mainly her husband, but also her children and her boss. Meeting their demands forms the “rhythm” of her life, and she’s a slave to that rhythm.

Joie:  I like the way you put that, Willa – meeting their demands does form the rhythm of her life. In that same first verse, Michael tells us this:

She dances at the crack of dawn
And quickly cooks his food
She can’t be late, can’t take too long
The kids must get to school

Then in the second verse, she keeps right on dancing…

She dances for the man at work
Who works her overtime
She can’t be rude as she says “Sir,
I must be home tonight.”

So, you’re absolutely right … it’s not just her domineering husband that she caters to; it’s the kids and her boss as well. And we get the sense that it’s rare for her to take any time for herself. But when listening to the other two versions of this song, I just don’t get that sense of urgency or the hint of danger that I do when listening to the Tricky Stewart version.

Willa:  Really? Because the demo version begins with a sort of melancholy tune and then the whistle and crack of a whip – it’s at 0:22, just as he sings a long, quavering “Ahhhhhhhh.” It’s not on the other versions – I don’t know why they removed it – and the sound of that whip makes me flinch every time. It’s very menacing, to use that word again, and it’s also important thematically, I think. Her husband and her boss are both like slave drivers – they’re constantly “cracking the whip” and never let her relax for one moment or take time for herself, as you said. And the crack of the whip at the beginning of the demo version makes that very clear, and very literal. In fact, I think that’s one reason I thought he was abusive the first time I heard it. It creates an impression of physical danger.

Joie:  Yes, but even with the sound of the cracking whip at the beginning of the demo version, the tempo of the song, the beat, is still quite mellow to me. The music is softer and less threatening. Whereas the Tricky Stewart version picks up the tempo slightly and adds the driving, aggressive beat behind it. To me it feels truer to the word “menacing” than the demo version does. The demo, for me anyway, evokes a feeling of being bone tired, working a relentless nine-to-five job that you don’t enjoy, then going home and having to work a second full-time job taking care of a demanding husband and kids.

Willa:  Which is one way to interpret this song …

Joie:  The Tricky Stewart version, on the other hand, evokes a real feeling of danger to me. There’s a tangible threat there when the woman in the song is late getting dinner on the table.

She dances to the kitchen stove
Dinner is served by nine
He says this food’s an hour late
She must be out her mind

I actually shudder to wonder what the man might do to her as punishment for getting his dinner on the table so late. I don’t do that when I listen to the other versions of this song. I don’t feel as physically threatened, if that makes any sense.

Willa:  It does make sense, and this verse feels really threatening to me as well – though I feel it just as strongly on the demo version. I mean, if he gets that angry over a late meal, how does he react when there’s a real problem or conflict? It’s very threatening …

Joie:  And the threat doesn’t stop there with that verse. He goes on to tell us that she actually ran for her life.

She danced the night that they fell out
She swore she’d dance no more
But dance she did, she did not quit
As she ran out the door

She danced through the night in fear of her life
She danced to a beat of her own
She let out a cry and swallowed her pride
She knew she was needed back home

So I think your earlier questions that this might be an abusive relationship are right on the mark here. I believe he is physically abusive. And I believe she goes back at the end, not for him, but for her children. She knew that she could never be truly free if she escaped that abusive situation without them. She couldn’t just leave them there. So she “let out a cry and swallowed her pride / She knew she was needed back home.”

Willa:  I definitely see what you’re saying, Joie, because that’s how it struck me the first time I heard it. But gradually, as I listened to it more, I began to wonder if that was right or not. I mean, the lyrics say, “She danced the night that they fell out.” To me, that expression “fell out” implies an argument, where both sides are mad and making their case. So did he become abusive and she ran to avoid him, or did she finally stand up to him and have it out with him, and left because she was angry with him? My thinking about this has really changed over time, and while I can still see it either way, right now I’m leaning more the other way – that she finally had enough and stood up to him.

But then she spends the night wandering the city, and that feels really threatening to her – she has no place to go, so is on the streets “in fear of her life.” But it also says “She danced to a beat of her own.” That’s a really important moment, I think. Up to this point, the rhythm of her life has been determined by others: her husband, her boss, her children. So she’s finally able to dance to her own rhythm, which must feel liberating to some extent, but she’s also in danger and she knows her children need her. So it’s a very short-lived kind of freedom, and under terrible circumstances where she can’t enjoy it or fully express it.

