In a way, recording studio always remained a sacred place to Michael Jackson. It was a place where he surrounded himself with people he trusted – people who wanted nothing from him but to help him channel his talent. It was a place where he felt safe. Fans rarely got a chance to peek into his recording studio, and it was almost entirely off limits to journalists, who, in all honesty, were never really interested in Jackson’s creative process, choosing to focus more on his “eccentricities” and private life. These candid memories shared by his sound engineers in 2009 provide a rare opportunity to learn how the King of Pop created his timeless songs and albums.
Participants: sound engineers Rob Hoffman and John VanNest, Russ Ragsdale, Bill Bottrell and Dave Way. Questions are asked by Jackson fans and other engineers, members of the board. Their names are omitted.
Rob Hoffman: I was fortunate enough to work with MJ early in my career. He was an incredible artist. Talented beyond your wildest dreams. Extremely generous, and a hard worker. I actually went from a staff assistant at the Hit Factory in NYC to freelance engineer under Swedien and MJ. They were due to start in Los Angeles when the Northridge earthquake hit so they moved to New York. One room was all Bruce, the second room was the writing room. I started assisting Bruce’s writing partner Rene Moore. I would track stuff with Rene, and Bruce would come in and tell me what I did wrong, sit in for a few hours and set us straight. After a couple months MJ arrived and the entire tour rig was moved in along with Brad Buxer, Andrew Scheps, and Eddie Delena. I continued to assist them until the whole crew moved to L.A., they decided to take me with them. I would assist Bruce during the day, and help out every where else at night – assisting, engineering, programming, and on one song playing guitar. We had two rooms at Record One, and two rooms at Larrabee where I met John. At one point in NYC we had just about every room at the Hit Factory. The crew was great, and I learned so much from all of them. I learned to engineer from Bruce Swedien, John, and Eddie, and got to sit in with producers like MJ, Jam And Lewis, Babyface, David Foster, Teddy Riley, and Dallas Austin.
I was actually asked to leave the project early on because there were too many people around and MJ didn’t know me. Luckily, I was rehired about 10 days later. At the wrap party MJ apologized profusely, and expressed his gratitude. Truly the most sincere man you will ever meet.
Some random memories:
One morning MJ came in with a new song he had written overnight. We called in a guitar player, and Michael sang every note of every chord to him. “here’s the first chord first note, second note, third note. Here’s the second chord first note, second note, third note”, etc., etc. We then witnessed him giving the most heartfelt and profound vocal performance, live in the control room through an SM57.
He would sing us an entire string arrangement, every part. Steve Porcaro once told me he witnessed MJ doing that with the string section in the room. Had it all in his head, harmony and everything. Not just little eight bar loop ideas. he would actually sing the entire arrangement into a micro-cassette recorder complete with stops and fills.
At one point Michael was angry at one of the producers on the project because he was treating everyone terribly. Rather than create a scene or fire the guy, Michael called him to his office/lounge and one of the security guys threw a pie in his face. No further action was needed . . . . .
During the recording of “Smile” on HIStory, Bruce thought it would be great if Michael would sing live with the orchestra. But of course, we didn’t tell the players that. We set him up in a vocal booth off to the side. They rehearsed a bit without vocals in, then during the first take Michael sang, just about knocked them out of their chairs.
His beatboxing was without parallel, and his time was ridiculous.
His sense of harmony was incredible. Never a bad note, no tuning, even his breathing was perfectly in time.
Once, while we were taking a break, I think we were actually watching the OJ chase on TV, there was a news program talking about him being in Europe with some little boy. I was sitting next to the guy while the news is making this crap up. He just looked at me and said this is what I have to deal with.
I spent close to 3 years working with him, and not once did I question his morals, or ever believe any of the allegations. I wasn’t even a fan then. I saw him interact with his brothers kids, other people’s children, and at one point my own girlfriend’s kids. I got to spend a day at Neverland with them. A completely incredible human being, always looking for a way to make all children’s lives better. Every weekend at Neverland was donated to a different children’s group – children with AIDS, children cancer, etc., and most of the time he wasn’t there.
He was simply living the childhood he never had. In many ways he never grew up.
I was assisting Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis while they recorded the background vocals for “Scream” with MJ and Janet. The two of them singing together was amazing. Super tight, no bad notes. One part after another. When they took a break they sang the showtunes they used to sing as kids. Again, perfect harmony. Mj refused to sing the “stop f*ckin’ with me part” because he would NOT curse.
I was the tape op for the recording of the background vocals on “Stranger in Moscow”. Scared the hell out me. Michael was dropping in and out on syllables, rearranging the notes and timing as he put it down. No Pro Tools at the time, just 2″ tape, and my punches.
I erased a live keyboard overdub that he played one night. He came in the next morning, replaced it, and never uttered another word about it.
I was there when Lisa Marie was around. They acted like two kids in love. Held hands all the time, and she hung out at the studio for quite a while. I never questioned their love for each other.
We recorded a Christmas song during the summer of ’94 that needed a children’s choir. Michael insisted that the entire studio be decorated with xmas lights, tree, fake snow and a sled for their recording. And he bought presents for everyone.
The last weekend of recording on HIStory he came to me and Eddie Delena, and said “I’m sorry, but I don’t think any of us are going to sleep this weekend. There’s a lot to get done, and we have to go to Bernie on Monday morning”. He stayed at the studio the entire time, singing, and mixing. I got to spend a couple quiet moments with him during that time. We talked about John Lennon one night as he was gearing up to sing the last vocal of the record – the huge ad libs at the end of “earth song”. I told him the story of John singing “twist and shout” while being sick, and though most people think he was screaming for effect, it was actually his voice giving out. He loved it, and then went in to sing his heart out. . . .
Later that night, while mixing, everyone left the room so MJ could turn it up. This was a common occurrence during the mixes, and I was left in the room with ear plugs, and hands over my ears, in case he needed something. This particular night, all the lights were out and we noticed some blue flashes intermittently lighting up the room during playback. After a few moments we could see that one of the speakers (custom quad augspuergers) was shooting blue flames. Mj liked this and proceeded to push all the faders up . . . .
MJ liked hot water while he was singing. I mean really hot !!!!! It got to the point that I would melt plastic spoons to test it.
Bruce and I were talking about walking to the studio everyday in NYC, and what routes we took. Michael looked at us and said we were so lucky to be able to do that. He couldn’t walk down the street without being harassed. It was a sad moment for all of us.
The studio crew got free tickets to the Janet show so we all went right from work one night. About halfway through the show we see this dude with a long beard, dressed in robes dancing in the aisle behind. I mean really dancing . . . it was Mj in disguise. Kind of like the costume Chevy Chase wears in Fletch while roller skating.
He got one of the first playstations from sony in his lounge . . . we snuck in late at night to play the games that hadn’t been released yet.
A couple people on the session hadn’t seen Jurassic Park while it was out, so MJ arranged a private screening for us at Sony.
He was a huge fan of Nine Inch Nails Downward Spiral . . . . It was amazing how he’d come in with some song he liked and want to capture something about it – the energy, the tone, the mood.
He was really into “Owner of a Lonely Heart” too. So when Yes came to town, I made sure everyone knew it, and we got Trevor Rabin to come down and play some stuff on “They Don’t Care About Us”.
That was one of the really fun parts about working with MJ. You could call anyone and get them down there. We needed a funk guitar player, and some names were being tossed about. I finally said, hey what about Nile Rogers. Michael was excited for that because they had toured together in the 70’s. Of course Nile played some of the funkiest sh*t ever . . . . however, Michael had a very specific part in mind for the song “Money”. BTW, strat into a DI, into the SSL, straight to tape. Nothing else.
Slash came over for a couple tracks. Interestingly, there was no alcohol, drugs or cigarettes on the session at all. Only one crew member smoked and he had to go outside to do it. But when Slash came MJ knew it was part of his thing. He said “let him have is alcohol, cigarettes, whatever it takes” 🙂
So we setup in another room at the Hit Factory, and Slash had his people send over the list. Jack, vodka, mixers, and marlboro’s. The drink of the day was Jack and coffee if I recall correctly . . . .
I was lucky enough over the course of 3 years to have access to the multitrack masters for tour prep, videos, and archive purposes. To be able to pull these tracks apart was a huge lesson in production, and songwriting. A chance to look into the minds of geniuses.
Of all the records I’ve worked on, MJJ was the only company to give platinum award records.
One day we just all sat in the studio listening to his catalog with him for inspiration. He loved the process, he loved the work.
