No One Can Find Me

Lisha: Willa, I can’t stop thinking about our previous discussion on “The Lost Children.” To be honest, I hadn’t given this song a lot of thought before, so I was surprised to discover how much is there. Now the song hits me in a totally different way. It somehow went from this sweet, simple little song to something that has a lot more weight to it, musically. Actually, I’m surprised that I now hear it as both heavy and light, all at the same time, which is something I previously missed, if that makes any sense.

Willa: Yes, I know exactly what you mean! At least, I think I do. The opening music is light and fun, with a twinkling kind of sound like a kid’s song – something Raffi might sing.

Lisha: Exactly. Overall, this feels a lot like a children’s song to me. I think it is safe to assume that was intentional, given it’s a song about children and we hear children’s voices throughout.

Willa: I think so too. And even the lyrics sound like a kid’s song, if you think only about form and not content. What I mean is, the lyrics are composed almost entirely of one- and two-syllable words, which is surprisingly difficult to do. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to write a kid’s book, but it’s hard! There are only two words longer than two syllables in the entire song: “families” and “addressing.” That’s it. And most of the words are only one syllable.

Lisha: Wow, you’re absolutely right. Most of these lyrics would be suitable for a young reader.

Willa: Yes, or even a pre-reader. Even children as young as three or four could understand most of these words when hearing them, I think. And then those one- and two-syllable words are combined into really short phases – most are only five words. And except for the chorus, Michael Jackson’s voice tends to go up at the end of each phrase, which also creates a “lighter” feel.

Lisha: There’s also a slight little stretch on the first beat of each measure, which gives the melody a lilting quality and emphasizes the light waltz feel.

Willa: Oh, that’s interesting, Lisha! I hadn’t noticed that. So all of these things combine to create a song that sounds like a nice, light kid’s song, at least on the surface.

But once you start thinking about what the words mean, suddenly it becomes much darker. And that coupling of a “light” form with “dark” content is pretty unsettling.

Lisha: It’s deceptive. I guess I should have expected that given the subject matter: “The Lost Children.” It isn’t exactly a cheery song title, and it doesn’t have happy ending either. You never get any assurance that the children have made it safely home.

Willa:  No, you don’t. We hear Prince’s voice at the end saying, “It’s getting dark. I think we’d better go home now,” so there’s the implication that they are heading home, but we don’t hear a happy homecoming. Instead, the ending is left unresolved. It’s not clear if they make it home or not.

Lisha: The more I think about that, the more unsettling it is.

Willa: It really Is.

Lisha: Willa, there’s a small detail in this song that you mentioned to me earlier, and I think it’s worth really zeroing in on it. It’s an unusual word choice, “thee,” which happens at the end of the bridge:

Home with their fathers
Snug close and warm
Loving their mothers
I see the door simply wide open
But no one can find
thee

The word “thee” feels like it just comes out of nowhere. We have this simple tune – easy, simple lyrics – and then suddenly the word “thee” appears. What is up with the inexplicable shift into old English? Wouldn’t “them” or “you” fit the writing style much better? Why the odd use of the word “thee”?

Willa: That’s a good question, Lisha. “Them” or “you” does seem like a more obvious choice. Or the word “me.” In fact, I thought it was “me” until I saw the liner notes said “thee.” Then I asked you about it, and you put your trained musician’s ears to the task and decided the liner notes were right (they aren’t always!) and it was “thee.”

Lisha: Well, I did listen quite a few times because I also thought the lyric was “no one can find me.” I’m still not 100 percent sure, but I finally concluded it does sound more like “thee,” just because that word has a crisp, clear attack, which would be more difficult to do with the word “me.”

Willa: Hmmm. So now you have me intrigued. What do you mean by “a crisp, clear attack”?

Lisha: Well, I just noticed the beginning consonant has a very neat, tidy beginning to it. The “mmm” sound requires you to vocalize with the lips closed, so I would expect it to take just a split second longer and not be quite as clear on the attack. I’m splitting hairs here trying to figure this out, so bear with me.

The art of singing is really all about vowel sounds – learning to produce beautiful, clear sounds by sustaining the different vowels. But if you want to add semantic meaning to those sounds, you need to add consonants, which are more difficult to produce and they are hard on the vocal cords. One of the big challenges in singing is learning how to deal with consonants. In general, the trick is get off of them as quickly as possible and let the voice rest on the vowel.