So she “swallows her pride” and goes home. To me, that “swallows her pride” line is important. It wasn’t fear of her husband that was keeping her out on the streets – it was pride. And again, to me that suggests she finally stood up to him and asserted herself, and that’s why they “fell out.” But now she’s decided to go home, submit to his demands once again, and resume the same pattern of work and servitude that she endured before.

Joie:  Well, you may be right, but I just hate to think of it that way because it means she willingly walked back into that horrible situation not because of love, but because she felt helpless. Like she had no other choice.

Willa:  Well, she loves her children, as you said earlier, and she knows they need her …

Joie:  But here’s the thing, Willa … I know that these same words are there in all three versions of this song. But the point I’m trying to make is that the whole feel of the song – or at least, the feeling it leaves me with, the impression it makes on me – changes dramatically depending on which version I’m listening to.

Willa:  I agree – they each create a very different feeling, but I still think the demo version is more … somber. The Tricky Stewart version has kind of a techno pop sound that makes it seem like something you’d hear at a dance club. And actually, the Timbaland version sounds like a dance club song also. It begins with that same haunting melody we hear in the demo, but now with the solemn beat of a drum and the sound of someone walking in chains in time to the music, which is really effective, I think. But then that abruptly ends as a fast, electronic, techno pop rhythm comes in.

And in some ways, I like that pounding, driving beat – it ties in really well with the idea that “she’s a slave to the rhythm,” forced to dance as fast as she can, all day, every day. But at the same time, to me all that buzzing and popping and other sound effects we hear on the Tricky Stewart and Timbaland versions actually lighten the mood. They turn it into an upbeat dance song. So for me, the quieter mood of the original fits the mood of the song better.

But you know, it’s interesting that we both prefer the version we came to know first, and I wonder if that’s part of it? Maybe if I’d been listening to the Tricky Stewart version for a few years, like you have, I might have a similar reaction, and the demo would sound too bare or too soft to me also.

Joie:  I actually think that has a lot to do with it. To me, the two versions on the album seem almost bare and stripped down … way too mellow for such a strong song with such a powerful theme, and I know it’s because I’ve been listening to a completely different version for several years now. So, to me the two versions on the album just seem foreign and not quite right. Strange, isn’t it?


About Dancing with the Elephant contributors

Joie Collins is a founding member of the Michael Jackson Fan Club (MJFC). She has written extensively for MJFC, helping to create the original website back in 1999 and overseeing both the News and History sections of the website. Over the years she conducted numerous interviews on behalf of MJFC and also directed correspondence for the club. She also had the great fortune to be a guest at Neverland. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was three years old. Lisha McDuff is a classically trained professional musician who for 30 years made her living as a flutist, performing in orchestras and for major theatrical touring productions. Her passion for popular musicology led her to temporarily leave the orchestra pit and in June 2013 she received a Master’s degree in Popular Music Studies from the University of Liverpool. She’s continuing her studies at McMaster University, where she is working on a major research project about Michael Jackson, with Susan Fast as her director. Willa Stillwater is the author of M Poetica: Michael Jackson's Art of Connection and Defiance and "Rereading Michael Jackson," an article that summarizes some of the central ideas of M Poetica. She has a Ph.D. in English literature, and her doctoral research focused on the ways in which cultural narratives (such as racism) are made real for us by being "written" on our bodies. She sees this concept as an important element of Michael Jackson's work, part of what he called social conditioning. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was nine years old.

Posted on September 18, 2014, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. Reading this, I must admit I was kind of shocked. First because neither the Album ‘Michael’ nor the ‘Xscape’ thing are actually signed off by the master himself and therefore for me not interesting, and even another abuse to his legacy. The album ‘Michael’, as you both will know, has three tracks that are not even Michael and ‘contemporizing’ Michael Jackson??? To me is the most offending treatment of his legacy, his music and his mastery. He who took so much time to shape his songs, was such a perfectionist, who brought songs together on an album with a distinct purpose, is used for money only with the latest releases. And than I don’t even talk about Sony, who he hated…..remember?