John VanNest: I worked with Michael on many occasions…first in 1979 shortly following the release of “Off The Wall”, which was recorded at my old studio, Image Recording, when it was owned by its former owner, Allen Zentz.
I then spent some time in 1980 (or 81?) with Michael recording demo’s for Thriller. This was great, because it was just the two of us and whoever Michael had coming in. “John, we have Jonathan Moffit coming at 12:00, then Greg Phillinganes at 1:00…oh, and we’re recording strings at 4:00!”. Wow, what a great experience working so closely with him. I had him on the mic for some days recording vocals, and it was an amazing experience…he would be dancing up a storm while singing and doing all of those “grunts, oohs, ahhs” vocal sounds that would pepper his tracks. He asked me to take up the carpet so he could dance, and in between takes, he would sing other popular songs of the day just freestyle and acapella and we would talk about the music we liked.
Over the next year or two, I hosted the Jacksons many times, recording various tracks, claps (we had a jacuzzi room which they loved to use for the massive white-noise claps that people liked back then). I got to know all the brothers.
Bruce Swedien came back to Image Recording to record a song (or two?) for the Jackson’s “Victory” record in about 1983. Another great experience, as Bruce did (as I recall) a string quartet and (perhaps) Michael’s vocal at the same time. Bruce IS the best of all time, by the way. BEST.
I believe there were a couple of sundry Jacksons sessions over the next couple of years, but by that time, Michael was hugely popular and I didn’t see him as much. The next time was really in 1995, when Robmix and I worked on the HIStory album. Rob worked on this for quite a long time (2 years?), while I worked on it for a few months. We were all holed up in Larrabee North, where Bruce had a room (or were you guys at Record One, Rob?)…Eddie Delena was recording quite a lot Michael’s vocals at Larrabee in one room, and I was put in another room to engineer for whomever needed it…my most memorable session being some days with Dallas Austin and on one day, recording The Notorious B.I.G. for his rap on “This Time Around”. There I was, standing in a room with Dallas, Biggie and Michael. I’ll never forget it.
…It was kinda like this. Michael used to call people to ask them to participate on albums. It was interesting knowing that nearly anyone on the planet would come to the phone if it were Michael calling. Anyway, I heard rumors that B.I.G. was going to come, and I was excited about that! I knew that I would be the one to record that, as I had recorded nearly all of that tune, “This Time Around”.
So, Dallas and I were expecting him any minute, and pretty much on time, Notorious strolls in. He was quite an imposing figure when he walked in, as he was quite popular at the time. I had no idea what to expect from him in terms of attitude, but he seemed nice when he walked in. No problem. But almost immediately, he blurted out, “Yo, Dallas, can I meet Mike?” To which, Dallas replied that he thought so. Biggie went on to talk about how much this opportunity meant to him, as Michael was his hero. Anyway, Dallas tells him that we’re going to lay down the rap first, so Biggie heads in the booth, we get some headphone levels and get ready to start recording.
So, we hit the big red button (on a Sony 3348 machine), and away we go. During his first take, Dallas and I looked at each other, because it was spot on. wow. I was impressed, and so was Dallas. We listened back, and Dallas was like, “Wow, I think we got it”. As I recall, we took another take for good measure, but I’m fairly certain that we ended up using the first take. So, Notorious comes in, and asks if he can meet Michael now. We sent word to the back room where Michael was working that Biggie was finished and wanted to meet him.
Simply for security, Michael’s security would enter and make sure that no one was in the room that shouldn’t be, and once that was confirmed (it was just me, Biggie and Dallas), Michael came in. Biggie nearly broke out in tears…I could tell how much this meant to him. Well, Michael could have this effect on anyone, even the most hardcore rappers! Biggie was tripping up on his words, bowing down and telling Michael how much his music had meant to him in his life. Michael was, as always, very humble and kept smiling while Biggie just went on and on how much he loved Michael. I watched Biggie just become this big butterball of a man, and it was really very sweet to witness. After all, we are all just people.
Michael finally asked to hear what we had done, and we popped it up on the big speakers and let her go. Michael LOVED it and was excited to tell Biggie that! “Oh, let’s hear it again”, I recall Michael saying, and we listened again. Michael just loved it…and thanked Biggie for coming all the way from Philadelphia. Biggie asked rather sheepishly whether he could get a photo, and Michael agreed. A shot was taken, we listened again, and Michael thanked Biggie. Michael said goodbye and stepped out, leaving Biggie standing there looking completely stunned. It will always remain a great, great memory.
The final days of that album were made interesting, by Bruce giving me the task to sequence the album and edit it down to a size that we could fit onto a CD. This was no small undertaking, as about 7 minutes needed to be trimmed somewhere. I laid this all out in Sound Tools and came to know every bar of every song very intimately. I found places where songs could be tightened up and came up with many suggestions. On the night of mastering, I was put in a room at Bernie Grundman’s with my Sound Tools rig, and in this room, I would have to “negotiate” with Michael about what to take out. I’ll never forget this night…Michael came in, and Bruce told MJ that we would have to remove either 1) one whole song or 2) edit the others to fit onto a CD. We chose the latter…I started with song one and played Michael my edits, “Oh no, we can’t take THAT out…it’s my favorite part of the album!”. OK. Let’s try another, “Oh no, we MUST keep those four bars”. OK…let’s go to the vamp, which carries on for two minutes…how about removing these eight bars, “Oh no, that’s my favorite part of the vamp!”. Well, you get the picture. Meanwhile, Jimmy Jam was in with us, telling Michael that all these edits were killer and actually make things better. And over the course of about 5 hours, we got it down. By this time, it was probably 3:00am, and I was wiped out. Bruce walked in…”Okay, John, I want you to make all these edits on the 1/2″ masters right now!”. My first thought was, “You’ve GOT to be kidding!” I had used some crossfades in Tools and such, plus I was worn out from “bartering” with Michael. But, into Bernie’s room we went, and with Bruce over my shoulder, I cut the 1/2″ tapes. As I recall, this took a couple of hours, and we were done. By the way, video footage of my “bartering session” with Michael exists, although I was never able to get a copy. Perhaps someday!
After that album’s completion, we were all invited to The Neverland Ranch with spouses and kids for a day of fun, with Michael as our host. What a memorable day that I will recount in another post…
Oh, and one more IMPORTANT thing. I have never worked with a nicer man than Michael. He was gracious, talented as all get-out, gentle, humble, a perfect gentleman, never swore, was healthy, punctual, and just the very sweetest person I could have ever hoped to work with. Oh, what a brilliant star he was! Absolutely, gone too soon.
I`m surprised to hear he was so much of an arranger/composer/producer in his own right based on the “hands on” experience he had with the music as told here. If I may …. could you fill us in on just where all that brilliant writing and arranging came from on the collaborations with Quincy? I too was blown away by those records but being a bit of a jazz snob at the time, assumed that the greatness of the musical architecture of those songs was due to Quincy`s talent and experience as an arranger since Count Base and beyond. After reading this great thread ….I`m left wondering ..Did Michael play a part in the hornlines,basslines,breakdowns ….all those great modal keyboard/vocal ideas …etc.? It`s really very jazz oriented if you take away the sonics. Almost has a Gil Evans vibe. And if MJ did indeed help to construct the songs in this way … Did he choose not to do this any more after Quincy .?..because at least I (superficially I admit) don`t feel the same musical flavor of “depth” ( at the risk of being judgemental) in later stuff … “Black or White” for example. Without speculation, I thought some of the people who witnessed and/or participated in the process could shed some light on this …thanks, Paul
Rob: I can’t speak to Thriller as I was just 12 then.
But I did get to work with Quincy and Rod Temperton a bit on “Q’s Jook Joint” so it was interesting to study their musicality and MJ’s separately and try to put the puzzle together. I would ask them and Bruce questions all the time. Hopefully John will have some input. Quincy and Rod are obviously seriously talented. Put the 4 of them together and its the dream team.
During History MJ did indeed come up with many of the arrangements for his songs. Sometimes the producer would present a track to Michael, like Scream or Too Bad. It might be a groove, or a pretty finished track. Scream was a relatively finished track, music only. This Time Around was also pretty finished musically but Bruce added a bridge too it. You Are Not Alone was kind of a basic R&B groove with a verse and chorus. The rest of the arrangement came from MJ, and lots of overdubs by Steve Porcaro with programming by Andrew Scheps. I like to think R. Kelly’s subsequent success with ballads came from watching what MJ did with his initial track idea.
