*Originally written in 2004 (it goes without saying as my reviews from this period are basically one big plot reveal, but SPOILER ALERT)
Another technological feat from Hitchcock; a film which seems to have no cuts throughout. Although there are five or six, the editing is so swift that you will have trouble finding the cutting points, and the blend between each is seamless. Like other Hitchcock films where he experiments with camera work and conventional methods of filming and storytelling, it is a success and never feels as if it is the main gimmick of the film. The story and acting are all good enough to keep the viewer enthralled, and the balance between plot and camera-work is perfectly balanced, structured and adds to the overall effect of the film. In short – you can enjoy it without knowing or caring about any of the technical aspects, or for everything mentioned above.
The film takes place over the period of a single night in an apartment owned by two young men, students of Philosophy taught by the well-respected, cynical and clever Rupert Cadell. The students, Brandon and Phillip, decide to murder someone as an experiment, to see what it feels like and to see if they can get away with it. They choose to kill a friend, hiding the body in a trunk in their apartment before inviting Rupert and their other friends (including the victim’s family) over for a party. Enjoying the irony and thrill of it all at first, the pressure soon grows; Knowing jokes about death and murder are thrown around, the victim’s family and friends wonder why he is late and cannot get in contact with him, philosophical, moral and political discussions become heated, arguments break out, and Rupert becomes increasingly suspicious as the Brandon and Phillip’s behaviour gets more strange. Phillip becomes more nervous as the irony, dark humour, and pressure from Rupert grows, and eventually the horror is uncovered. The boys explain their actions and Rupert realises that to some degree he had a part in it, because of his subversive teachings. The superiority complex much talked about by Nietzsche is explored, and the boys question of whether it is right to kill another person because you feel superior is discussed with Hitchockian flair and humour.
The dialogue is typical of Hitchcock, full of dark humour and nodding sight gags such as the fact that the food is served from the trunk in which the body lies. The backdrop of the city is impressive and Dall is pretty chilling. The rest of the cast are admittedly average, but Jimmy Stewart makes up for this by giving a memorable performance, almost against type. He easily controls the screen, and we come to feel like he is superior, all the more shocking and ironic when we sense his involvement in the death and his reaction to that knowledge. A lesser known Hitchcock, but one no less worthy of catching today.
Let us know in the comments what you though of Rope!
Rape is arguably the most difficult subject to tackle on screen, never mind in literature. The horrific act is something which has long been used in stories – particularly in the visual medium – as a turning point in the narrative; the character survives and generally seeks vengeance or justice. There is a whole history, mainly in horror, of the rape revenge stories with increasingly, depressingly violent or graphic, or inexplicably titillating scenes of sexual violence which lead to further acts of violence against the perpetrator(s). Stephen King tackles the issue knowingly in his novella of the same name, from a collection which largely deals with issues relating to women or relationships. The written story is done with a level of tact and a lack of detail of the event, instead spending most of its length on the lead character, depicted before and after the event as a strong, singular women who just happens to be led into the wrong place at the wrong time. Indeed, King even acknowledges the cinematic tropes as the lead character refuses to be a victim and seeks out some of the aforementioned movies as part of her recovery, planning, and justice. The film, while it doesn’t linger on the event, shows enough to possibly put off a large section of the intended audience.
Big Driver stars Mario Bello (who is excellent in the role) as Tess – a successful crime writer who lives with her cat and the voices in her head – a device King often employs. She is invited to speak at library fan meeting and is advised to take a short cut, idyllic drive home off the beaten track by the event organiser. If you’ve seen any film in this vein before, you’ll have already connected the dots – one flat tyre and ‘helpful’ trucker later and Tess has been raped and left for dead in a sewage pipe, along with the rotting corpses of past victims. She survives, heads home, and begins connecting her own dots as she seeks vengeance.
If you’ve watched any rape revenge movie before, then you know what you’re going to get here. Thankfully this one didn’t feel like exploitation, at least to me, and the worthy cast give full-blooded performances. It’s a Lifetime TV movie so you have any idea how extreme the content will be. The direction is sound, nothing eye-catching or out of the ordinary here and the story, while attempting to offer some moderate twists in the narrative and contemplation on guilt doesn’t really offer anything new. This will be mainly for King fans, or any fans of the cast – as it stands it’s a worthwhile watch for those groups, but it’s not one you’re likely to remember or watch again.
Shia LaBeouf, eh? He’s always up to something. But before he became whatever the hell he is now he was a pretty nifty actor, always engaging and capable of carrying big budget movies. Disturbia is a movie from his prime – taking the paranoia and general plot details from movies such as Rear Window and updating them for today’s market. It may not be the classic that Hitchcock’s movie was, but it’s still and exciting and entertaining flick with an easy blend between tension, humour, and angst.
