THIS WEEK ACROSS TIME (Early December 2013)
Peter Kearns debuts a new regular column, This Week Across Time, about things that happened in musical history exactly decades apart.
I’M NOT LIKE other guys. That’s the catchphrase that this week 30 years ago in 1983, Michael Jackson uttered to salivating teens of both genders everywhere, ammoniating into history, that Mozzarella of music videos, ‘Micheal Jackson’s Thriller’. The album Thriller itself, then a year old, was now well into the cheddaring process, hence the success of catch weights like ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Beat It’, along with other seemingly eclectic pieces, smoothed thanks to the Quincy Jones emulsifying process. Even Michael himself was appearing to take on something of a chalky hue.
I must admit, I did buy this album virtually on the day it came out. In my defense I was 15. I had heard nothing on it, bar the duet with Paul McCartney, ‘The Girl Is Mine’, once or twice. Perhaps the song wasn’t the greatest piece on there, but it’s ironic now that they chose the duet as a likely first surefire hit single (due to Macca’s presence, I presume) as if they had their doubts. But then, the previous Off The Wall was and has remained musically superior, despite its slightly uglier under-brined and newer counterpart becoming for a long time, the biggest-selling frisbee ever.
But what do I know? My favourite track, ‘Baby Be Mine’, was the one Thriller dud that was never a single anywhere, nor even a turntable hit, that I know of. Plus it was placed in a prime position on the album, which is quite interesting. Maybe they had high hopes for it at first. The song was more of the Off The Wall ilk really, and I maintain its superiority frisbeewise.
Paul McCartney himself had a similar, somewhat shinier if lower-fi disc flying through the airwaves exactly ten years earlier in the first December week of 1973. Band On The Run, with the exception of orchestral overdubs, was recorded that year in Lagos, Nigeria, of all places. The story of the making of the record may very well have later provided Michael Jackson with a way to fleece yet another slice of McCartney’s life experience (along with the song catalogue and the girl) when he learned that Paul, while sprinting through a Band On The Run vocal, had suddenly collapsed and slowly begun to turn white. Paul could be forgiven for having a turn, not just from all the running he and his bandmates were doing, but also due to heat-related stress and fear-induced rosacea that an after-dark robbery of your cassettes on a Lagos gravel road at slingshot-point can bring.
Actually, it was knifepoint, but you could smell the ganja better in that sentence, couldn’tya? McCartney’s nameless assailants crowbarred their way into history, much as New York’s punk and new wave combos sidled their way into CBGBs at 315 The Bowery, not long after its opening just two days prior to the release of Band On The Run. Owner Hilly Kristal’s original concept of live country, bluegrass and blues (CBGB) was swiftly scuppered when, within two months, Television and The Patti Smith Group among others, became mainstays at the Manhattan club. This paved the way for the eureka brainstorm of sweat, piss, jizz and blood (SPJB) that so obviously was the antidote for that oh so despicably well-crafted Band On The Run boob that was expressing its comforting colostrum into the mainstream.
It was the end of one clean but kind of smelly hippy era, and the dawn of a slatternly parallel thread which introduced us to the concept of admission to the music biz with little or nothing in the way of substance to show, the conjoining of which ultimately led us full circle back to Thriller and its musically literate but ultimately empty excess. PETER KEARNS