If you listen to the bridge of Too Bad, the entire horn thing was Michael’s idea. He had Jerry Hey come in, and sang him all the parts. Jerry went away, arranged it, and came back a bit later to track it. Rene asked me to make it less “real”, so I processed it through various filters (the minimoog for one), and sampled it on the MPC, then layered that over the top of the original horns.
I think very few people realized how deeply MJ was involved in his records. He had an incredible music vocabulary – from showtunes to jazz, and whatever was on the radio. He studied, and I think you can hear it in his music. There’s lots of speculation as to why he didn’t work with Quincy after Bad, but I can’t really offer anything new there.
About the same time MJ was working with John at Image they were also doing stuff at Westlake. I remember sitting around the office talking with Matt Forger plenty of times and Matt saying “I’ve never seen anyone with this kind of work ethic and skills”.
Rob: Michael and Bruce were both nostalgic, and maybe a bit superstitious. We needed to add choir to a couple songs while we were in L.A., so they immediately said it had to be recorded at Westlake D, where “Man in the Mirror” was recorded. Bruce sent me over there with his prized M49’s. Everyone on the session was like” he know he’s never let them out of his sight, and no one has ever put them up or taken them down but him”. Yes, I was scared . . . . . Unfortunately, they crapped out on us halfway through the session, and we had to switch to C12’s. But both sets of mics were put through Bruce’s 1084’s. No compression of course to 2″ tape. We always set up Andre Crouche’s choir in a circle, the mics in the center in omni. I think Bruce has detailed his choir setup on GS before.
Now hold on there…..not so fast big guy. Nulling tests….that’s exciting stuff!!!!
In the spirit of gearslutz, a short gear story . . . . .
For the song “HIStory”, MJ, Jimmy, and Bruce wanted to have all the elements available at mixdown, no submixes. Unfortunately the song was spread out over four 48 track digital tapes. There was programmed tracks, live stuff, orchestra, choir, Boyz to Men, etc.
So over at Larrabee, they setup one SSL as the master console, and the second as a submixer, feeding the first through busses and tielines. Choir and orchestra in the backroom, main elements in the front room. The problem is no one had ever DASH locked four 3348’s. So they call Sony, and Sony says “we don’t know, we’ll have to call you back”.
In the meantime, Andrew Scheps figures it out on his own. The dude is a serious rocket scientist !!!!!
A couple hours into the session Sony calls and says “Sorry guys it’s impossible. You can’t DASH lock four 3348’s. We didn’t think anyone would ever need to do it”.
What great stuff, thanks so much for keeping it coming!
Interesting that the work and devotion that was put into this music are what seem to be the elements so lacking in current music, at least what is being played to the young masses.
Rob: I don’t know that many people would ever have the patience or work ethic to create the records that MJ did. We’ll never have the budgets again that’s for sure. Michael would casually say he wanted to hear some new snare sounds tomorrow, and we would stay up all night sampling every drum machine we could find into the MPC and EIIxp’s. Literally hundreds of custom snare samples at his finger tips. Same with kick drums. Matt Forger and Andrew made many DAT’s full of percussion samples – wood, metal, kitchen utensils, tools, which were all sampled into the EIII’s. Bruce would sit for hours trying different snare sounds from his own MPC library. One day in between MJ projects Bruce and Rene rented a pile of snare drums for a custom library.
There was this constant pursuit for “sounds the ear has never heard” as Bruce would say.
You can’t beat that kind of sweat equity . . . .
you know, there were a few days during the mid 90s when i tried to rent various gear – samplers, neve pres, mics, etc – and i remember (i believe) toy specialist or dream hire telling me michael jackson’s crew had rented almost everything in their gear inventory for weeks (or was it months, even!?)…that bastard was gobbling up all the gear in nyc, for cryin’ out loud
…(i kiDD, michael ).
Rob: I believe it !!!! Certainly for keyboards we were flying stuff to NYC from all L.A., and guys on the session were buying stuff all the time. Towards the end MJ and Bruce had me call all the synth companies and, using their names, ask if they had any prototypes or new stuff that wasn’t out yet. Yamaha sent the VP1 which was never released, and we had an early Wavedrum from Korg. I think at one point we had every outboard Neve 1073 in NYC.
Rob, when Michael Jackson reached the stage of his career that was past all the energetic highlights of the 80’s, the “lull” or whatever you might call it, how did you process that?
That ‘here was a guy who burned so brightly that he’d consumed all his fuel’? That the arc of his creativity and adventurousness had played out, he’d left a stunning legacy and that is enough for any one life? That somewhere he’d lost connections, ran out of songs to play?
Rob: I felt like the spark was still there on HIStory. I think some of the songs on that CD are as great as anything he ever did. Certainly they’re more personal. And, as I wasn’t with him prior to that I had no personal connection to the earlier records. I’ve said it before, I wasn’t really a fan until I worked with him. I was much more interested in working and learning from Bruce. Once I met MJ and worked with him I started to enjoy what he did.
How much did MJ get into the gear and production aspect of the recording process? (After all this is GS)
ie did he have a favorite go-to mic / preamp /comp? Did he get into the decisions of vocal chain or mixdown vocal effects? The stories of things he had purchased at his estate are of course legendary, but was he much of a gear collector?
Rob: He pretty much left that to the engineers. But, once in a while he’d pull out some random memory about a sound he liked and request something. He had me and Matt Forger looking for an OB-1 at one point. I think he tended to associate musicians with certain sounds, and pretty much ignored the gear.
MJ was a hero of mine, one of my major influences and reasons I sing. Did MJ actually play any instruments, or was his voice the way he communicated his musical ideas?
Rob: I actually have a good story about that. Michael wanted to write with David Foster, so we setup this incredible writing rig in the live room of Hit Factory studio 1. MIDI’ed yamaha grand, David’s favorite synth modules, rugs, couches, vibe for days. We all cleared out but Andrew Scheps stayed in the control room just to make sure things were cool. They bounced ideas back and forth, but at one point David wasn’t getting the chords MJ wanted to hear so he said “you play it”. Michael said “I can’t, I’m a terrible piano player”. David said show me anyway. Apparently after a few minutes of plinking David stopped him, and said “you really are terrible.”
I heard that he played drums very well but never witnessed it. Other than that he sang, danced or beatboxed every part he wanted to hear.
John: By the way, some have asked about Michael’s writing and/or production skills, and I’ll say this. I recorded and mixed his demo recording of “The Girl is Mine”, and I saw him tell each player what to play…yes, sometimes this took some searching, because he wasn’t fluent in music-speak, but eventually, the musician in question would come up with what Michael was hearing in his head and Michael would exclaim, “YES, that’s it!”. We even recorded a string section on the demo (roughly 12 players, as I recall. Perhaps 6 violins, 2 second violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos?). The final mix I did of that demo was released (I believe) last year on a German MJ release of some kind…I’ll try to get a copy, because that demo was pretty much spot on to the final Quincy Jones production of that song. String arrangement and all, it was nearly identical. So, that one was pretty much a Michael arrangement. He couldn’t really play an instrument, but he definitely heard the music in his head and would ask others to actually identify what he was hearing. He knew what he was doing totally!
Is there any recording of his beatboxing?!
Rob: You can hear it on his tracks. I know it’s on “Too Bad”, and “Tabloid Junkie”. The most prominent would be “Stranger in Moscow”.
Man…those sound like a drum machine. Very very nice processing (and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was hardly any processing on them)
Rob: The “stranger in moscow” track starts with MJ’s beatbox by itself. Andrew Scheps spent some time dropping the original beatbox into the synclav and chopping all the middle bits out. I can’t remember if it was from a micro-cassette or not, but there was lots of background noise. Not much processing after that.
On tracks like “Tabloid Junkie” and “Too Bad” there are beatbox loops all over the place. Either things MJ had sung into a micro-cassette or during vocal takes. Again, very little processing beyond chopping and looping.
What kind of tape did he use? Just kidding, just kidding.
Rob: I like that !! Ideas with Michael came so quick that we had many micro-cassette recorders in every room so that pretty much every thing he said was recorded somewhere.
John: By the way, I agree with Rob that there were some great musical pieces on HIStory. It was a bit of an odd project, as (I believe) it started out as a greatest hits package, with (presumably) a couple of new numbers, but along the way, Michael got inspired to make it a two disc project, one being greatest hits and the other being new material (Rob, since you were involved much earlier than me, please correct me if I’m wrong here).