LaBeouf plays a school kid Kale whose life is turned upside when his dad is killed in a car accident – the brief introduction suggests he’s a good kid. After this incident, Kale becomes more disinterested in school, life, etc and after one of his teachers mentions the accident Kale flips and attacks the twat. All this happens just so that he is put under house arrest, rather than breaking his leg Jimmy Stewart style. He is housebound and cannot leave his grounds without the police (including a cousin of his teacher) pouncing. In the background we hear news reports of missing people and a potential serial killer, and a new family moves in next door with an enticing young daughter. Kale and his pervy best friend Ronnie give in to boredom and spend their days spying on the neighbours – watching the daughter undress, swim, exercise, argue with her parents, and another neighbour who is always bringing women back to his house late at night. As time goes on Kale meets the girl next door – Ashley, and becomes convinced that the man in the other house – Robert – is the killer from the news reports.
Like Rear Window much of the first half of Disturbia focuses on humour, paranoia, and friendship of the central characters. There is more of a romantic angle and there is the relationship between Kale and his mother to consider (though this isn’t as developed as it could have been)- the film has more going on that you may assume. That being said, it lacks the true voyeurism and style of Hitchcock’s classic, but makes up for this with pace and charm. LaBeouf makes for a strong lead that the audience will always get behind, and both Yoo and Roemer support admirably. The final stages of the film descend into a more overt horror style as the killer always seems one step ahead in a game of cat and mouse which could leave Kale, his family, and friends all dead and the killer blameless. The modern technological updates serve the story well and prove that a good idea can be both universal and timeless if treated with understanding and respect.
While Disturbia may not have you on the edge of your seat with suspense or keep you guessing and second guessing like Hitchcock’s film does, it will keep you engaged and has plenty of thrills, laughs, and excitement to entertain today’s supposedly short attention span viewers. Let us know in the comments what you thought of Disturbia.
Scrolling through Amazon Prime/Lovefilm/Netflix/Whatever, you can come across films you’d heard about many years before and somehow forgot about, or indeed titles you’ve never even heard of but which feature a favourite actor or director. With Chasing Sleep, I had vague recollections of hearing people say good things about it. It also featured Jeff Daniels, an actor I’ve always respected but who rarely gets the big hit he deserves. The blurb made the film sound interesting enough, so I decided to give it a shot in the hope that I’d stumbled upon a new favourite, similar to how I first encountered Fallen, Dark City, and a few others many moons ago.
Chasing Sleep does have an interesting premise similar to many thrillers of old – Daniels, a professor, wakes one morning to find that his wife is not in the house. After a few calls to family and friends and eventually Police, he finds out that his wife’s car has been abandoned near the house of someone she had been suspected of having an affair with. Hallucinations, guilt, cops, students, etc are all visited upon Daniels as we try to find out the truth, but it becomes clear that he is losing his grip on reality, on sanity, and that he is unsure of his own actions never mind those of his wife.
This is a very slow-burning thriller that doesn’t give the viewer too many answers, leaving the whereabouts of the wife as well as each character’s motives and actions open-ended and vague. Daniels is effective in the lead, giving a drowsy performance where he rarely strays from confused, tired, and moving in a dreamlike and passive manner. The surrounding cast do a fine job in ambiguous and minor roles, with Gil Bellows, Julian McMahon, and Emily Bergl each acting as a distraction to the steadily collapsing Daniels.
Have you seen or heard about Chasing Sleep? Is it something you would be interested in seeing or is it not something you would recommend? Let us know in the comments!
*Originally reviewed in 2014 based on a free copy provided by Amazon – buy it here!
As a big Asian movie fan, this was one I was looking forward to. However, as is often the case with, some may say, niche films, taglines and blurbs surrounding the movie are sensationalist and prone to hyperbole. I’d heard and read that this was shocking, brutal, emotionally draining, and bleak, but really only one of those terms is fully accurate, while the other three will depend on the viewer – those used to such niche films will likely not be shocked, horrified, or drained. The movie is bleak though, a dark story focusing on scum and the exploited, and there isn’t really a glimpse of light or hope throughout. It is however well made, well acted, and while I wouldn’t say there were many surprises, it did keep me thoroughly engaged throughout, and eager to see how it all ended.
The film follows a thuggish orphan who preys on the weak in his role as a debt collector. His apathy and underlying rage lead him to violence towards those who cannot pay him, and a complete lack of care for his horrible actions. Out of nowhere, a woman claiming to be his mother shows up, full of apologies, and with an eerily apathetic determination to get into his life. There isn’t much more to say about what follows – there is bonding, and the repeated recurrences of past evils, and a strong conclusion. It is difficult to feel sympathy towards any of the characters here, and I’m not sure if it was the director’s intent to ever let us contemplate feeling sympathy – maybe only the sympathy a normal ‘good’ person would be expected to feel towards someone, even a monster, who is in pain. You will likely be conflicted, but maybe that will be more down to the confused plotting and intent rather than the issues at work. It is brilliantly cold, feels very authentic, and is a brooding, dank, descent into a seedy underworld of revenge, held together by a couple of strong leading performances.
Have you seen Pieta? Where does it rank among South Korea’s other recent revenge thrillers? Let us know in the comments!
Michael Jackson, I’m sure like many readers of a certain age, was my first musical love and my most lasting musical inspiration. Having listened to him for as long as I can remember, from his youngest solo days to his Jackson 5 work, through the Bad and Thriller cassettes I recorded off a friend and listened to every day and night for years, right up until the end I have always been and always will be a fan. Making a list is personal and your choices will likely be vastly different from my own- the same goes for all the other artists I’ve done lists for.