Willa: That’s really interesting, Lisha. I’m not a singer but I’ve sung with choirs a few times, and they do encourage you to sustain a word with the vowels, not the consonants. Like if the word “home” is to be held for a measure, they’d rather you sing it like “hooooooooome” than “hommmmmmmmmmme” – in other words, hold it on the “o” sound, not the “m” sound. But I thought that was just because they thought it sounded better that way, not because it could hurt your voice.

Lisha: Yes, you’re right. It does sound better. And I didn’t mean to imply that the only reason to avoid consonants is because they are hard on the voice. Just as you said, when you’re singing the word “home,” what you’re really singing is the vowel “o.” Adding a quick “h” and “m” gives that “o” a very specific meaning. Now that I think about it, I wonder if it’s even possible to sustain a consonant without adding a vowel. For example, even with your lips closed you can hear a subtle difference between “ma, mo, me, may, moo.” The vowel sort of blends in with the consonant. It’s the vowels that make singing possible. Believe it or not, a lot of instrumentalists think about how to convey vowel sounds through their instruments too.

Willa: Really? That’s interesting!

Lisha: Yes, it’s out there, I know! But many instrumentalists study the art of singing to improve their playing. It reveals so much about how to deliver a melody with real style and flair.

Along these lines, I’ve enjoyed listening to some recordings of Seth Riggs coaching Michael Jackson over the phone. Here’s one from YouTube:

In the first part of this warm-up, you hear Michael Jackson vocalizing while buzzing his lips. I know this exercise sounds really goofy, but it pays big dividends for singers because it warms up the voice very gently without straining the vocal cords. The next part of the routine is a series of vowels. Consonants are added later, working for a clean attack while keeping that same clear tone on the vowels. So for example at about 6:05 in the recording, you can hear Michael Jackson practicing “ma.” I’m not a singer or a vocal coach, but I think I can hear him adding his tongue in the highest notes, which makes more of an “n” sound. The tongue gives those high notes a sharper attack. The true “m” sound isn’t quite as crisp, to my ear.

Willa: That clip is really interesting, Lisha!  I’ve listened to some of these before but not this one, and there’s a fascinating discussion starting about 6:40 minutes in. After talking about the approach for singing the phrase “is a cold,” as in “Dom Stanton is a cold man,” Riggs gives Michael Jackson some advice on how to make that phrase easier to sing:

All right, so the “c” could throw you, so just be careful that you keep it as pure as you can and drop your jaw on “o.” [Riggs sings “is a cold.”] If the “kuh” throws you too much, you can take “is a gold” – put a “g” on it. It’ll sound like a “c.” But if Bruce picks up on it, of course, and you do too, then you’ll have to put the “c.” [Riggs sings “is a gold.”]

Lisha: Isn’t that interesting? Notice how Michael Jackson saves his voice here (7:25) by singing the phrase on “o,” leaving the consonants for the recording session. Riggs’ suggestion for this high passage really makes a lot of sense, since “g” is much softer on the vocal cords and requires less air on the attack. Good musicians have thousands of little tricks like this. But, they require good judgment as to when to use them, as Riggs cautions. For example, I hear an obvious stylistic consideration as well. Notice how operatic that “g” sounds when Riggs demonstrates the phrase “is a gold.” Not sure that would really fit with D.S. “is a cold man”!

Willa: No. You’re right – “D.S.” is intentionally harsh, with a short, choppy, jabbing feel, so an operatic voice wouldn’t fit very well at all!

Lisha: Exactly. I think this music requires harsh sounding attacks! There’s good reason to lash out on these lyrics.

Willa: That’s a good point, Lisha. But I have to admit, I’m kind of shocked by Seth Riggs’ suggestion to sing “cold” as “gold.” I tend to focus on the meaning of words much more than the sounds, so it’s pretty startling to hear a vocal coach talk about words this way!

Lisha: It’s a completely different logic for sure.

Willa: You know, this discussion of swapping out “cold” for “gold” reminds me of the bridge in “Much Too Soon”:

Take away this never-ending sorrow
Take this lonely feeling from my soul
If only I knew what things bring tomorrow
She’d be sitting here beside me
And my heart wouldn’t be cold

At least, I think that’s what he’s singing. To be honest, I have trouble understanding that last line. That final word sounds like “gold” to me but that wouldn’t make sense – he must mean “cold.” And Seth Riggs’ suggestion that he substitute “gold” for “cold” may explain why I hear it the way I do.