My favorites on the album were Stranger in Moscow (one of MJ’s greatest tracks of all, in my opinion), Smile, Money, Earth Song, They Don’t Really Care About Us and the title track. Speaking of the title track, HIStory, there is one kind of special thing about that for some of us. At Michael’s request, Matt Forger, another engineer working on various parts of the project, put together an aural collage of all of us reciting various famous dates in time. One by one, he would grab us with his portable recording rig and give us two or three lines…I’ll have to listen to the record to remember what my lines were, but when you hear those voices, they were actually spoken by all the people working on the album. So, I must say it’s an honor to hear my own voice on a Michael Jackson record, along with the many others who worked on the project.
I ran into a person yesterday who had been working on some of the technologies for the upcoming live shows and said they were groundbreaking and amazing. It’s totally like Michael to always keep pushing for better, better, more, bigger, better! CNN is now running a clip of recent rehearsals for the show, and while Michael doesn’t seem to be in total performance mode, it makes me sad that the show didn’t go on as planned. I think it would have been tremendous.
Rob: That’s correct. What was a few new songs turned into a whole CD. We cut about 40 songs to get the 14 that are on there.
Do you guys have an personal pics or video of you guys working with Michael or some outtakes of tracks that you were able to keep for sentimental reasons?
Rob: There were no cameras on the session, and all tapes were closely guarded, and delivered to MJ’s vault when the record was done.
Could you please tell us about They Don’t Care About Us and how the drum track came about. Also on the single mix there is added drum programming that isnt on the album version.
Also where new lyrics dropped in to replace the words ‘Jew’ & ‘kike’ that people thought were controversial or were just sound fx added to mask the words? What made those sfx too please?
Also the intro to the title track HIStory had a new mix done to it later. Can you tell us more about that please?
Rob: I just fired up my HIStory DAT from 1995, and it still plays !!!!!!
“They Don’t Care About Us” was a song that MJ had written a long time ago, and it got resurrected on every album from what I heard. We finally got it right on HIStory. It was basically a click track for the longest time with Michael and Brad adding new percussion elements everyday, and Andrew and I building sample libraries for it every night. Sticks, claps, snares, hits. Basic groove was started on the MPC, the rest of the perc was EIII and EIIIxp. Brad’s 909 is the main kick. Some of the crazy fx sweeps and sounds were added at the very end by Chuck Wilde. The bridge of that song is crazy. We had tons of programmers and guitar players come in and everyone filled up their own 24 track tape with overdubs – Jason Miles, Jeff Bova, Trevor Rabin, Slash, and many more. Poor Eddie had to sit with MJ towards the end of the record and go through it all just so it would fit on the master 3348 tapes. Here’s where my guitar credit comes in. Apparently after Trevor and Slash played their parts, someone realized they had played the wrong notes on the main bridge riff. They pulled me in to replay it. I prayed every time they recomp’ed the bridge tapes, and it survived until the end. Thus, my first guitar credit on a record is with MJ !!!
The extra groove stuff was added for the video concept I believe.
The “offending” lyrics were cut and effects placed in their place after the press got hold of it. Funny, I’m jewish and listened to the song for over a year, and was never offended.
Not sure about the new mix to HIStory that was done later. . . .
Always did You use programming drums or sometimes You did record real acoustic drums on this record, I mean HISTORY ?!
Rob: it’s all programmed. . . . . except “Earth Song”. That track was started before HIStory by Bill Botrill.
How long took You whole process from beginning to get one finished track, mainly ?! Thank You !
Rob: They had started some things on the road. Nothing was really finished early and left alone. Jam and Lewis, and Dallas came in after about 1 year, so those were the quickest tracks, maybe 4 or 5 months. But the majority of the tracks were worked on over the entire 18 months.
Did MJ left any songs unreleased (unheard) from that sessions ?! If they are, are many ?! Thank You !
Rob: many, we worked on about 40 tracks. Some of which showed up on Blood on the Dancefloor.
I’m sure he’s got a lot of unreleased material . . . .
May I ask what is on your DAT of HIStory? Is it a final mix of the album?
On This Time Around, Michael says ‘Shit’ which as was noted ealier Michael doesnt swear and is one reaons why Michaels studio name of Smelly came about. How is it then he came to swear on this track?
Can you tell me please some info on the song Little Susie which is mostly orchestra. Its a very dark song. Unlike anything we’ve heard from Michael. Any info on the intro of the song?
BTW do you what some of the other tracks the were being considered for HIStory but ultimately werent chosen?
Rob: My DAT is just an unmastered backup of the mixes. Nothing significant. Not sure why I even have it.
Not sure who got MJ to say sh*t. It is a rarity !!!!!!
Little Susie was originally recorded with orchestra (which I believe Geoff Grace arranged), then later revamp’ed and re-orchestrated by Steve Porcaro. I think after the track was done MJ decided to change the key or tempo. Not sure which. So Steve was called in to redo it – all synths this time !!! With Andrew Scheps doing the programming.
The music box is a sample Andrew and I made. We bought a bunch of music boxes, tore them apart and created a sample set in the EIIIxp. DPA 4006 into 1084 if I recall correctly. Brad Buxer then played the part in the intro. Little girl was called in to hum the melody of the music box. Door opening and footsteps were foley.
To Rob: Did you have the chance to work on “Tabloid Junkie”? (please say yes… lol). Tabloid Junkie and Jam are my favourite tracks of all time.. and I’d love to hear anything you can remember about recording Tabloid Junkie, if infact you did during the sessions. I know Bruce and Riley worked on Jam in 1990..
Rob: I worked on “Tabloid” a very little bit. Jimmy brought that track in mostly finished, and he did the vocals with MJ. I think Andrew was in the room for a lot of that stuff. The news announcer is indeed Andrew !! Somewhere on this thread someone asked about MJ’s beatboxing – there are some great examples on that track. The most fun we had when Jimmy was around were the great games of H.O.R.S.E. Whenever we had time we’d all be outside shooting hoops.
By the time “Tabloid” was brought in I was mostly with Bruce all day, and Rene Moore at night. “Jam” was before my time, but it was Bruce and Rene who wrote it, and who I worked with a lot during and after HIStory.
Ive heard that Michael played guitar on D.S. is this true and did Michael tell you about how he was really saying “Tom Sneddon is a cold man” (DA who tried to get Michael) but then masked that fact by calling the song D.S. (Dom Sheldon). I believe thats why he put those lyrics in the HIStory album booklet with the lyrics Dom Sheldon to try and hide that fact so he wouldnt get sued.
Also can you tell me a little about how Michael does background vocals and over dubbs because his harmony’s are incredible.
Rob: D.S. ?? I’ll leave that one alone . . . .
He simply stacked his harmonies one by one. No autotune, no editing. That’s just what he does. Incredible.
About the beatboxing – any information about the recording chain and the processing aplied? I would have guessed (at least additional) drum samples have been used, it just sounds so punchy and rich.
Rob: There’s a few spots on the record where the beatboxing is alone, with no processing or layering (Stranger in Moscow intro comes to mind), but a lot of the time we would simply grab little half bar loops, and layer them into the groove. Punchy and rich ? That’s just Bruce !!
What kind of hair gel did Michael use? What food did he eat in the studio? What cologne did he wear?
Rob: Not sure as he wore his signature hat most days. He generally ate sushi (with a lot of wasabi) when he ate at all. He did wear cologne, but the brand escapes me. . . . .
Rob – you’ve described, in detail, how you mix Christina Aguilera BVs,
so it would be really interesting and helpful to know some of the BV mixing techniques for MJ.
techniques which probably seem obvious to you, Rob, might be eye-opening to many here – from tracking O/D methods to dynamics, eq and processing.
obviously, having the right part-writing / arrangements is key – no doubt!
…along with the brilliant rhythm, musicality and performance of a singer like MJ.
were there backing vocalists he worked with regularly?
thanks again, Rob!
Rob: So much of what MJ did was simply about incredible arrangements, his vocal talent, and the magic of Bruce. There are no real secrets about it. Bruce has been known to not process stuff a lot. It’s all about balance, subtle EQ, and great reverbs (EMT 250, EMT 252, and TC M5000). Very little compression if any. In most cases all the bg’s were sung by MJ. “Money” has a couple extra guys, “Scream” is MJ and Janet, “HIStory” has Boyz to Men, and I think the rest of the record is all Michael.
The vocal chain was generally the same – C800G into the 1084 followed by the silver face 1176 set to 20:1 to just knock off the peaks. The “money” Bg’s were Bruce’s fet47’s into the same chain. “Scream” bg’s used the C800g again. I wasn’t in the Boyz to men session but for some reason I think it’s an AKG The Tube. They were cut in the front room at Larrabee with Jimmy. If not, it’s a C12 or the C800G again.