I did a few checks online for similar lists- critics top picks are mostly the same- with songs like Billie Jean, Rock With You, and Thriller always coming out on top. Most critics look at cultural impact and chart success when writing these lists- I look at the love I feel for each song, and those tracks that I sang along to in bed on my Walkman while my parents shouted up the stairs for me to shut up- those are the ones which make the higher places on my list.
53. Workin Day And Night (Off The Wall): Even though I’m a huge Michael Jackson fan and even though Off The Wall was the first album I ever bought, I’m not a huge fan of the album, at least when compared with his other stuff. Some of the disco themed tracks are more miss than hit, but this one is suitably high paced and is liable to have you spinning around the kitchen in your socks while your dog/cat stares on, bewildered. It’s less well known than the previous tracks on the album and thus doesn’t suffer as much for me from the overplayed disease.
52. She’s Out Of My Life (Off The Wall): As for the slower tracks on the album, this is the stand out. It’s The Falling In Love and Girlfriend are fine songs, of course, but they remind me too much of the theme tune of Kids TV show Simon And The Witch. The video may be terrible but the sentiment isn’t, and though it may be seen as incredibly twee now, it comes off more agreeably than some of his later similar tracks due to his youth and relative innocence here. A very simple, subtle arrangement lets the emotion of the lyrics and vocals shine through.
51. Rockin Robin (Got To Be There): Performed by Michael, if my memory serves me well, when he was roughly 5 months old, Rockin Robin is a classic pop tune. Again, at first appearances it may seem twee and silly, but it really does rock like a 50s Berry/Holly hit- nice guitar work, fast paced, nonsensical lyrics, but with a timeless energy which will pull you onto your feet and have you embarrassing yourself in no time
50. If You Don’t Love Me (Rare): This is quite a strange one from Michael as those opening notes don’t really sound like any other song he has ever done. It was recorded in the Dangerous era but sounds like a forgotten Supremes track given some serious rock thump. Michael belts out the vocals with a growl and there is a nice leading guitar riff. The verses are catchy, but holy heavens that chorus will be in your head all day so be prepared for an ass-kicking on the train home by disgruntled commuters who don’t want to hear you whistling it for 45 minutes. Note- this has not happened to me.
49. Farewell, My Summer Love (FMSL): An undeservedly forgotten Jackson track which has beautifully realised lyrics and an emotional performance. It’s a sentiment most of us will recognise and will likely cause you to reminisce about that Summer romance you had. Again it showcases a turning point in Michael’s vocals, wavering somewhere between childhood and adulthood. A big chorus and emotive verses- what more would you want?
48. Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ (Thriller): Well, it’s just awesome really. The way the song builds in force and volume, with new sounds and instruments being thrown in more and is a testament to Quincy’s genius and a perfect example of the wonderful results when two artists who are at the top of their game collaborate. That would be enough for a great song, but through in those superb funky riffs and rhythms, bizarre lyrics, weird noises, and the fact that the song continues to grow whilst passing through various stages. Michael’s voice has suddenly matured from Off The Wall and now he sounds like a God. There are so many quality individual moments to mention here. If this was played at any picnic, funeral, work meeting, police interview, it would, without exception, have everyone dancing like a maniac and uttering mamma say mombassa and such. If they were drunk.
47. We’re Almost There (Forever Michael): This one still retains a Motown feel even though the world was going disco at the time; it has a large string section backing for the intro and chorus but it’s mainly about the power of the vocals and melodies. Michael is sounding older now, moving through his awkward teen phase, but he has no problem reaching some high notes here effortlessly.
46. We’ve Got A Good Thing Going (Ben): Going right back to his first solo album, Michael tackles quite a few mature love songs. Surprisingly most of them work well, and again that is largely down to his amazing vocals- both the sound, control, power, and his understanding of using his voice to get the correct emotions from the lyrics. It’s one of the more gentle tracks on Ben due to a mellow production but it still has a funky undertone and a hoppidy rhythm. Pleasant verses give way to a strong chorus with great backing vocal parts.
45. Morning Glow (Music And Me): Opening with a classic Motown style guitar tone on a summery riff the song starts of gently with backing pianos and a very feminine sounding Jackson. With each new verse though the vocals become stronger to give the recurring melody new depth, whilst the chorus is more like an extension than a separate entity. It does have a warm, snug, welcoming feel to it evoking images which the title suggests. The slower, choir backed ending is quite beautiful too.
44. I’ll Come To You (FM): A teen Michael introduces this with a spoken part which isn’t as cringe-worthy as some of the others, but it leads into one of the most gorgeous verses you’ll ever hear. Sumptuous arrangements in the verses lead to a booming chorus tinged with sadness and regret which Michael blasts out on the verge of tears. The vocals are interesting as you can clearly hear that he is between his child and adult stages, with moments of both styles coming through.
43. This Time Around (HIStory): Even though HIStory sold about 50 billion copies and had countless worldwide hit singles, many critics and even some fans have rubbished it away. Rubbish. Aside from the aforementioned singles there are some forgotten gems, including this. Michael is wonderfully angry here, spitting out the vocals with venom which is unusual for him but happens quite a bit on the album. Both the verse and chorus melodies are excellent and while it may not have the dense layering of some of his better known work there are great moments here and it will get your feet stomping.