    As musician and visual artist I know that people are always interested in your sketches (we once found someone upside down in our waste basket searching) and the interest for Michael’s sketches, as demo’s- I do understand that, in a way. Classical musicians leave snippets on paper behind and once in a while someone finds them and tries to finish the composition. Always with the greatest respect, but……Michael did not leave snippets on paper he left his beautiful versatile voice that he utilized as composition tool. For me personally it is very inappropriate to release demos that were not for public ears and to behave like a voyeur, because it is nothing more that that, voyeurism into the studio, the diaries of one of the biggest musicians of popular music ever. (I also wonder who did that) I know, if you are a musicologist, you want to study those sketches, which you should; however, they do not belong in the public sphere. And reading that there are more mixes of that one song, mixed in a way (aggressively) that again was used by tabloids to confirm he was an abuser, unmistakable shows that it was and is wrong to release not published material of Michael. And ‘contemporizing’ them is an act of violence on Michael Jackson as an artist and his artistry and, more importantly, without the respect classical composers get when their snippets or unfinished works are finished.
    Here a link to what Charles Thomson had to say about it

    • Hi Karin. I agree that the issue of Michael Jackson’s unpublished work is complicated, especially since it is so hard to know for sure what he would have wanted, and I appreciate your perspective as a musician and artist. (You really found someone digging through your trashcan? Heavens.)

      However, I don’t think it’s true that Michael Jackson wanted his unpublished work never to be released. He took great pains to preserve it, and people who worked closely with him say he did want it released. For example, Ian Halperin records these interviews with two producers who worked with him, conducted before he died:

      According to two separate sources in Jackson’s camp, the singer put in place a well-thought-out contingency plan to ensure his children would be well taken care of in the event of bankruptcy.

      “He has as many as 200 unpublished songs that he is planning to leave behind for his children when he dies. They can’t be touched by the creditors, but they could be worth as much as $100 million or more that will ensure his kids a comfortable existence no matter what happens,” one of his collaborators revealed.

      Another producer that Jackson collaborated with said some of the songs Jackson penned and produced were in considerably different styles than his fans were used to hearing. “When he dies, his unpublished catalogue will consist of many surprises,” the producer said. “There’s lots of ballads, children’s lullabies, African beats, and even some country. Michael liked to experiment a lot when he fooled around in the studio. He’ll leave behind more unpublished songs than any rock star ever left behind. It’s the only way to ensure that his kids will be properly taken care of forever.”

      According to Joe Vogel and others, Michael Jackson remained creative and active in the studio until the end of his life, but released very little of it. Partly it’s because his work was undervalued at the time by critics and the general public. (Just look at the reception Invincible received.)

      But apparently he also had a good understanding of US bankruptcy law, and in the US, creditors can take all your assets – everything except the house you are living in – but they can’t take intellectual property. In other words, they can take the money you’ve earned from released songs, but they can’t take unreleased songs. Based on the evidence, it appears that Michael Jackson understood this and used it to provide for his children’s future. That says to me that he did intend for these songs to be released.

      It’s also true that a lot of his “demos” are much more than demos. I wouldn’t call them “sketches” – to me they are more like fully realized songs and can easily stand on their own. On Xscape, I much prefer them to the “contemporized” versions.

      I do worry that young kids and others who don’t know his work well will hear these “contemporized” versions and think they are listening to a Michael Jackson song. They aren’t, and that’s troubling to me – that songs that are a producer’s interpretation of his songs should be on an album labeled “Michael Jackson.”

      So that’s where I stand, but it is a complicated issue, and I can understand the feelings of those (like who are troubled by the new releases. It’s a grey area for me also.

      • As much as it seems proof, I do not trust anything that is written or said by people ‘that were close’ or ‘worked with MJ’ for the reason that most people that surrounded him were after his money.

        Than the point you make ‘he left those songs for his children’ Exactly, but that is what is so very wrong with those latest releases. The children never had a say in it, it is the Estate of who we all know are populated by people MJ had fired. Even when his own daughter mentioned that there were songs on Michael that were not her father’s, they claimed they were.

        And again, they released it with the company he hated, battled against and accused of racism.

