It’s still okay to talk about Michael Jackson’s music, right? I haven’t seen that documentary about him, and while I’ve been a lifelong fan and there’s no-one bigger than him in forming my musical taste, all that kiddie stuff now puts a sour taste in the mouth. If it’s true of course. I veer on the side of it not being true, and him just being an innocent weirdo, but I try not to be blinded by my love for him and his music. In the end, only those involved know for sure.
But I’m here to talk about his music; individual songs which I class as my favourites, and how they have impacted me. I’ve probably talked about it here before, but when I was young I never had my own copy of Thriller. Instead, I had a bootlegged/copied cassette which had somehow been doing the rounds in school, and I somehow managed to acquire a copy of that copy. One side had Bad (without Leave Me Alone) and the other had Thriller. I used to listen to both, probably on a daily basis, but as I was young and Thriller was scary, I would rewind the tape and listen to Bad more. I’ve always been a much bigger Bad fan but in recent years I’ve found myself enjoying many of the songs from Thriller more than I used to. Baby Be Mine was never a top tier Thriller song for me – the title track and Beat It were the biggies, Billie Jean and Lady In My Life were next, then Baby Be Mine and Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’. Now I rank them more or less evenly.
I don’t have any specific memories of listening to the song on its own – it’s more of a collective memory, an unease which covered the first half of the album and came from me knowing that Thriller would be coming up. So even though I liked the songs on the first half, my apprehension about the creepy song to come stopped me from fully appreciating them. That’s probably part of why I’ve never really enjoyed The Girl Is Mine, coming right before Thriller.
After the sheer funk insanity of the epic opening track, Baby Be Mine simplifies things with a streamlined disco boogie and a dark atmosphere. That atmosphere may be something I’m projecting into the song, but it’s there nonetheless every time I hear it. I love that brief jazz drum intro and the synths work mysteriously for me as I’m not usually a big fan of the instrument, and all of the hand clicks, claps, and guitars work extremely well. This being Jackson, what stands out for most people are the melodies and vocals. Jackson was at his peak here as a singer, and the song challenges even his fantastic range. He soars and shrieks and lets out a variety of tics and runs, never letting a slight growl or impure note get in the way of the performance and emotion – if it works, keep it in. Lesser artists would retake again and again to get as clean a result as possible, taking out much of the emotion and inspiration.
The digital sounding backing vocals come decades before everyone else jumped on the bandwagon, yet they sound fresher than anything in the charts today. There’s something slightly ghostly about those backing vocals – projecting again – but they do what so many backing vocals don’t do – they stand on their own. Grab the mix, remove everything else, and listen to the backing pieces – fantastic by themselves and telling their own melody separate from the main lines. Those main lines are some of my favourites from any Jackson song. I’m surprised this wasn’t selected as a single too – it’s one of only two songs of the album’s nine which wasn’t released as a single. It’s interesting how the verse melody descends at the start of the line, and ascends for the second half, with the pre-chorus extending this out with a twist. It’s the verse melodies I prefer over the more straightforward chorus, but fortuitously the bridge is also exquisite and showcases some of Jackson’s most powerful vocals. The ending is a simple disco extension of the chorus, with enough variance so that it doesn’t become tired and repetitive – another skill today’s pop artists have lost.
Lyrically, the song is another call out to a lady – the clue’s in the title – and while he is treading the same ground he had been covering throughout his career, it’s the sexy, raw delivery which heightens their potency; the guy really wants this girl and it’s tearing him apart both being with her and being apart from her. He gets right to the howling soul of obsession and lays it bare. Jackson was much more than just a singer’s singer – he knew how to inflect, how to expand and retract, how to be theatrical and how to give the extra needed punch to an individual sound or word – his love of movies and musicals training him, but his natural ability keeping it from becoming false. He was truly a one of a kind voice.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Baby Be Mine – is it a personal favourite for you, is it one you need to return to, or is it a song you either don’t know or have never liked. Try one of the links above to check out the song and share your thoughts!