Lisha: You’re right! There’s such a tiny difference between “gold” and “cold.” It’s easy to confuse the two. The “c” requires more forceful air and a stronger click on “cold.” Other than that, they are pretty much identical. Riggs suggests using that confusion to the singer’s advantage.

Willa: Yes, which is kind of a shocking concept to me! But you’re right – you hold your mouth and tongue in the same position for both “gold” and “cold.” The primary difference is the hard “g” is voiced and the hard “c” isn’t. It’s like “z” and “s,” which are identical except “z” is voiced and “s” isn’t.

Lisha: Exactly. And it’s interesting to me that you hear that line as: “And my heart wouldn’t be cold.” I’ve always heard the softer sound: “And my heart would then be gold.” I looked at the liner notes and it shows yet another variation: “And my heart would fill with gold.”

So out of curiosity, I checked Google Play and Metro Lyrics. They both claim the line is “And my heart would dimly go.” A-Z Lyrics drops the guttural consonant altogether for “And my heart would then be whole.”

Willa: Really? That’s funny!

Lisha: It definitely shows how ambiguous that line is!

Willa: It really does.

Lisha: I think this raises an important point about Michael Jackson’s work in general. I’m not convinced Michael Jackson necessarily wanted to lock in specific meanings for his lyrics. From what I can tell, his first priority was melody and sound. In the writing process, the lyrics were often crafted last, after the musical ideas had fallen into place.

Willa: Yes, I think you’re right. Though that doesn’t mean that the meaning of his songs wasn’t important to him. I think it was very important. But he conveyed meaning through many different threads at once, all interwoven to work beautifully together, and the denotative meaning of the lyrics was just one of those threads. And he had a poet’s awareness of the music of words themselves – of the sounds and rhythm of words.

Lisha: Oh I agree, absolutely.

Willa: I remember reading an interview with Paul McCartney where he said he and Michael Jackson debated the word “doggone” in “The Girl is Mine.” Paul McCartney didn’t like it and wanted to substitute a different word, but Michael Jackson insisted they keep it because he felt the song needed those particular sounds in that particular spot.

Lisha: Gosh, I had forgotten about that interview! What a brilliant example, Willa! Here’s the McCartney quote, which is from the 1983 Newsweek article titled “Michael Jackson: The Peter Pan of Pop”:

The song I’ve just done with Michael Jackson, you could say that it’s shallow … There was even a word – ‘doggone’ – that I wouldn’t have put in it. When I checked it out with Michael, he explained that he wasn’t going for depth – he was going for rhythm, he was going for feel. And he was right. It’s not the lyrics that are important on this particular song – it’s much more the noise, the performance, my voice, his voice.

Willa: Wow, thanks for tracking that down, Lisha! You are a marvel at research! And of course this is all secondhand, but McCartney’s memory of their discussion is that Michael Jackson felt the meaning of the words were less important – at least in this instance – than the “rhythm” or sound of the words.

Lisha: Although it doesn’t get talked about much, the sound of the words is such an important consideration in songwriting. There is a real art to making words fit a melody, and a lot of that is based on “feel” as McCartney says. Michael Jackson seemed to be hyper-aware of this.

As we were discussing the “o” in “gold” and “cold,” I thought of another famous song, Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow” from Wizard of Oz. According to the lyricist, Yip Harburg, the opening line was created out of the need to insert the sound “o” into this melody. The original working title was “I Want To Be Somewhere on the Other Side of the Rainbow.” But Harburg changed it when he realized the “ee” sounds were too harsh for the melody. Here’s a clip of Harburg himself explaining the sound of “o” in “Over The Rainbow.” (Skip to 8:20):

As he says,

I finally came to the thing, the way our logic lies with it, “I want to be somewhere on the other side of the rainbow.” And, I began trying to fit it…Now, if you say “ee,” you couldn’t sing “ee, ee, ee, ee.” You had to sing “o.” That’s the only thing that would get it … I had to get something with “o” in it, you see. [sings tune on “o”] Now that sings beautifully, see. So this sound forced me into the word “over,” which was much better than “on the other side.”

Willa: Wow, Lisha, that is so interesting!

Lisha: Isn’t it? I really hope everyone can access the Yip Harburg interview, because when you hear him sing the tune both ways, it makes perfect sense why the sound of the words have to be matched to the melody.