        Than the relation with Shakespeare. There is a huge difference in creating your own work with Shakespeare in mind and/or as inspiration like the West side Story and from that Beat it. Both were pieces written in Bernstein’s and MJ’s own name. There is a huge difference in making an arrangement from for instance Bach or use an writer or other musician or visual artist as your inspiration. It is even possible to use snippets to honour the one you used as muse. However, the latest works the Estate released are not under the name of the people who messed with it but on Michael Jackson’s name.

        About sketches and that MJ was still creative. It is naive to think an artist is not creative when he is out of the public eye. As artist you are 24/7 thinking and working on your creations, and like Bach, MJ always kept on working, shaving and shaping, always returning to older pieces etc. Of course MJ was still creative, how could you think otherwise. And of course was he developing himself, he was light years ahead of many. And if you want to teach younger people, teach them what he wrote himself, the works he released.

        So, even if he had a lot and wanted them to be released, and it doesn’t matter how or why he did not, it should have been the decision of his children and no one else. And yes, I agree with you that artists are drawing upon their predecessors, but that Willa, is something entirly different than what they did with Michaels music.

        • “There is a huge difference in making an arrangement from for instance Bach or use an writer or other musician or visual artist as your inspiration. … However, the latest works the Estate released are not under the name of the people who messed with it but on Michael Jackson’s name.”

          Hi Karin. I agree, and I’m very concerned that the posthumous work is not being adequately labeled. I think it is fine for Timbaland (or Tricky Stewart or …) to create a remix – in fact, I think that type of ongoing engagement with Michael Jackson’s work by other artists is important. But I am concerned that a lot of casual listeners hear those remixes issued by the Estate and think they are listening to a Michael Jackson song.

          For example, when I look at the remixes on Blood on the Dance Floor, I see them labeled like this: “2 Bad (Refugee Camp Mix)” or “HIStory (Tony Moran’s History Lesson).” But when I look at the “remixes” on Xscape, they come first on the album and are simply listed as “Slave to the Rhythm,” “Blue Gangsta,” “Xscape,” while the demos come afterwards and are listed as “Blue Gangsta – Original Version” and “Xscape – Original Version.” That makes the Timbaland mix of “Slave to the Rhythm” seem like the official version, and the Michael Jackson version secondary. That’s backwards. I think the new mixes should be labeled something like this: “Slave to the Rhythm – Timbaland version.” That’s just one option, but somehow labeled so it’s clear that it was produced by someone other than Michael Jackson himself.

          • Exactly Willa, as is done with classical music also. If you make an arrangement of a piece from a composer you always write ‘arrangement by….’ This is confusing for those who start with Michael’s work. But than they aslo shouldn’t release them on his name.

    • Good points, but something I really wonder is if Michael did or did not leave specific instructions regarding his demos or unfinished works. I know Prince has stated many times that when he is gone is vault of songs will be released. Stevie Wonder has said that when he dies all demos and unfinished songs are to be destroyed. Michael seemed to be very specific when it came to his art and legacy that this is a questioned that has been on my mind for the past five years.

      Sorry if this is off topic ladies!

      • “something I really wonder is if Michael did or did not leave specific instructions regarding his demos or unfinished works”

        Hi Destiny. I’ve wondered that as well. He was so meticulous about every aspect of his work, and so aware of his legacy – it seems odd that he would not have left instructions. Apparently he did talk to people he worked with, like the producers quoted above, saying that he was leaving unpublished songs for his children to provide for them financially, but I would thin there would be something more definite, expressing his wishes in his own words.

        And even if he did want his unpublished songs to be released someday, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. For example, did he want them released as is, or would he prefer something more polished? And if other producers did come in and work on his songs, would he want people who had worked with him before and tried to follow what they thought his vision was (like the producers on Michael) or would he want hot new producers who took the songs in new directions and “contemporized” them (like on Xscape)? Those are really important questions, and I’m surprised they were never addressed in some way.

  2. Lost me at: “I am shocked. I prefer Michael to Xscape but I like them both and listen to them a lot.”

  3. Hello Willa and Joie, and again, thank-you for opening up yet another lively and interesting debate. I too find merit in all of Michael Jackson’s work. How the work comes to us and whether it has been altered is a real problem but I must admit, I crave everything, every demo, every piece or short film created by Michael’s hands.