42. Ben (Ben): People forget that this was an Oscar nominated song, due in part to the strong writing, but I tend to say that it is the emotive vocal performance from the young Jackson which turns a decent pop tune into something greater. The backing is fairly quiet and simple with a lonely string and vocal part echoing the sentiment of the lyrics and the movie it was written for. Indeed it goes further and hints and Michael’s whole life as the lonely megastar searches for a soul mate.
41. Is It Scary? (Blood On The Dancefloor): Ghosts saw Michael revisiting the horror genre a la Thriller, giving us both a song and a short film based on the supernatural. However, it was Is It Scary rather than the track Ghosts which stood out. Taking basically the same lyrics from Ghosts, Is It Scary gets rid of much of the electro noise and replaces it with strings, vocal ticks, and big melodies. While the verses are haunting and fitting given the lyrics, it is the belter of a chorus which you will remember. This is a sadly forgotten track which deserves to be mentioned along side his most famous singles.
40. Speechless (Invincible): Invincible was too long in the making and suffered greatly from expectation, too many average tracks, and a very dated production. The great moments are few and far between and largely the best tracks are the most simple ones. Speechless may be the most gentle song he had written and though it does veer awfully close to being too saccharine for it’s own good, the melodies and performance pull it back from the brink. A basic expression of love and being left speechless by the feelings, much of the song is Michael singing unaccompanied. Eventually some quiet guitars come in and as the song progresses we get added instruments and backing vocals growing to a crescendo. The central melody will easily get stuck in your head like many of the songs on this list.
39. Don’t Walk Away (I): Invincible’s other ballad is another exercise in simplicity, a stark contrast to much of the over production on the rest of the record and harking back to Michael’s younger days. It’s sweet, but not sickly so, honest, and has plenty of strings and melodic twists to tug at the heartstrings.
38. The Lost Children (I): Given what had been happening in Michael’s life around the time Invincible, this seems like a wildly misguided song and title choice. We know the man was infatuated with Peter Pan, but more than that he was starry eyed when gazing upon innocence and youth, and he held nothing more dear than childhood. It’s another winning soft song with a rising and falling rhythm and catchy chorus. He throws in a bridge in the middle to take the song to another level as he lets his vocals get a litter harsher. As lovely as it is, those final whispers when the song ends are scary. Little Susie scary…
37. History (H): The title track from this excellent album is filled with the hallmarks of the album- media interference, time, monumental moments, humanity’s dark side, and the decisions we make and their impact on the planet, our fellow humans, and on our own legacy. Beginning and ending with spoken media footage, all the stuff between is excellent. An angry Jackson slams his way through satirical verses before an emotional plea calms things in the chorus. The song is bitter yet hopeful, yet another trademark of the album, and like Man In The Mirror the great man suggests that we need to start with ourselves in order to truly make a difference. It helps that the message is coated in melodies as sweet as sin.
36. Whatever Happens (I): Jackson continues his tradition of inviting guest guitarists to play on his tracks, this time collaborating with Carlos Santana to give a sultry Latin saunter to the song. Santana plays fleetingly in the background for much of the song while Michael moves between growls and pleads to accentuate the desperate story being told. This is an occasionally stormy affair which recalls some of both talents’ best collaborations, though we probably didn’t need the spoken thanks at the end.
35. People Make The World Go Round (Ben): An early eco and political song for Jackson, though of course he was just reciting another man’s words more forcefully than the original author could. It definitely has a late 60s, early 70s turbulent American feel as each line speaks of some social turmoil and possible upheaval. Of course, when I was pre-double figures first listening to this the words didn’t mean a lot- it was all about how catchy the tune was and how loud I could belt out the chorus in bed at night without causing my brother to beat me. This is truly a masterclass in young MJ vocals, particularly in his final chorus as he takes things up 5 notches.
34. Morphine (BOTD): Years before Michael’s demise, his fans were fully aware of his issues with painkillers, never more obviously highlighted in this hidden masterpiece. Although the song is mostly about the media’s portrayal of him and a lot of it is him venting his anger, it nevertheless gives a lot of insight of what he was going through then and at the end. Not many MJ songs are over 6 minutes and when they are, they are usually seen as classics. Morphine unfortunately was released on Blood On The Dancefloor, an album long since ignored by the media and most fans. This really is a forgotten gem though, never more beautiful in the ‘Demerol’ section where Michael sings more softly against a tear jerking piano before explosively returning to the rage of the rest of the song. If you haven’t heard it, buy the album now.
33. Music And Me (MAM): Before everything collapsed Michael would sing simple songs about love, and few are more simple than this dedication. At barely over 2.30 minutes long it can be taken at surface value- as a gentle song about music with gorgeous acoustic and string backing, or it can be seen as a metaphor for the man’s life as a whole- few people have been so dedicated to a craft or have had their life so indelibly intertwined with their passion. It is at once life-affirming and heartbreaking.