Willa: I love hearing a songwriter work through his creative process like this, and it’s so interesting to hear how Yip Harburg solved the problem of conveying the meaning he wanted while getting the sounds he needed – in this case, that important long “o” sound. As he said, “I had to get something with ‘o’ in it,” and that emphatic “o” sound in “over” and “rainbow” really does drive the melody and the lyric.

Lisha: It is such a dramatic example. The vowel sounds, completely separate from their semantic meaning, have to fit the music just so.

Many Michael Jackson demos show how this creative process works. You can hear him experimenting with all different kinds of vocal sounds, looking for something that will fit musically. His primary objective seems to be melody and sound. The lyrics sort of fall into place later, pieced together like a puzzle. One of my favorite examples is the demo of “People of the World”:

There are a ton of great made-up words and nonsensical phrases in this like, “the Black Hills of North Virginia.” That phrase is pretty funny, since there is no state named North Virginia, and the Black Hills are actually located in South Dakota! It is obvious this was never intended as the final lyric. But notice how beautifully those words fit the melody. In that sense, it’s flawless. I understand perfectly why he wanted to experiment with those words in this particular phrase.

Willa: That’s a great example, Lisha! But it’s forcing me rethink the distinction I made earlier between form and content. Even though there are “great made-up words and nonsensical phrases,” as you say, there is still meaning conveyed by the sounds he sings and the way he sings them. For example, there’s a sweetness to this song, but it doesn’t sound like a love song to me. Instead, there’s a lolling quality that makes me think of time passing, and I also get a strong sense of harmony – and yearning for harmony. So he is conveying a lot of meaning in this unfinished song even without fully developed lyrics.

Lisha: You’re right and I think that’s a very important distinction to make. Musical ideas are expressed even without the lyrics, just as instrumentalists make music without words. Singers have the advantage of being able to add semantic meaning to the musical phrase, but it’s almost like icing on the cake. If musical expression were not the primary consideration, there wouldn’t be a need to sing. You could simply read the words aloud as a poem and that would be enough.

I think it’s worth remembering here that not all Michael Jackson’s vocalizations include words. Think of the chorus in “Earth Song,” sung entirely on the vowel sounds, or the famous vocal tics all throughout his work. In fact, we devoted an entire post to Michael Jackson’s non-verbal vocalizations a while back.

Willa: Yes, I remember that post with Bjørn – as a poet, he’s always so interesting to talk to about aspects of language we don’t often think of, like the sounds and rhythm of language. Bjørn and I did another post where he talked explicitly about vowel sounds – the “o” sound in particular – and referenced Edgar Allan Poe’s essay “The Philosophy of Composition”:

In this essay Poe links the “o” sounds to melancholia. In English, there are a lot of “o” words denoting a sense of loss, so I think that’s why Poe got the idea: old, gone, done, lore, before, forlorn, lost, loss, sorrow, mourning…

So Bjørn suggests that sounds convey meaning separate from the denotative definition of a word. And Poe’s linking of “o” with melancholia certainly fits “Over the Rainbow” with all its “o” sounds, where a young girl is longing to escape her problems to a happier place.

Lisha: Oh that is just fascinating! It’s absolutely true that spoken words can be quite musical without any kind of musical accompaniment. Maybe that accounts for why Michael Jackson loved Edgar Allan Poe so much and why he tended to focus on the sound of a word, beyond what it denotes.

Circling back to where we started with all this, “no one can find thee/me” in “The Lost Children,” I can’t help notice how the “ee” sound seems to hit that phrase just perfectly in a musical sense. “No one can find them” or “you” just doesn’t work at all. There’s a lot of tension on that note, and that bright, open “ee” works so beautifully right there at the end of the bridge. It leads the listener right into the chorus, reminding me of something Michael Jackson said about songwriting in his Mexico City deposition: “when the chorus comes it should be like a flower blossoming in your face.”

Willa:  I love that image!

Lisha: I do too! And the “ee” sound in that transition from the bridge to chorus really feels like “a flower blossoming in your face”! It is the exact right sound for that moment in the song.

But is it “thee” or “me” that he sings? I keep thinking about our previous post and what Michael Jackson told author Darlene Craviotto about the old man in “Kick the Can.”  He said, “This is me! This is me! This is me!” The lyric “No one can find me” makes an awful lot of sense in that context.