    I think of it very much in the way of Shakespeare and his work. Nothing he made could now be locked in an archive because all of it is incredibly valuable for the public. If only we would afford Jackson the same level of respect. I believe the demos should have been released as they are. There was nothing wrong with them and I did not see the artistic reasons for the contemporization. In all cases the songs were not improved and in a few I think the songs suffered, ‘Slave to the Rhythm’ especially.

    ‘Slave to the Rhythm’ is an incredibly dark song. Initially it made me think of a certain type of sexual imprisonment, as Jackson sang about in ‘Dangerous’, ‘sharp as a two-edged sword but I loved it cos it’s dangerous’. The original version I heard which was a sample from 1997-2001 with lots of synth beats made me think of the central character as a slave to sexual passion or to baser instincts. There is also the whole abuse-dynamic in the song which is quite powerful as well. The woman is a slave to everyone, her family, her boss, her partner. Everyone seems to be making demands on her that she can’t quite fulfil and berating her for not meeting their needs.

    However, if we think about ‘Blood on the Dance Floor’ Jackson wears shackles as bracelets. He was always very clued in on the concept of enslavement, artistic and otherwise. I sincerely love the songs, ‘The Way You Love Me’ and ‘Much Too Soon’ but of course I wish we could have had those songs in the way Michael wanted to present them.

    And one last thing… there’s a real haunting aspect to the song, Xscape, because it so heavily defines Michael’s feeling of imprisonment. The original version clearly starts with a prison break scenario with the words ‘he’s gone’ and it mirrors in a very eerie way what happened to him as well. He, in some respect, escaped the clutches of those who would continue to enslave him.

    • “I think of it very much in the way of Shakespeare and his work. Nothing he made could now be locked in an archive because all of it is incredibly valuable for the public. If only we would afford Jackson the same level of respect.”

      Hi Elizabeth. I agree completely! And I often think of Shakespeare when working through these issues. There are purists who believe that Shakespeare’s plays should only be presented precisely the way Shakespeare wrote them. But that means we’d never have West Side Story (which is a reinterpretation of Romeo and Juliet), and we’d never have Beat It (which is a reinterpretation of West Side Story).

      I see art as an ongoing conversation among artists. To try to remove Michael Jackson’s work from that conversation and not allow other artists to engage with it and reinterpret it is impossible – but even if it were possible, it would be wrong, in my opinion. It would limit his legacy – meaning his influence on younger artists, as well as his cultural significance more generally – and to my mind it would run counter to the very idea of art. Artists have always built on the works of those who’ve gone before them. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “so let it be with Michael Jackson.”

  4. I also prefer the Tricky Stewart version. I heard it right after the Beiber version was released; MJ fans were mad so they were leaking the Tricky version all over the place. I like Michael’s demo next, and the contemporized version least of all. I HATE the way they repeat the spoken word “slave” throughout the song. It just doesn’t fit and ruins the whole thing.

    I enjoy the entire Xscape album, especially A Place With No Name, both the demo and the contemporized versions. I am old enough to remember when the original Horse With No Name came out. That was/is an incredible song for setting a mood of mystery. MJ’s version does it justice.

    Yes, the Michael album is a sore point for many fans, but what if we had never gotten to hear The Way You Love Me, Best Of Joy, and my favorite, Much Too Soon? Beautiful diamonds in the rough.

    • “Yes, the Michael album is a sore point for many fans, but what if we had never gotten to hear The Way You Love Me, Best Of Joy, and my favorite, Much Too Soon? Beautiful diamonds in the rough.”

      I agree, and actually I wish they were rougher! What I mean is, I’d really like to hear the demo versions of those songs to get a better idea of what his vision was. For example, with “Hollywood Tonight” there’s a fairly big difference, apparently, between what Michael Jackson envisioned and what was released.

  5. Michael is gone, and we will never know if or when he would have released more music to the public. We must look at what he left us to understand his message.

    I approach the study of MJ from a somewhat unique perspective – I have an undergrad degree and a year of graduate work in historical archeology. For those who don’t know much about this field, it is the study of cultural remains for time periods where a written record exists. The question usually asked is why archaeology is necessary in periods for which there is a documentary record. The simple answer is that not everything was recorded, and even when there are comprehensive documentary records these are often implicitly or explicitly biased to one point of view, selective in what they describe and how they describe it. Literacy was often the preserve of the rich, so archaeology can often provide a voice to individuals and groups whose history is not preserved in documents.