32. Human Nature (T): This is a strange one for me- sometimes I love it, sometimes I can’t listen to it. I think that so many parts of it have been sampled so many times so badly by so many different people that it’s hard to appreciate the original now. At other times it does feel a little too light, while most other times it is another great track. And then there are those times when the mood and setting is perfect and all the good parts of the song are heightened to unbelievable limits. No matter what, I’ll always love the juddering bass and the gorgeous chorus where you can feel Michael smiling all the way through.
31. Will You Be There (Dangerous): An epic in the style of Man In The Mirror, this one seems to have been forgotten in the mists of time but the instant you hear those opening bars the memories come flooding back. The song begins softly enough with that iconic piano jingle leading some smooth Jackson vocals while a backing gospel choir gives increasing potency. There aren’t quite as many shifts in tempo and style as MITM but we do have a powerful message delivered with force thanks to the build up of the choir, the upping of the keys, and Jackson’s vocals getting ever more close to breaking. For the final couple of minutes the song softly reigns itself again with the choir fading out and some spoken words by Michael successfully not being cringe-worthy.
30. Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone (GTBT): Another early Motown cover finds Michael courting arguably the woman who discovered him by giving his rendition of this Diana Ross/Supremes hit. There are a few dodgy spoken parts but they can be overlooked thanks to the force of Jackson’s young voice throughout the majority of the song- his vocals suit the string-laden arrangement, the shoop-shoop swing is dangerously energetic, while, as to be expected, the melodies are second to none.
29. In Our Small Way (GTBT): A lot of these early tracks had spoken parts- the introduction here is not as bad as some, but it is still unnecessary. With that out of the way, every other single second of this lost gem is bliss. From the triangle notes to the jangling strings, to the backing vocals to the heavenly explosive power of some of the notes Jackson throws out here this is another symbol that the boy was going to be a world changing man; maybe some of us can follow suit in our own small way.
28. Bad (Bad): Although Thriller was released in the 80s, much of the album feels either like a product of the 70s or else some timeless moment experienced only by Michael when recording and by us whilst listening. From the opening notes of Bad though, we know that it is 80s born and bred; Those synthesized notes, those Quincy Jones noises and effects, and of course the attitude are all symptomatic of the decade; and don’t forget the video, with it’s edgy direction and subway vibe. Add on Michael’s new look and we have an album, and a song which bear all the trademarks, but none of the nonsense of a decade packed with awesome highs and blindingly awful lows in music. As the opener for the album, this is really an introduction to the new Michael- Off The Wall was a coming of age, angsty affair, Thriller was packed full of the ambition and mistakes of an early 20s youth, but Bad is the man finally coming out of his shell with clear goals in his mind, purpose, desire, drive, and an unwavering will to do things his way. Gone is the boy, gone is the teen, here is the man; and he’s Bad (good).
27. Billie Jean (T): Many people’s choice as favourite, particularly among critics as opposed to die hard fans, no list would be complete without Billie Jean. It was the turning point from boy to man for many people. Off The Wall had been an enjoyable disco album from a teenager trying to break out on his own from his older brothers, an album which was a fine solo effort but which didn’t really show any signs of promising individuality. Billie Jean showed the world that Jackson, Michael was not only here to stay, but was on the crest of some monumental waves. Non-one had seen or heard a man dance or sing like he was here, and not only is it an immediately, and eternally catchy pop song, it also has powerful lyrics. The song is drenched with importance, even more so when listened to with hindsight- it sounds like the future, the next generation piling into your living room and redecorating in their own style. A weak metaphor, but even the juiciest would not do justice to a song and a moment which was so culturally significant. At the core of it all is some wonderful bass beats, the grooviest of riffs,the aforementioned melodies, and singing which once heard would never be forgotten.
26. Who Is It (D): Another song ahead of it’s time, Who Is It sounds like it could have been written and recorded yesterday. Opening with ghostly voices before a stomping phat beat kicks in and grows, the track has strong whispered verses which serve as a stepping stone to one of the best bridge/chorus moments in pop. The lyrics seem to be about a woman cheating on a man, and they are extremely vicious, visceral, and violent for a Jackson song. Not only that, but they are delivered in a fitting manner with a snarl at one moment, and a bat-shit tear the next. Add in some excellent backing instrumentation and we have a song deserving of more credit than it has received.
25. In The Closet (D): A dubious title if there ever was one, juxtaposed (or perhaps intentionally mirrored) by one of the sexiest videos of all time, In The Closet isn’t a song which many fans or critics talk about. Look beneath the covers though and you’ll find a steamy track with a wonderfully catchy chorus, and some ravenously sexual lyrics. Most of the beats are digitized, the New Jack sounds of windows smashing and pulses, blips, and blurts all clashing together. It may be a little overlong but the repetition of the off centre verses, the sultry bridges, and that stonking chorus give a definite ‘more is more’ feel.
24. Happy (MAM): It is what says, a pleasant, happy song, and as perfect a pop song as you could ever hope to find. Effortless, melodic, with peaks in the chorus, and depth in the verses it is simple but can be enjoyed every time it is heard. With gentle string backing and innocent lyrics it is the archetypal song of Jackson’s youth.