As far as MJ singing BG’s, all those mouth noises, foot stomps, finger snaps, and claps are in the BG tracks. By the time Michael is done with backgrounds you’ve got a whole extra percussion ensemble going. As Bruce has said before, he leaves it all in.
Would Bruce or any of you guys do the mixes for Michaels live performances which were always different to the album version and can you tell me more about extended mixes and which ones get chosen for extended version etc please?
Rob:We would recall Bruce’s mixes exactly. Then start dumping the processed tracks into Pro Tools, usually in stems. From there we would create extended mixes for the live show based on input from MJ, Brad (the musical director), and sometimes the choreographers. From my experience the songs that were extended were chosen by MJ and the choreographers.
Quincy Jones also said that Michael prefered working in the dark, alone when singing emotional material. Did you see this?
Rob: The studio was always really dark, when Michael was around. Very little light, we could barely see the gear sometimes 🙂
So when Michael was working on the short film Ghosts which was around the HIStory era, I remember seeing Brad Buxer I think working with Michael who had musical fx and the rhythm for 2 Bad on his keyboard and any ideas that Michael had Brad would come up with there on the spot. Is all the info from the studio dumped into this one keyboard?
Did you guys work on any tracks for the video of Ghosts cuz there is a rare version of it that doesnt have the completed music yet for Ghosts and Is It Scary.
Rob: I worked on all the tracks for the short film with Brad and Eddie Delena. We were at Record One in Sherman Oaks while they were shooting. MJ and the choreographers would phone in changes and we would run them up to the set. At one point Brad setup a keyboard rig on the set to provide additional inspiration, and in some cases music Michael wanted to hear while shooting that wasn’t recorded yet. We built a few sample sets made up from actual sounds on the record, as well as some new foley samples we recorded with the dancers at what was then Royaltone studios in Burbank.
Michael loved the song ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ by Yes and it was sampled in the song D.S. Maybe Im not listening properly but I cant hear it. Is it the Orch Hit? Can you please tell me more about that?
Also do you know any details about Michael’s own studio @ Neverland?
Rob: That is the orchestra hit from “Owner of a lonely heart” . . . . .
Never saw the studio at Neverland. We had a party there after HIStory, but as far as I know there was no studio at that time.
You talked about sequencing HIStory, and recording over 40 songs for this project.
Did some songs make it in the “final cut” at the last minute ?
There was a rumour about Come Together replacing another song at the last minute : is it true ? If so, what song was it supposed to be ? (is it “Face”, or maybe “Fear” ?)
Did the sequencing of the album change a lot ? Was Scream always intended to be the opening track, and Smile the last one ?
Was Michael adament about the 77:07 length of the album (Dangerous, HIStory and Invincible are all 77:07 long) ?
Rob: I can answer a couple of those. We were getting a lot of pressure from Sony to be done. So at one point we had a meeting with Bruce, MJ, and the core production team and decided on the songs to be finished. That was maybe a month or so before we finished. There was nothing last minute, though “Come Together” was added late in the project. To my knowledge there weren’t any songs called Fear or Face, unless they were personal titles that MJ had in his head.
I believe the 77:07 is simply the maximum time allowed on a CD.
John may have more insight into the rest of your questions.
John: As I mentioned, the “negotiating” session that I had with Michael at Bernie Grundman’s Mastering was simply to pare down what we had…perhaps 83:00 minutes of audio or so, as I recall…down to whatever was allowable on CD at the time. Surely, there were no songs that “made the final cut at the last minute”. Bruce gave me the running order and copies of all the songs perhaps two weeks prior to mixing. I spent time making lots of test cuts, so I’d have options for Michael.
I did forgot to mention one thing upthread; as I did mention, Michael really didn’t want to cut anything, and some of it was a given to my thinking…perhaps there would be 10 bars of just a drum beat/loop. I would suggest cutting it down to 8 bars or even 6, and Michael would immediately comment that each bar was imperative. As I also mentioned, Jimmy Jam was there, offering me support and telling Michael how much better things were tightened up a bit. But Michael was really not budging. What saved us all was Bruce coming in, appearing somewhat as an authority figure and simply telling Michael that I either had to make the cuts or we would have to cut one song off the album…the CD format was simply not capable of handling 80+ minutes. Thankfully, it was Bruce’s matter of fact delivery that Michael could choose to leave one song off and/or make edits. From that point on…we knew we had a job to do, and we eventually got the audio down just low enough that it would fit on CD.
It is doubtful that Michael had any interest in achieving some particular running time. It was a really fun night, and I’m really hoping to get the video footage from it someday for keeping within my family!
It’s been a very sad day, with the Memorial Service and all. But one thing I am heartened about…I feel that the overall coverage of Michael’s passing has been much more focused on the many positives that he brought; the music, the voice, the dancing, the charity work, etc etc and much less on the eccentricities about which so much is written. The Michael that Rob and I knew was a tremendous person, polite, humble, and certainly a person who constantly strove to better his art. Also, he was really nothing at all like the person portrayed in the press, at least on a human level. I believe that the world is much worse off for losing him.
I’m stunned that Earth Song was recorded for Dangerous, yet somehow didn’t make it on to that album. I wonder what the reason for that could have been. That song is my personal all-time favourite MJ song, as well as his biggest ever hit in several European territories, including the UK.
Rob, back when HIStory was supposed to have been a greatest hits package with a few extra songs, do you know which extra songs were planned for inclusion at the time?
Rob: That’s actually hard to remember. I know “Stranger in Moscow” was one of the first that we worked on, as well as “Too Bad”. “They Don’t Care About Us” was early on, and I think “D.S.” and “Money”. But to my recollection, at least in the sessions, there was no talk of which were going to be included on the original greatest hits concept.
I wanna know who came up with the keyboard-part in Human Nature.
MJ? Gregg Ph? I wish I did…
John: I’m guessing Steve Porcaro, who co-wrote the song…he’s a brilliant keyboard player.
Rob: Yup, probably Steve. He and I have talked about Human Nature, and I believe the MJ final is not far off his original demo, even the vocal delays he had on the PCM-70 are in the mix.
I think I read a message from Bruce somewhere on the internet, where he said Michael sang an immaculate version of Smile, live with the orchestra (it was confirmed on this thread), but even though it sounded perfect to everybody, Michael was not completely satisfied with he result, so he apparently did a few more takes.
Aside Notorious BIG’s rap on This Time Around, are there vocals on HIStory that are first takes ?
What were Michael’s easiest and toughest vocal recordings on this particular album ?
How many takes would he generally need ? (I’m not talking about backup vocals)
One of his recent producers (Will.I.Am or Akon, I can’t remember) said Michael would practice his voice for 3 hours before a session. Back in the day, did he have a vocal coach in the studio, and did he warm up that much before he sang ?
Rob: Michael did a bunch of takes live with orchestra that would be called amazing by most standards. He then did more later that day, and I think some the next as well. In all I think there were 14 takes of Smile.
I don’t recall any other “first take vocals”. MJ was a perfectionist, and he would always keep singing. I’m sure pieces of a first take made the final comps, but couldn’t be sure which songs and where. He would sing until we were out of tracks. . . .
MJ would always have Seth Rigs to warm him up before he sang. I don’t recall how long it was, but it was an extensive warm up.
As a huge Michael Jackson, just wanted to say a massive thankyou to both robmix and Resonater for sharing your stories and experiences. I have one question that I don’t think has been covered up til now. I’m fairly meticulous in collecting the various (official) Remixes done and was wondering if you guys were privvy to any stories. Did Michael have any favourite Remixers that he mentioned, was he particularly fond of any one of the many done for him?
I’ve heard many stories from Sony’s A&R at the time, Frank Ceraolo. When the mixes for “In The Closet” were turned in, MJ wanted to know why Frankie Knuckles and his crew titled it “The Mission Mix”. So the A&R, Frank, asked him, and FK talked about the struggle he had to get the vocals to fit a house tempo.
Hani’s “Earth Song” started off life as something he did for fun. Frank Ceraolo heard about it, contacted him, told him to not bootleg it, and then worked on getting it approved. Frank was also on XM Radio on the Friday after MJ’s passing talking about the “Remember The Time” Remixes, and how when Steve “Silk” Hurley played his Remix for him, the hairs on his neck stood up and he was so happy because he knew this Remix would help Michael out so much.
Thankyou once again for sharing your memories, especially the technical aspects. Really wonderful for fans to read, and if there’s any stories you have around the Remixes I’d love to hear them.