    I do not know if it is valid to think about MJ in terms of historical archeology, but it provides me with a framework for thinking that is important to access his unpublished work to understand his full message. Although he was mostly in control of the music that was published in his lifetime, we know that he was often inhibited in publishing things for various reasons (he was hesitant to publish Abortion Papers, for example, because of the backlash from pro-abortion activists. He may have considered some of his unpublished work commercially unviable, even if he considered it excellent).

    To get Michael’s message, we need to hear the original demos, not remixed contemporized versions. Historical archeology teaches us to look at private source material to get at the truth.

    Another way to think about this is to consider the difference between an artist and a craftsman. A craftsman might take a Michael Jackson demo and create a beautiful song, but it will feel hollow and empty to us because there is no “soul” in it. Michael was an artist, and he told us that he bound his soul into his music. His soul can be found in the layers of meaning and messages that people like Willa and Susan Fast are uncovering as they analyze his music. That soul will be absent in a remix created simply to sound good.

    • Exactly! Sfaikus, you’ve beautifully expressed something I’ve been struggling to articulate for a while, and I think your comparison of the craftsman and the artist is really useful. With a craftsman the focus is almost exclusively on form – with how well a piece (a song, a painting, a table) has been created. But an artist marries form with content, so the focus is not only at how well a piece is crafted, but what it means and how that meaning is conveyed through the piece.

      So if we approach Michael Jackson simply as an excellent craftsman (which he certainly was) and see the songs he released in his lifetime simply as exquisitely crafted gems (which they certainly were), then I can see how fans might be concerned that releasing his demos might harm his legacy.

      But he was so much more than that, as you say, sfaikus. He was an artist, so his songs aren’t just beautiful little gems but the artistic expression of his ideas. And his full body of work – his songs, short films, dancing, concert performances (which includes staging and costumes as well as singing and dancing), his poetry and short stories, everything – along with his demos, notes, interviews, sketches – all of this must be considered together to fully understand his ideas.

      • Yes, Willa. A craftsman follows the techniques and methods of his/her trade to create. The craftsman follows an external guide.

        The artist follows an inner voice, a vision. The artist’s guide is internal. And though the artist may also be an excellent craftsman, he/she may cast aside the standard techniques and methods in order to fulfill that inner vision, much like a painter who is technically proficient in painting realistically but moves into abstraction. Michael the artist was working toward that inner vision in all of his unfinished work. Each piece is part of the greater whole, and the more we can see, the more we can understand what he was telling us.

        • Hi Sfaikus, I do not want to be rude, but it is always a bit strange to hear non artists talk about what an artist is and how an artist works. I agree that there is a difference between a craftsman and a artist. If you define the word ‘art’ the basic meaning is craft, so in order to become an artist you have to develop yourself to become a craftsperson in the first place. So, an artist has to be also a good craftsman, not that all people who call themselfs artists are. In the old days, copying was the way to become a painter, after that you tried to master the master and become better. It makes it a bit less mystic as you try to describe it, it is mainly very hard work. But the greatest artists have something more, and that part is kind of mystic, because it adds that bit what makes it grande, and public drawn into it, emotional etc. That last part is something you get born with, as MJ was. But don’t forget that he, besides his talent, worked very hard to develop his craft. That he took wat was available in history, copied it to master it and than made it his own. He did that with music and dancing, performing…..A great artist always is light years ahead and so was MJ. However, artists have processes, and composers write pieces they can put asaide, return to, take pieces of, work on etc. for an artist this is a never ending story. It is a bit stupid to think MJ stopped being creative or be surprised he was still creative till his last days just because he was not in the public eye, not releasing music or short films or….he was of course as every artists who takes his job, his passion, serious, working on pieces, that is something you do 24/7. Sorry to say, but only people who have no clue about the process of art, artists and how they work, can make those, to me, suprisingly ignorant remarks.
          That his work needs to be examened is very true, that we need every piece, sketsh, note….he made to do research… true, but to put out in his name, tracks that are not his, tracks that were reworked by others, release demo tracks on cd’s or even just on the Internet? No, that has nothing to do with making his work available for research on what his vision was, what he did, what his message was, that is just for big bugs. You probably have to do research in libraries, archives etc. That is the place unfinished works, notes and everything MJ should be, in an archive or library for researchers to do what they have to do. If they bring songs on CD, they should put, as we mentioned above, the name of the person(s) who made the remix, reworked it or whatever, but not as the new MJ release. That obfuscates what MJ’s vision and message was.