23. What Goes Around Comes Around (Ben): Another wistful motown track made timeless by sheer perfection of melody, sound, and craftmanship. Familiar strings let the words bask freely, the words are actually quite bitter and mocking, whilst those vocals are heartbreakingly good particularly when he blasts out the song title. Turn off your radio and let your kids listen to this.
22. Liberian Girl (B): This sultry ballad from Bad feels like a steamy encounter on a balmy night during a Summer Romance. It also happens to have one of the coolest, most star studded videos ever- check it out if you’ve never seen it. The music takes a back seat in the opening minutes of the song while Michael sings about this near-forbidden love but by the end of the song Quincy and his team unleash an assortment of sounds to drag every drop of empathy from the listener and take you back to that time you spent with an exotic love. Michael waits until the final moments of the song before he hits top gear as he sings the simple, but powerful ‘I Love You, Liberian Girl’.
21. Remember The Time (D): Another decade and another star studded video, this time both visually and musically touching on Egyptian territory. He retains but restrains the harsher production of Dangerous whilst expanding on the melodic genius of Bad giving us another crowd pleasing chorus and verses which build a simple story of lost love. An effective bridge leads to a climax which sees Jackson letting out some of his best screams. He also tries to create another cultural sound phenomenon with his ‘dddrrrr up dup dup’ noises which are great but never seemed to get the same love as his ‘whoooos!’ did.
20. Dirty Diana (B): This is in many ways the natural successor to Billie Jean and I prefer this one to the Thriller classic. This one is much angrier, more bitter sexier, and replaces the funk with anguish and sub heavy metal venom. It is the tale of a star obsessed groupie who wants to sleep her way to fame and all of the temptations which come with being a touring superstar. I love the chaotic building of the screams and guitars around the 2 and a half minute mark, I love the tech noir intro, the vocals are awesome, all the sounds swirling and crashing during the final minute are excellent, the guitars made me want to pick up the instrument, and of course the melodies are timeless.
19. Scream (H): This long awaited duet between Michael and sister Janet is better than it has any right to be. Taking aim at the media and haters, the siblings are on top form here, ending each others’ sentences and following each others’ ideas fluidly. Both performers sing wonderfully here, with just the right amount of spite in their voices to sound forceful but not petty. The choruses are downplayed while the verses are some of the most funky in either singer’s repetoire- it is the bridge which contains the memorable melody here. The song still sounds futuristic today, almost 20 years later, and the video holds up well too, although I would hope that would be the case given how much money was thrown at it. To spice things up there are a few intersting moments such as the quiet spoken Janet part (and the excellent solo shortly afterwards), the swearing, and those parts where the sounds build into an explosion such as the ending.
18. Take Me Back (FM): This is a rare one which hardly anyone remembers- a genuine shame because it is arguably stronger than anything from Off The Wall; I certainly prefer this track to everything from that album. The mix of Motown and Disco is a winner and Michael’s teen vocals are gut-punchingly devastating. While there isn’t anything complex here, the mix of those two genres punctuated by the string section, the huge chorus, and the emotional way MJ sings those title words combine to make a long lost classic. For a darkly tragic twist, read the lyrics and song as a whole as Michael calling from beyond to return to life where he belongs.
17. Girl Don’t Take Your Love From Me (Anthology): One from his younger days now, a Motown ballad which is sublime and grows on me every time I hear it. I’ve been listening to this one since I was around 5 years old- here I am a few centuries later still wholly enchanted by it. The ‘no no no’ intro, the pleading , skyscraping vocals, the massive chorus, the way Michael holds those notes, the backing harmonies- even the damn spoken part all work perfectly. It’s a plain message but one which has never been more beautifully or emotionally stated.
16. Got To Be There (GTBT): Jackson’s early albums were a heady, simple mix of cheery pop, motown funk, and emotional ballads and with Got To Be There we have one of his first and best. A touching love song which should be irritatingly twee and gruesomely sentimental but somehow avoids this through vocal’s inherent skill as a vocalist and some special piece of magic which convinces you of its honesty and wins you over. It has twinkly, jangles noises, vocal filters, and everything else which should be nasty yet here we are; let yourslf be swept away by the music.
15. Earth Song (H): There was a time in the mid ninties when it looked like Michael was a lost cause, both musically and in public opinion; we had the rise of Girl Power, Britpop, and the greater evils of commercial R’n’B and Dance music. Even though History was a hit and ave us several big singles, it wasn’t until Earth Song that people were shaknen out of their complacency and false opinions as it soared to number 1 all over the globe.
14. They Don’t Care About Us (H): This was another pretty big single from HIStory and while it didn’t reach the heights of Earth Song, I generally prefer it. It’s raw, angry, it’s political without sounding either too liberal or too conservative, and it’s loud. There are some great guitar pieces and it’s all held together by a powerful, marching drum beat. Jackson pseudo raps his way through some great lyrics. It begins fairly softly, but there are added ‘glitch’ sounds in the music which signify something is broken with the system- these leap out at you and catch you off guard. As the song progresses, the singing becomes more clear and the melodies break free along with some nice harmony work. The middle section is a nice bit of chaos with atmospheric guitar and keyboard clashing together and Jackson screams for the heroes of the past for support. The song ends with a million voices joining together to tear down the system.