Rob: I actually made the sample DAT for Hanni of the “Earth Song” tracks. That order came down from the label, so I’m not sure what Hanni was working on before that or if there was a bootleg version in the works. I also sat with David Morales’ engineer at the time to make sample DAT’s and multi-tracks for remixes. MJ never mentioned any remixers in the studio, sorry.
Michael was credited with playing guitar and percussion in the album credits for HIStory. I’m nearly certain that this is for the then-new material, as he had never been credited with playing guitar on an album before HIStory. Did you ever see Michael play guitar during the recording? It’s shocking to see his name there because 1. He’s never been known to play guitar and 2. Just look at the names who played on the record!
I’m also interested in the bit that credits him with string arrangements. That takes a lot of technical expertise. Can you shed any light on what role he played there? Any idea what songs/parts he played on or arranged?
(Album credits here)
Rob: I never saw him play guitar, but he might have. . . . . He did play percussion. Usually sticks on the floor and other surfaces.
He had a hand in all the string arrangements. He would sing the parts to Brad Buxer usually, and Brad would sequence MJ’s ideas before it went off to Jeremy Lubbock or Bill Ross. He might not have known what he was asking for technically, but he had the parts in his head.
Russ Ragsdale: Thanks Rob for all your great stories and for taking the time. This is the best thread I’ve seen on any of the forums, thanks.
Since Michael’s death (gosh that’s hard to say) I haven’t watched much of the news or listened to any of his music, but did attend the memorial service at a local movie theater in Nashville and watched it on the big screen. What a great feeling it was to be surrounded by people who hurt as bad as I did for 2 hours and hear the music blasting in the theater.
The TV news interviewed me and I got my picture in the paper, nice items to add to a box of MJ stuff I keep.
I’ve got some great stories too … and they will be told in Bruce’s upcoming book. I worked on the “BAD” album and was around Michael for two years, and got to know him pretty well. Back at the time, we didn’t have a musical director, it was just Michael, Bruce & Quincy and the rest of us were family. Bruce’s book has been a couple years in the making, I’m sure the release was planned to work off of the publicity of the tour, not the unfortunate circumstances we’re all dealing with now. Oh and no there wasn’t a cage at Westlake for Bubbles, but I did play with him a lot.
I’ve got a session about to start, so I need to sign off for now, if anyone has any questions from the “BAD” era, I’ll be happy to talk about it and some of my wonderful memories of MJ, Bruce and Quincy. They changed my life.
I’ve always been extremely impressed with Michael as a songwriter (an area where he’s criminally underrated). When writing the chords, would he always sing them out note-by-note? Would he ever name the chords? Did he know the names of the chords? Play them on an instrument? Many of Michael’s songs are not simple I-IV-V songs, and there are more than a few “exotic” chords and progressions in his compositions that bespeak some technical harmonic knowledge. I can’t imagine composing some of that harmony by ear–but is that really how it’s done? If so, wow…
And one more thing….what was the song you mentioned that MJ wrote overnight?
Rob:I don’t think he knew the names of notes or chords. At least I never heard him name them. I think the “exotic” chords or progressions are probably due to the arrangers trying to harmonize MJ’s melodies if he didn’t have an exact chord in mind.
I’ve got a lot of unreleased titles in my head, but I should probably wait to see what gets released so as not to fuel the rumor mills.
Could you please tell me about the process of doing the music for Michaels short films?
How was the the group Odulum recorded live in Rio as they were used in the music video They Don’t Care About Us incorporated with the single mix.
Rob: I worked on the Ghost film for quite a while. Michael would have ideas, much the way he makes a record, and he would dictate to one of the crew what he wanted – singing, and beat boxing. As the film progressed those ideas would be refined, often while filming was taking place. We would get video from the set and need to edit and make changes, sometimes with MJ there, sometimes without. There would be remixes, and original music based on stuff the choreographers would do. They might dance to something on the set with either a click track or loop, and then we would build the track around their movements.
Not sure who recorded Odulum . . .
I’ve got some more questions about HIStory :
– was the album always intended to be titled HIStory, or were there other names earlier on ?
– did some songs have different working titles ?
– who did edit “They Don’t Care About Us” after the controversy ?
– can you give us some details about the session with Shaq ?
– were there other rappers who came in, but whose rap wasn’t selected ?
Rob: As early as I can remember it was called HIStory, never heard of another working title.
Some of the songs had different working titles, many had a title right from the start.
Eddie Delena, Andrew and MJ did the “they don’t care about us” edit
Shaq was recorded down in Orlando. Rene Moore flew out there to capture it. I think they recorded at Platinum Post (Full Sail recording school).
No other rappers were recorded for the section. it was always to be Shaq. He’s a really good writer, comes up with stuff on the spot, and nails it. I got to work with him on Quincy’s record a few months after HIStory.
Yes , the cage was there they showed it to me . I was there 3 years ago, maybe it was moved there later on but i can guarantee you it’s there
Rob: That one may come down to urban legend, and a great story passed on amongst the Westlake alumni . . . . .
This is for robmix, russrags, and anyone else who worked with MJ–a question that might fall into the rumor mill-fueling category, so dodge if you must: Is there a decent amount of releasable (finished or close-to-finished) tracks from the sessions you worked on?
Michael was said to have written 80 songs for Bad (not sure what the case was for HIStory). How many of those songs were seriously worked on in the studio? And in what shape did the demos come in, if they were Michael’s own compositions?
Rob: Some of the unfinished songs from HIStory ended up on Blood On the Dancefloor. There are piles of unfinished grooves. I can think of three finished songs that could be released if the family chooses to.
Russ: “BAD” has eleven songs on it, there was only one out take recorded and that song was called “Street Walker” which now appears on the “BAD” Special Edition. We also recorded several songs in French & Spanish.
I think Michael had written 80 songs maybe, but Quincy narrowed it down to 12 before recording began the Fall of ’86.
I’ll have more stories tomorrow … but sorry, NO Monkey Cage during “BAD,”
I also worked on Quincy’s “Back On The Block” still no monkey cage then either ….. but after we finished “BAD” I logged and delivered over 800 Multi track reels, both Analog, Digital & 2-trk tapes … all to get 12 songs!!!
Rob: Ahh yes, the tapes. I think we had about 1200-1400 multitrack tapes and another 800 DAT’s and cassettes.
And do you think those three finished songs would be up to MJ standards?
When I say standards I’m not talking of Billie Jean or Thriller.
I ask you this because nowadays a lot of Newspapers and Websites are saying that there are montains of unreleased material from Michael. And a lot of people is speculating, some people say that if they weren’t released back then it’s because they weren’t good enough. Some other people thinks they weren’t released back then because it didn’t fit the purpose or idea of the album itself.
Rob: yes, the ones I know of would be great. I’m sure there are many others that simply are not finished.
Do you remember any of those working titles ?
(I have no idea if you’re allowed to tell them, or if you want to, so I’m just asking in case you want to share those working titles, and not trying to pressure you or whatever )
When I was asking about other rappers, I was not specifically thinking about 2 Bad’s rap. I was just wondering if some rappers had come to the studios for songs that did not make the cut (you mentioned 40 songs that were cut, so I guessed a few of them must have had a rap)
Are those Morphine, Is It Scary and Ghosts ?
Did you notice any differences between the versions you heard in 1994/1995 and the retail versions that were released in 1997 ? Did Michael go back in the studio for a while prior to the release of Blood on the Dance Floor, or did he just release those songs without changing anything ?
Do you have any memories from the Morphine sessions ?
I’ve read here and there on the internet it had 2 alternative titles : “Demerol” and “Just Say No”. Is it true ?
I’ve always been very impressed by the beat of this song and by the lyrics. It looks like this song meant a lot to him, and I just wish I had seen him perform this one in the booth. Did he seem a bit more tense than usual before singing this song ?
Rob: Not sure I can or should reveal the working titles. MJ chose the titles as they are for release.
I don’t recall any other rappers coming in.
Morphine, Scary, and Ghost are the songs we worked on during HIStory. Ghost was a rework from Dangerous as Teddy started the track, and Rene Moore worked on it quite a bit with Bruce and me during the fall of ’95. I vaguely remember the title “demerol”, and it may have turned into “morphine”. We started on the Blood songs again right after finishing the Ghost short film. The sessions just rolled into each other. I pulled out a bit before the end in the fall of ’96. Eddie, Andrew, and a couple other engineers finished the tracks with Michael. As far as I can tell the songs did not change much from the time that I left and the release of the record. Nothing stands out from the Morphine sessions except some extremely long and very loud listening sessions. It’s obviously influenced by NIN, which I’ve mentioned before in this thread.