Willa: It really does, and actually that’s how I still “hear” it – as “no one can find me” – even though the actual sounds might be “thee,” if that makes any sense.

But I also really like the way the sound and meaning slips back and forth between “me” and ”thee,” so that it’s like I’m hearing it both ways at once. As Marie Plasse mentioned in a post with us a while back, Michael Jackson often encouraged us to see a situation from multiple points of view, including the perspectives of those who are generally overlooked or ignored. As Marie said,

the multiple subject positions and perspectives are in service of Michael’s larger mission of calling attention to the experiences of those who are “othered” or forgotten by mainstream society and who suffer for it. By shifting the perspective so often to these marginalized ones, he pushes us out of what may be our own relatively comfortable positions and makes us see through the eyes of the “other.”

And of course, missing children, homeless children, runaways … they are all very much on the margins of society and rarely have a voice. So it makes sense to me that he wouldn’t draw a clear distinction between “no one can find thee” and “no one can find me.” In the first, we as listeners are in the position of someone who’s searching for a lost child and feeling despair because we can’t find them. In the second, we are in the position of a child who is lost and feeling despair because the people we care about can’t find us. Both ways make sense. So both ways work, and they work beautifully together.

Lisha: Beautifully said, Willa. I think that’s why the more I thought about the slipperiness of thee/me lyric, the more haunting and tragic this song became for me. When you think of all the ways that an intense longing to return home might apply to the composer/artist of this song, it’s heartbreaking. Shocking, actually. It raises some serious questions in my mind about what we as a society demanded from Michael Jackson, and at what cost to him personally.

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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 15, 2016, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Willa and Lisha: I’ve been thinking for some time, and this article proves it beyond a shadow of a doubt – you two writers and thinkers, spinning the threads of details into fine cloth for us, are a match made in heaven. So glad you found one another!

    Lisha, I totally agree that MJ’s first priority was the rhythm and sound he was after, not necessarily always lyrics imbued with great meaning, and that was true whether he composed the song or not. As you say, when he did compose a song this hierarchy seems even more obvious. There are many small examples of his many “voices” that hop out of his songs to illustrate this and some are among my favorite MJ sounds, where he throws a distortion of some sort or a different tone into the mix. Unlike many singers I’ve worked with who slip into vocal conceits that become habitual and even trite, the interesting thing about MJ’s improvs is how sparing he was with them – sometimes popping the particular sound only once and never again. Reminds me of how stingy he was with his moonwalking, teasing us very wisely with just a few seconds of an interesting move like that even though he absolutely knew we wanted much more.

    I know of another example where that pesky consonant issue you mention pops up and is dealt with by banishing it – from Off The Wall, with “I can’telp it if I wanted to, wouldn’telp it even if I could” etc – doesn’t seem like a difficult thing to park the “h” after the “t” sound, but evidently there was a battle, the “t” was wounded and “h” was lost entirely!

    I’m certain that his unique pronunciations were spiced up by other cultural and familial elements as well, and then there was also the influential training he and his brothers received while in the Motown stable of stars. Lots of soft consonants, like the way he strokes “girl” into more like “gel”. And there’s more. For example, I’ve never heard another person who pronounces the word “feel” the same way MJ does. He almost adds another vowel syllable to the word – “fe-ul” – and puts the second vowel sound lower into his throat. Quite distinctive to him.

    He also famously confounded many listeners with his diction/enunciation many more times than in the “mee/thee” example you highlight, as I know you know. Several have become infamously funny in replay on the web, such as David Letterman’s dissertation about Billie Jean (“the chair is not my son”) and the Scottish Sock Puppet group’s spoof of Earth Song which still cracks me up every time. I don’t think MJ was bothered by this any more than he was by the intense interest in the mysterious letters and numbers he allowed on his costumes. Not only did the rhythm and beat and overall sound matter a lot to him, he also loved throwing in moments that made our ears perk up to make sure we were listening. REALLY listening. (And aren’t we though?)

    (Here’s the Scottish Sock Puppets’ Earth Song interpretation for anyone who may have missed it: http://www.veoh.com/watch/v18734805Q3HdtEXw)

    I also think that Seth Riggs took on quite a challenge with Michael, and I imagine Seth knew it. When a coach attempts to impose different vocal habits and disciplines onto a singer who learned to sing as a child in a very natural, instinctive and organic manner, relatively unfettered except perhaps by various well-meaning (but probably not consistent in approach) producers, and had been singing as he wanted to for many years, the results are certainly not guaranteed and might even backfire. Perhaps an interview with Seth Riggs might flesh out the interesting ideas you’ve given us here? (wink wink nudge nudge)

    Thanks for another illuminating post!