13. Baby Be Mine (T): When me and my brother used to beg to put the double side tape of Bad/Thriller on in the car on the long night drives home Grandparents or somewhere, Baby Me Mine somehow got lost- I don’t really remember listening to it that much. It’s only 20 years on that I’ve actually started to appreciate how amazing this song is, and as it now seems so ‘fresh’ to me it has flown up my list. Everything about stinks of cool, from that strange jazz intro, from all those different instruments coming together before we even hear MJ’s soaring vocals. In these vocals he sounds sensual, sexual, close to begging for it actually, but so convincing that I fail to say anyone turning him down. The singing is simply ridiculous- the notes he chooses, finds, holds, as well as the inflections, emotions, and hiccups he adds are spellbinding and it must go down as one of the peerless vocal performances of all time. Musically it is super funky, and once it decides to leap into my brain it has me sliding over the kitchen floor on my way from toaster to bridge looking like every Jackson impersonator. The verses are sultry, the chorus is angelic, and the subtle proddings of the various instruments mean you find something new on every listen.
12. Black Or White (D): There seem to be no other artists, certainly in my life, who have provided so many important, if not defining memories. As equally as I remember hearing about Cobain’s death after my 11th birthday, I remember the hype, the waiting, the sitting up to watch Jackson’s new video for new song Black Or White. This was a global thing which we could all get involved in- a hands across the world type event where you knew that every other kid over the country and all over the world was also probably sitting on their knees, huddled in front of the TV waiting for Jackson’s new sermon. Now of course I can run around outside throwing whoopie cushions at the neighbours (that’s what’s popular, right?) whilst shrieking about not having enough lunch breaks and plucking on a ukelele- within 5 minutes I can have that shit uploaded to youtbe to a potential audience of everyone. It’s meaningless, because every can do it. But back in the early 90s, only MJ commanded this amount of awe- not because he was the most famous, but because he was the most capable- you knew it would be good, it would be interesting, it would be a spectacle- and everyone would be talking about it.
So, as we watched the video roll on, complete with extended kick (touch?) ass ending our lives were that little bit more complete. The video had glorious CG- still some of the best transitions I’ve ever seen, it had some sort of plot, it had famous actors, but most of all it had Michael dancing and singing his new song. Luckily the song was epic too- that opening riff is heavenly and never fails to put a ‘run away from that awful man’ grin on my face. The lyrics do get a little lost under the melodies in places, and MJ lets the production and emotion take centre stage over actually what is being said- although the clear as hell chorus gets the main point across- it don’t matter if you’re black or white- sort if out racist scum, all you little scared cretins with your fears of difference- embrace it, it won’t hurt you, and you might like it!
11. Speed Demon (B): Narrowly missing out on that coveted top 10 spot is this little maestro- a fun song that isn’t really about anything but is super cool in its 80s appeal. Motorbikes were big in the 80s, cartoons were never before so popular- add them both together and we already have a winning video. Add a wonderful verse synth riff which revs and accelerates us through the song, a fist pumping chorus which subtly throws in a few minor twists, some funky keyboards, a middle section which consists literally of the sounds of changing gears and bizarre brass synth sounds- it’s all silly, but its all awesome. As an added bonus, I love the way it merges on the album into Liberian Girl, but then I’m a sucker for strong merges and transitions between tracks.
10. Lady In My Life (T): On those long night drives home, it always seemed to be this, the final song from Thriller which sent me off to sleep or was the last song just before we made it home. People always talk about She’s Out Of My Life but they never talk about this, the much superior song in my opinion. It has that atmospheric night time feel that so few songs capture- but those that do are inevitably special. You can drift away so easily to this one- the creamy vocals, the mood, the music which blends disco, funk, jazz, ballad, it all comes together to create a perfect ending.
There aren’t really any other songs like this on Thriller as most are up tempo pop smashes, while this one is happy just to lay back and say ‘enjoy, or don’t, I don’t care I’m still cool regardless’. That swirly noise which makes up the main riff, if it can be called that, would sound dated, cheesy, terrible on almost anything else, but hear it is truly special. I can’t say it is Jackson’s best ballad (there’s a few more of those to come) but it is definitely his most underrated.
9. Give In To Me (D): Around the time Dangerous was released, Guns ‘n’ Roses were the other important musical influence in my life (with Alice Cooper, Nirvana, and The Bangles propping up the list). Naturally then when I heard that Slash from GNR was playing on an MJ song it was going to, in all likelihood, be the best thing ever. At 5 and a half minutes, it is a steamy rock affair merging Slash’s riffs and solos with MJ’s tormented vocals. The lyrics are fueled by sexual desire with MJ balancing pain and pleasure in equal measure while Slash breaks out some of his best twiddling moments in his solos. It is a rare combination of verse, chorus, bridge, and all the bits in between being equally strong. One of Jackson’s heaviest songs it was still a hit and continued his string of collaborations with notable guitarists.
8. Heal The World (D): Jackson was at the peak of his powers with Dangerous, but was also beginning to fall foul of vicious criticism from all quarters. While grunge was changing the music world for the better and spinning the attitudes of many youngsters, Jackson’s message sounds at once out of place, but never more relevant – many things in the world were, and are broken, and it’s down to us to fix them. Yes, there is a terribly cheesy spoken introduction, but once the first notes spill in and Jackson unleashes one of his most pure melodies and statements, all is forgiven. There are few better crafted songs which flow so angelically from verse to chorus as if the song was planted by a force beyond our ability to understand.