I’m really after unreleased tapes/acetates/masters from any of the Bad, Dangerous or History (don’t like my chances there) recording sessions. This is what I’ve been seeking out from various people.
Russ: I’ve got a few things you’d LOve .. but there’s no way anyone will ever get close to it … Bruce let me make my own mix of “Liberian Girl” and I chose to only showcase the Paulinho Da Costa percussion tracks. Several years later I was working at another Studio with Paulinho, and after the session I pulled out the tape and played it for him. You should have seen the look on his face, it was a priceless jaw dropping moment. He said, “man during the session, I always wanted to hear it like this, but was afraid to ask, do you think I could get a copy of this???” So Paulinho and I have the only copies that exist.
yea I forgot about “Fly Away,” we ran a pretty tight ship, as we only had a 5 million dollar budget to work with, we couldn’t get tooooo carried away Ha!! Ha!! “Street Walker” was a great tune and I went 15 years without hearing it, until the Special Edition came out. “Come Together” was around, we added LIVE audience loops to it from the “Victory Tour” crowd response. Michael loved singing “Black Dog” and it was great hearing him sing it, but no recordings .. dang it !!!
Robmix – I have read that Bruce worked on “Basszouille” during 1994 for HIStory.. Any thoughts?
Rob: I never saw that title.
Out of interest what songs would Michael sing when he was around the studio, russrags mentioned some beatles songs, just be cool to know what songs got stuck in his head!
Any strories regarding jokes or practical jokes (I love the pie in face story btw) or was MJ more professional in the studio haha!
Russ: 1st off the song I always heard Michael singing around the Studio was “Black Dog” by Led Zep truely amazing to witness 1st hand.
Once I was out at Michael’s Studio on Havenhurt in Encino, and I was going through a stack of vinyl records sitting by the console. One of the records I came across was Grace Jones “Nightclubbing” I picked it up to look at it front and back and Michael got kind of excited about it too. He took the record from me and asked if I’d like to hear a song that was very influential to him, and I thought are you kidding, YES please. He put on a song called “Feel Up” from that record and I about fell over !!! All the little inflections Michael creates with his voice on his records, are present on this Grace Jones track from 1981. Please check this song out, anyone reading this thread will be glad they did.
OK here’s MY pie in the face funny story:
One fear of mine was that I knew there’d come a day that it would be just Michael and I in the same room one on one. I’d rehearsed it in the mirror over and over, just what was I going to say to this guy??? Well that day came, and what was probably seconds, seemed like a very long time. Catering had arrived at the Studio and here Michael and I were standing by ourselves. I was looking at the floor and said to myself, “this is it, this is what I‘ve been afraid of, I’m going to have to break the ice.” I took a big deep breath and raised my head to speak and … wham .. I got hit with a handful of corn, I thought, “oh no this is going to be war” … I picked up some pickles and threw them at Michael, then he threw something else and it went back and forth for a while. We were laughing so hard (I had to clean it all up later of coarse) but for three weeks we couldn’t look at each other without laughing. What a great way for him to make me feel at ease. Michael really has a great sense of humor, he just loves seeing people do a 3 stooges act and fumble all over themselves. I wish there were more people in the world exactly like Michael Jackson, he is truly one amazing human being.
Rob: Here’s another funny story about a Michael session that MJ was not there for, but I think he would have appreciated quite a bit.
When Michael entered the building a whole host of people would spring into action. People would vibe the room, order food, start boiling water for him, clear out the various rooms in the studio. General panic and mayhem would ensue. At the end of HIStory I kind of let it slip that MJ had snuck into the building when no one was ready for it. I sat back and watched everyone run around like crazed kids cleaning up a party when their parents came home early from dinner. They kept asking me if he as here, and I just said “I think so, that’s what the receptionist said”. After about 20 minutes, they realized it was a false alarm . . . . Never found out it was me, until now. Sorry guys 🙂
Robmis, do you remember anything from the recording of the song Money? Is it just MJ’s vocals on the chorus harmony or others too, it’s very deep and rap like, such a great track, and very frank too.
Just how much of a perfectionist was he, from all you read he seemed overly dedicated to his craft.
Rob: There are background singers on “money”, but I don’t remember their names. It was a relatively quick session. Bruce set up his Fet47’s into the 1084’s. No compression if I recall correctly. You hear them clearly on the opening “money”.
He was a perfectionist, but not in the tortured soul, I’m going to tweak everything until it’s lifeless kind of way. He’d do takes until he was happy or ran out of tracks. But his every performance was almost perfect. I never heard MJ sing a bad note, ever !! He would take notes with Eddie and we would comp the vocals when he left. He was meticulous.
Would you reccommend buying 40 DAT tapes worth of recordings from the Bad Sessions? I just want to know in your opinion if the stuff recorded would be worth the purchase.
Rob: I’d be curious where those came from. MJ ran a pretty tight ship, and at least on HIStory we all signed confidentiality contracts. No tapes ever left the building except in MJ’s hands.
Fans tend to idealize their idols, the real people. It’s just hard to believe that MJ never lost his cool, which is a very human thing to do. MJ being the wonderful person that he was, what was he like when he got mad at something? And what were these things normally?
Rob: I never saw MJ get mad. Pretty amazing. If something didn’t work the way he wanted or thought it would, he’d say “ok”, and move on.
Question for russrags re: Bad: Who were the guiding forces behind Bad’s very synthesized, mechanical sound? More than any MJ record, Bad sounds like a product of its time. It works well for the record, but it’s such a departure from the already Synclavier-heavy Thriller and the machine-heavy-but-organic-sounding Dangerous that it must have been a calculated decision. Who was the visionary behind this very distinctive sound?
Russ: As far as a guiding force behind the sound of Michael’s records, I think it’s Michael’s vision to start making a record by creating totally new fresh sounds that have never been heard before to work with. For “Bad” this was achieved by Michael Boddicker and Greg Phillinganes with synths stacks filling up the entire large tracking room taking up every available space, as well as a largest Synclavier in the world at the time operated by Chris Currell.
Thriller received soooooooooooooooo much air play, that by the time I started working on BAD, I put away Thriller and didn’t look back until just a few years ago when the Special Edition CDs started coming out. When I bought the “Thriller” Special Edition, this was my 1st copy of “Thriller” on CD. I was amazed at how simple the arrangements were on most of the songs, compared to BAD, something I didn’t even consider while riding the Thriller wave after the original release.
Another question: about half of the tunes on Bad are actually in between keys (a microtone between pitches on a piano): how/why did this happen?
Russ: BAD was recorded on Tape as Pro Tools wasn’t out yet in fact our only computer in the Studio was Bruce’s Mac SE-30. The reason tracks are in between keys is a result from VSOing the tape, speeding it up a few cents to to brighten up the songs for radio. We had listening sessions, picking out just the right amounts of this treatment … very fun.
Here’s a drawing Michael made while in the Studio during BAD, I thought you all would enjoy seeing. Michael was 28 years old at the time. I asked Michael one day if he was going to include drawings in the artwork on BAD, like he did on Thriller and that I really enjoyed them. He said he would if he had time. enjoy.
I remember going with him into a room there where he kept a lot of the wardrobe from the ‘Bad’ tour. He showed me a jacket that I’d seen him wear on stage during the ‘Thriller’ performance. It looked like the one in the video, with the exception that it was loaded with neon lights that he would turn on during the dance routine. I put it on. This jacket was HEAVY. It seemed to have weighed 30 or more pounds. To think, he wore this during a big dance routine. It was then that I realized how strong he was for his very lean frame.
Russ: While Michael was on the BAD tour, he called me from the road and asked me if I could pick up a leather jacket for him from the designer. This one had metal all over it and paintings of the current band from BAD .. maybe this is the same jacket, it was very heavy. The designer told me Michael can war up to 40 lbs I think he said !!!!!
On several occasions, we drove in this big white pick-up truck he used to drive, to Tower Records. Before going into the store, he would put on some glasses, a hat and these really weird teeth.
Russ: funny … I can relate, I’ve done it many times too. I had a big full size Ford pickup with tented windows. Michael loved riding in it with me, he was thrilled because he was able to sit up high off the ground as we drove and with the tinted windows we were cool. But man is he a crappy driver … look out !!!
Bill Bottrell, Michael’s long-time engineer and later producer, joins the discussion. There are also occasional comments from Dave Way who was one of Michael’s engineers.
Bill Bottrell: I have joined this site to add to the body knowledge about my work with Michael Jackson, especially regarding vague or missing credits. I spent years with Michael and I appreciated every moment.