    • Oh heavens, Chris! Thank you so much for sharing the Scottish Sock Puppets’ interpretation of “Earth Song.” I was laughing so hard I could hardly catch my breath. “What about moccasins? Rickets what I believe” That is too funny! I really needed that …

      You know, it’s interesting though – as I was listening to “Earth Song” and reading their hysterical interpretations of the lyrics, it really did seem like that’s what he was singing – for example, that he really was singing “What about moccasins?” Over the years, we’ve talked quite a bit at this blog about how our expectations shape what we see, but apparently they shape what we hear also. I’ve never thought about that before, but apparently it’s true.

      What I mean is that when I’m reading lyrics, it seems to have a strong influence on how I actually hear the words – even with something like “Earth Song” that I’ve heard a thousand times before, where I know the lyrics by heart and usually hear them the “correct” way. In fact, reading the words had such a strong influence on me I couldn’t hear them the “right” way with those funny lyrics in front of me. I had to shut my eyes to be able to hear the lyrics the way I usually do. That’s amazing.

      btw, I’m very interested in your insights about the “challenge” and maybe even the risk Seth Riggs faced when beginning work with Michael Jackson. I’d love to hear more about that. And talking with Seth Riggs himself would be wonderful! Thanks for the nudge.

      • Willa, I’m smiling broadly at your reaction to the Earth Song “interpretation”. I hate to tell you this, but – you will never listen to that part of the song the same way ever again. Sorry! I was going to add a warning in my comment but I decided to just let it happen as it was going to happen…

        As you say, it is illustrative of the amazing power of suggestion re what we hear vs. what we read. So many lyrics websites have posted MJ’s lyrics that we know to be wrong and yet they get away with continuing on in their inaccuracy, so perhaps this is the reason? I also wonder if MJ the trickster enjoyed changing up the lyrics he actually sang and letting the printed lyric booklet that went out with the album say something else. He would fuss about a certain mix and levels and beats and rhythm, but details like printed lyrical boo-boos might easily pale in comparison.

        Earth Song was a huge hit in the UK, as opposed to the US where it got much less exposure (if any). That this loving satire came from the UK is interesting, and it says a lot about the dramatic “wall of sound” MJ developed (and took years to craft) to accompany the call-and-response-ish later portion of the song, which does threaten to overwhelm the lyrics a bit. I think this illustrates Lisha’s point again that it was ultimately the sound he was after which wins the war, not the significant lyrics which he also carefully chose and delivered so powerfully to get God’s attention: “What about us?”

  2. Thank you Chris for you very kind and insightful comments!

    Well, I think we’ve managed to illustrate why consonants are a singers worst nightmare! It is so easy to misunderstand song lyrics, which happens all the time. Here’s a recent People Magazine article about commonly misheard lyrics: http://www.people.com/article/misheard-song-lyrics

    What I find so interesting about MJ’s approach is how aware he was that enunciation and style can be at odds. Think of the Broadway singing style, where lyrics are often crucial to the plot of the show. The audience really needs to understand what the actor is singing, so there is a lot of focus of proper diction. But oftentimes you get this very “singer-y” enunciation that drives the musical style in a very unhip way. Even so, people often struggle to understand what the singer is saying.

    MJ was an artist who made of point of dancing on the high/low divide. It seems to me he went for the vernacular whenever possible, like “can telp it,” or my personal favorite, “if you juss, hold my hand.” There is no singer on Broadway who could enunciate “juss” any clearer than MJ! He really went out of his way on “Hold My Hand” to enunciate the “ss” in “juss,” proving he was perfectly capable of enunciating when he wanted to and that he had no intention of ever putting a “t” on that word!

    Chris, I love what you said about “the interesting thing about MJ’s improvs is how sparing he was with them – sometimes popping the particular sound only once and never again.” I so agree! It reminds me of seeing “This Is It” in 2009, as someone who was new to Michael Jackson’s work. It literally took my breath away. I sat there stunned, thinking, my god, does this man *ever* use the same idea twice? I had never seen such a bottomless well of creativity.

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