  6. Nice to chat about a more recent song – thank you both.

    I didn’t know about the Tricky Stewart version until this post, as I am not a great internet surfer to find MJ unreleased songs. However, I have now listened to it twice and compared it to the 2 versions on the Xscape album, which I love – more on that later. I think Joie has a good point when she says that often the first version of a song one hears is the one that you like best. I definitely like the “original” version the best – it was the first I heard as when I got the Xscape album. (I am not counting the JB version) I listened to the original versions first!!, and yes it is great that both versions are on the album. (I agree Willa that the originals are better, and I also listen to them much more than the Timberland versions – good as they are also). I like the music on the original version best and think it suits the lyrics better – the Stewart version seem very samey, and the Timberland version music is too busy. I love the way Michael cries out and the whip cracks on the original version, and somehow his voices seems more menacing on this version also. There is also a repeated sound that sounds to me like a wave crashing onto the shore, and that adds to the feeling of the constant wearing away of her life – it is not on the other 2 versions either.

    I don’t think that she was physically abused by her husband. It seems to me that she was a “people pleaser” and so was a slave to other people’s needs – husband, boss, children – until she had enough and just had to get away. For a while she danced to a beat of her own, but I don’t get the feeling that it made her any happier, and sad as it is, and common as it is, she had to put the needs of her children first and go back. The song says “she’s a slave to the rhythm of love”, and I think it was the love of her children that made her a slave, as it does when one becomes a mother. Many mothers put up with a great deal of personal sacrifice for the sake of their children, and it feels to me that this woman was that kind of mother.

    I get the same sort of uneasy feeling from this song as I do from Abortion Papers. Here again is a very serious subject with serious repercussions, and yet one just can’t help dancing to it and feeling happy to do so!!!! For me, this is what sets Michael apart from any other artist – this contradiction of serious lyrics and happy music, which gets both your mind and your feet tapping.

    The dance sequence to Black or White does the same to me – I find it fascinating even though I don’t really understand it intellectually, but on a primal l level I certainly do. I have never found it offensive for some reason – it is too deep and moving to be offensive,

    I love having the 2 versions of the songs on Xscape and also hope that any future releases will have the same format.

  7. Have now read all the comments on this post about the on-going debate on whether to publish unreleased songs or not, and whether Sony should do it or not etc etc.

    We all know that Michael was a perfectionist and took years to make albums, and to complete some songs – 8 years for Earth Song I seem to remember. Someone once wrote that many an artist would be more than happy to have a final version of a song as good as a Michael demo, and for me that is a very valid point. His demos are fantastic and I do believe that he left them behind to be released to provide for his children, but also because on another level he felt that they would be good enough to stand alone – not perhaps excellent, but “good enough” not to harm his existing body of work, and to draw new generations in to explore all his work..

    During his lifetime, he often worked with other artists, such as for the 25th anniversary album of Thriller, on which other artists appear with him – Kayne West for one. So it seems that he was not adverse to the idea of duets of a sort, or even remixes such as those on History. However, I do strongly agree, that if it is a remix, then that should be stated clearly as Karin says, and perhaps the original versions should appear first on any album, not after the contemporised versions.

    I agree that it is a very complicated matter, but personally I can’t get enough of Michael, especially as I only came to him after his death, and so am delighted to have these posthumous albums. Of course the work released during his lifetime is the best and that will remain his legacy, but I don’t see that releasing ‘unreleased’ demos will damage that – it will draw in new generations who will want to go back and look at his original work as I have done, and that can only be a good thing. With all due respect, arguments about Sony and The Estate just muddy the waters for me. There are enough people out there doing that already – I just want to be a fan who enjoys Michael’s music, performances, philosophy, spirituality etc etc. He is my King and the more of him I can get, the better.