7. Thriller (T): I can’t add a lot more to what everyone knows about this one so I’ll share my own stories of how I used to listen to it. When I was young I used to dread this song coming on while I listened to my double Bad/Thriller cassette. I hadn’t seen the video, but had caught glimpses of it from watching Moonwalker, and those were enough to sow the seed of nightmares in my mind. However, I was still so drawn to its brilliance, and by the fact that I knew other neighbourhood kids were scared by it and that I could enchant them by my superb bedroom cover version of it. It had enough power to get my imagination flowing that I would tell those other kids what happened during the video, with grizzly, ghastly details, regardless of the fact that I had not yet seen it either. This got me to realise the power of storytelling, the thrill of an audience enraptured by your words. I pinpoint my love of writing, my attempts at a writing career both musical and ‘literary’ (and for the sheer enjoyment of simply creating), and my undiluted love for horror movies and fiction to the moment I first listened to Thriller. Thanks, Michael.
6. I Just Can’t Stop Loving You (B): If you’ve been following my musical lists, you should know by now that I’m a sucker for a ballad. I recognise that they are cheesy, frequently awful, but when I feel they are done right, like here, they are more like a force of nature. My pre-teen self was a bit of an outcast when it came to love, likely because I spent too much time listening to MJ and imagining having a girlfriend than actually doing anything about getting one. Songs like this were the soundtrack to my heroic dreams about capturing the girl who barely knew my name, and many nights were spent falling asleep wishing that I had someone who felt the same way about me. Are those usual thoughts for a 9 year old? Naturally it’s a fantastic duet, all about melody and atmosphere, and it’s one of the best ballads ever written.
5. One Day In Your Life (ODIYL): And similar to above, this was the one I returned to most as the soundtrack to my tragic musings. This was on my Michael Jackson mix quadruple cassette, and brought me to tears on almost every listen. Nowadays its more likely to bring tears thanks to nostalgia, but it remains a gripping song of untimely sadness. I suspect not many modern fans have heard this one, but do yourself a favour. With a gorgeous string and coral backing, and one of the greatest key changes in pop music history, Jackson knocks this one out of the galaxy with his growing vocal ability.
4. Another Part Of Me (B): It may sound completely grounded in the 80s, like much of Bad, but there remains something at once futuristic, modern, and timeless to it. Maybe it’s the vocals, the melodies, the message, the songwriting, or all combined, but it holds up brilliantly today. Ostensibly a funk rock song, it’s also a pleading ballad, a song with a title which led to a billion plastic surgery jokes, a furious blending of styles and instruments, and features one of the best choruses I’ve ever heard.
3. Beat It (T): Probably the song that got me into guitars, and probably into rock and metal music as a whole, Beat It is the high point of one of the greatest albums ever, an angry judgement on misogyny and violence. There is so much I should praise here, the punched-in-the-stomach sounds, the riff, the solo, the cannot be highly enough praised vocals, the quick delivery of the verses, the superb chorus with those backing chants, the whole build up to the solo and frantic, bollock-bashing ending – excellence.
2. Man In The Mirror (B): This was always a favourite, but I’m not sure at what point it become one of my all time favourites. I think as I grew up I understood the song more, not only as a message, but in terms of writing and recording. It isn’t my favourite song of MJ’s, but I think it is his best. I would go so far as saying that it must be considered in the greatest 10 songs of all time, such is its brilliance and potency. If you get the chance to see Spike Lee’s exquisite documentary on the 25th Anniversary of Bad, I implore you to watch it, if only for the focus on Man In The Mirror. The song builds up through a succession of verses and choruses which subtly change and grow each time leading to the choir filled, epic ending. I don’t want to say anymore about it, how could I, and why should I- just go listen.
1. Smooth Criminal (B): This was probably the song I listened to most as a young Jackson fan. Aside from the music being fantastic, it was so atmospheric and imaginative that it opened my eyes and ears to a world of possibilities- why must a song only be about love? A song could be about anything, tell any story, in any way, and still be amazing. Of course, it was the soundtrack to a million daydreams about superme infiltrating evil gangs and Bruce Leeing the life out of them. It didn’t even sound like a song – that intro, all those weird sounds, it was more like a movie starring whoever I wanted. Then of course the song proper starts, and I’m dancing, sliding on my knees, wrecking the sofas, playfighting with my brother while mummy shouts at us from downstairs, then I’m outside sprinting through fields with my friends, imagining we’re in Vietnam shooting aliens with our lazer swords, and we’re swinging through trees as our bases explode behind us, and then we’re sitting outside school at lunch time wondering how the hell those guys in the video were able to bend like that and then I’m at home alone singing along at the top of my voice, and recording my awesome vocals over the top of my mum’s keep fit tapes, and then I’m suddenly twenty years older and it’s still the best thing ever. Thanks again, Michael. You never knew me, but you were mine.
As always, feel free to comment on my list and share your top 10 tracks!