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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Song: Billie Jean
Artist: The late Michael Jackson
Reviewer: Psychologist, Dr Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr BLT
Offering unconditional praise for Michael Jackson can be tricky, given the bittersweet nature of his legacy. But thereís one thing that calls for unequivocal expressions of praise. That one thing is Michael Jacksonís music. Billie Jean is the paragon of Michaelís musical talent.
She was more like a beauty
queen from a movie scene
This is the song Michael Jackson will be best remembered for. It tells a story, and it is performed to a hypnotic beat. Michael Jacksonís vocals absolutely electrify it.
But whatís best about the song is that it is versatile in terms of the myriad ways it can be interpreted. David Cookís alternative cover was a good example.
But whatís even more shocking, is that it can work as a country song. I became convinced of it one day as I sat down in front of Starbucks on Rosedale Highway near Calloway in Bakersfield and began strumming a few chords to a country rhythm. The song, Billie Jean just started coming out of my mouth, and it flowed. Right then and there I decided to record it as a country song.
Billie Jean (unedited sample
I ran the idea by Monty Byrom of Big House who now also regularly jams with the Buckaroos at the late Buck Owensí Crystal Palace, and told me he might join me on it. He wasnít able to make it, but, I was able to work out a duet arrangement with Penny Marie as my duet partner, and Kim McAbee, Jerry Rothberg, and Theresa Spanke covering most of the backup harmony.
Just before heading out to the studio, my family and I were having lunch, and Monty called. We discussed plans to work on the song together, and when I told him more about doing the song as a country song, he really seemed to connect to the idea, even singing back a verse or two over the phone. It was at that point what little doubt remained about the song working as a country song was removed.
So I recorded it. Some have excitedly tried to convince me that my country version is bound to become a big hit, but I have a hunch an already established artist will either get the same idea (if he/she hasnít already) or hear my arrangement and get inspired to record a similar one. Then they will take it to the top of both the country charts and the pop charts, and my version will quietly sneak out the back door. So goes the story of my life J
Iíve said it before, but I donít mind repeating it, you can tell if something is simply a song or a work of art via its capacity to inspire other creative ideas. Doing this as a country song was such an idea.
Much of the credit in the way Michaelís recording turned out had to do with Quincy Jones stellar production skills. Quincy Jones was to Michael Jackson what George Martin was to the Beatles. He harnessed Michael Jacksonís raw talent and energy and packed it into 3-4 minutes of musical lightening.
Add to that the stunning, at the time revolutionary dance moves, including the moonwalk, and what you have is a truly extraordinary phenomenon.
This song transports the listener right into the very soul of the tormented individual lamenting his tale. Itís a tale of denial in which the protestor dost protest too much.
It is nearly instantly recognizable
by the thumping, busy bass groove. But much of the intensity is reserved
for when the singing begins and the story is revealed. Itís story
and a song that will be remembered for generations to come.