  8. Thank you, Willa and Joie, for discussing these ”new” songs!
    To me, the external history of ”Slave to the Rhythm” is fascinating too, in a kind of meta way.
    One of the writers was L.A. Reid, who was obviously eager to ”enslave” MJ to his label. With Reid present, Michael Jackson made 24 takes of this song, in a row, without taking any breaks. Perhaps Reid and the others missed it, but MJ was actually _enacting_ the lyrics he sung: He _made_ himself a ”slave to the rhythm”. In my view, he was working and making a performance at one and the same time. (Maybe he sended that one day there would be a DVD with someone telling the story of those 24 takes. I’ve never heard about him making that many takes of any other song.) It’s VERY ironical that the estate chose this particular song to be performed by the ”MJ” hologram – their ghostly, ever-compliant slave.

    • Maybe he sended… > Maybe he sensed… 😉

    • “MJ was actually enacting the lyrics he sung: He made himself a ‘slave to the rhythm’.”

      Hi Bjørn. That’s a fascinating way to think about this – that to some extent he was enacting the lyrics he was singing. Maybe that was one way he helped himself get into the mindset of the central character?

      It also makes me wonder about the timing of this and “A Word to the Badd,” since L.A. Reid was involved in both and they must have been recorded about the same time. It’s my understanding that “Slave to the Rhythm” was recorded for the Dangerous album, which was released in November 1991, and “A Word to the Badd” (which was written by Jermaine Jackson and L.A. Reid and can only be described as highly critical of Michael Jackson) was released in October 1991. Did L.A. Reid work with Michael Jackson knowing that “Badd” was about to be released? Or did he work with Michael Jackson and then help write “Badd”? Either way seems pretty duplicitous …

  9. Hi guys, a little late to this conversation but I wanted to add something about STTR. There was a movie made about ten years ago with Susan Sarandon and Goldie Hawn called “The Bangor Sisters.” Their characters were two aging, ex groupies from the 60’s and 70’s. Hawn’s character was still just an older version of herself, but Sarandon’s character had given up her old identity and settled into life as a suburban housewife and mother. Like the woman in STTR, she is not in an abusive situation, but she has given up a lot of her identity for the sake of her family. There is one scene in particular where her old friend, Hawn’s character, convinces her to go out on the town again. For just one night, she cuts her hair into a punky ‘do, dons a pair of spandex pants, and hits the dance floor. That is a moment of real transcendence in the film, as she reconnects to a part of herself that had been long buried in the name of serving others. I can never hear STTR without being reminded of that scene. And I think this was exactly what Michael was singing about-a woman who has lost subjugated her own will to others for so long that she has almost lost sight of herself. Then, in one magical night, she reconnects again. It giver her the strength to make her choice, and there is empowerment in that because it is very clear that it is her choice.

    Not to go overboard with the movie analogies, but I also think of Meryl Streep’s character Francesca from “The Bridges of Madison County.” That was a case of a woman who certainly wasn’t in an abusive relationship. But likewise, she had sacrificed a lot of herself for the greater good of her family. In the end, Francesca’s story, too, became a story about choices. Interestingly, both women (Sarandon’s character in “The Bangor Sisters” and Francesca in “The Bridges of Madison County” voluntarily choose to return to their families and husbands, but not without having gained a sense of empowerment. In both cases, the women were not in abusive situations at all-but they were bored, having long ago given up their will to serve others. And I think this is a very important part of STTR’s message. The female protagonist has to go through her “darkest before the dawn” moment to realize who she really is, what she really wants, and where her strengths lie. Only then is she able to make a clear headed choice-and, as we can assume, is the right one for her to make.

    • Hi Raven. It’s true there is nothing in the lyrics of “Slave to the Rhythm” to suggest she was abused – that idea comes more from the rather violent musical accompaniment on some versions, especially the Tricky Stewart version Joie shared. But if we just look at the lyrics Michael Jackson wrote, her husband doesn’t seem abusive so much as emotionally distant: “a man who just don’t appreciate” and who “takes her love in vain.” Approaching this song that way, I think your interpretation is closest to his original intent – that he’s describing the life of “a woman who has subjugated her own will to others for so long that she has almost lost sight of herself,” as you say.

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