I am one who tends to move on into new projects completely, which means “legacy” doesn’t normally interest me.
But when Michael died, I realized I can’t neglect this important history.
So was that Bottrell’s voice rapping on “Black Or White”, or did he just write the lyrics to that section? The liner notes credit “LTB”, but I’ve never heard of that rapper…lol. Always wondered who it was.
Bill: “LTB” stood for “MC Leave It To Beaver” an obvious reference to my cultural heritage.
Lesson learned: Never joke around with credits.
I have a few more questions :
– were there significant changes, lyric-wise ? Did some songs have completely different choruses in the early stages (like when Starlight became Thriller in 1982) ? I’ve read about Pyramid Girl who became Liberian Girl, but I have no idea it this info is legit
– Everyone who was friends with Michael says he was a really funny guy. Was he also funny when he was in the booth, between takes ?
– Is it true Smooth Criminal wasn’t supposed to be on BAD ? I’ve read a long time ago Street Walker should have been on the record instead, and that Quincy convinced him Smooth Criminal was a better choice… Is it true ?
– What about the infamous intro of “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, when he sings “I just wanna lay next to you for a while”. Unfortunately, you can only hear it on the first pressings, and there are rumours saying Michael recorded it in his bed, under his sheets…
– How was the session with Stevie Wonder for Just Good Friends ? Any stories about that ?
– On Bad, what were the first/last songs he vocally completed ?
– I’ve read about a few outtakes of the bad sessions : Groove of Midnight, Al Capone, Crack Kills, What You Do To Me, Turning Me Off, Tomboy, Hot Fever, Chicago 1945 and Buffalo Bill. Did you hear any of those ? If you did, how good were those songs ?
Russ: * Lyrics were pretty much together by the time recording began, however Michael’s demo’s tend to be 8:00 long and very groove oriented.
* In between takes, most singers will try to stay in character in order to prevent the mood from changing, Michael included. At Westlake Michael had his own little private room upstairs with a window that looked out into the tracking room. If he needed to get away during times he really wasn’t needed, he often went to this room, where he would trash it with pop corn all over the place, he was really quite messy, as he probably is used to having someone pick up after him, this was usually me !!!
* “Smooth Criminal” .vs “Street Walker” this was toward the end of the record, as Epic was putting pressure on us to finish, we were using Westlake Studio “C” for “Street Walker” and Studio “D” for “Smooth Criminal” it was like a big shoot out which song would make the winning spot on the album. Smooth Criminal won, and was the most complex song on the record, requiring 2-Mitsubishi X-850 32 trk machines to be also locked w/ a Studer 800 and a MCI 2″-16trk machine.
* Re Recording in bed under the sheets: we did have a twin bed set up against the wall of the main tracking room the duration of BAD. During recording the room was dark, we don’t know what Michael did in that bed, but I don’t remember any recording in it. Well maybe I do, I think the spoken intro to “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” may have been recorded there??? I never cared for the spoken intro, and I’m glad it was taken off for the Special Edition version.
* “Just Good Friends” is one of my fondest memories. I was standing in the control room right next to Stevie as he laid down the most ripping keyboard solo, and watched Stevie tell Bruce to burn the 1st take, that he’d give him a better one, and that’s what happened. How could Bruce go wrong with Stevie Wonder at the keys to make him look good.
When we recorded the vocals, it was duet style w/ Michael & Stevie singing together facing each other. This was the one song on the album that was recorded with the lights ON, I’m sure that was more for Michael, than for Stevie’s benefit. However right in the middle of a take, we noticed that a homeless guy had heard music coming from a Studio cartage door which had apparently be left unlocked, and he wandered into the tracking room, crapped his pants probably, but remained quiet up against the wall. I remember this like yesterday, once he was discovered and escorted back outside. How’s that for a story ???
* BAD was the 1st song started on the album and the video was being shot before we were finished working on the song, the last song recorded …hmmm might be “Another Part of Me” ??? Bruce ???
* “Hot Fever” was a working title for “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Groove of Midnight” was another working title, which one, I don’t remember (don’t tell Bruce I lost my notes on that one). As far as other out takes, it’s already been discussed on previous pages, there really weren’t that many out takes, only songs discarded by Quincy during pre-production.
May I ask what this Christmas song was? This wasnt released was it?
Rob: I’m not sure it was ever released. For some reason I think it might have been used in a movie possibly. I did an internet search for the title and it didn’t come up.
I have a few questions about the recording and the creative process of BAD.
First, Another Part of Me. We know it has been recorded for Captain Eo, I guess it was late 85 or 86. Were the studio sessions only for these 2 songs (Another PArt of ME and We Are Here To Change The World) or was it already part of the early recording of Bad? Did you re record Another Part Of Me later on while recording BAD?
It seems the Bad sessions took place in 1987, however the song BAD was recorded in 1986, and the video as well. Therefore, it seems that the creation of BAD started right after the Victory Tour with the Captain Eo project, then BAD, song and video, then the entire album and more videos (The Way You Make Me Feel and Dirty Diana), right after Moonwalker, the movie (with the Smooth Criminal video), the BAD Tour and a little bit of Moonwalker again to then start the Decade project that ended up as Dangerous. The Man just never stopped during that time. All of that after the Pepsi Commercial accident
That is just incredible! I’m trying to find the right timeline there. Because, right after the Bad Tour, Michael was also pretty busy building the Neverland Ranch!!!
About the Bad sessions again: You mentioned going to Encino, to start working on it. You actually started recording demos of BAD in the Encino studio? Was the family around ? Were they involved or just there?
I’m asking that because I was surprised to hear that the Jacksons were actually involved in the demos of Dont Stop and Working Day and Night (available in the latest edition of Off The Wall). I’m wondering if it was the same here because Michael was working in the Encino studio.
Russ: You all bring up questions I hadn’t even thought of, so I’ll give it a try. You bring up “Moonwalker,” and I think that is where “Come Together” had a home, which has been brought up earlier. I don’t think “Another Part of Me” was brought in from any previous session before 1986. “BAD” (single) was started in the Fall of ’86 and the video was shot before the song was completed. I’m not sure how many demo’s for BAD were recorded at Michaels studio in Encino, I know many of them were recorded by Bill Bottrell at his studio.
on BAD, many songs had extended versions that were released on singles’ B-Sides (e.g. The Way You make Me Feel lasted 2 or 3 more minutes). Were those versions created in the first place, and then trimmed for the album ?
Russ: We worked on just the album versions first, but after it’s release Aug ’87, Bruce kept the project going by remixing each single prior to going to radio. As each of these singles were released at this time is when all the extended mixes and alternate version came from. I used to have all of these, but my house was broken into in 1991 and 500 CD’s were taken, along with most of the MJ CD singles. I still have a “Dirty Diana” and “Another Part of Me” but all the others have never been replaced, wish I had them back.
Hello, I have a question for the people who may have worked on ‘Bad’.
That album was listened to thousands of times by me growing up and one thing that kept me listening was that I always seemed to hear a new sound somewhere in the mix even after so many listens, so I was wondering if this was intentional and how many tracks were used in the production of most of the songs and also how did that compare to other artists of the day.
I wanted to know if this was something MJ carried on into his later albums as well because I have never come across it with other music I listen to.
Russ: Glad you hear something different with each listen, I like it when that happens too. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you how many tracks of audio per song, It took over 800 multi-track tapes to create BAD, each song was over 600 tracks of audio. Naturally a little track management was in order as there isn’t a Studio in the world capable of playing back that many tracks all at once, but this was our palette to work with to create all the mystery you enjoy discovering.
Mr Bottrell, first of all, let me tell you I have a lot of respect for your career and your creativity. “Peace be upon us” was one of my musical highlights of 2008, and in my opinion, it would have deserved to be a worldwide hit.
Now, I’ve got a few questions about Michael :
* how did you start working with him ?
Bill: I was doing remixes that John McClain would bring me. It was early in his career and he became quite the cheerleader for me. He went to school with the Jacksons and convinced them, one at a time, that I was the best. I started with Jermaine’s solo album and moved into the Victory album, when I met Michael, who brought me the tapes of State of Shock with Freddy Mercury to mix.
* a friend of mine is very fond of Monkey Business. It is his favourite MJ song ever, and he wanted to know who and what was Michael singing about in this one. He also wondered if Michael was influenced by Prince when this song was recorded
Bill: Michael talked like it was purely fictional, a feeling, really, that of poor southern country folk doing mischief to each other. I can’t know if there was anything autobiographical about it, but I believe the title didn’t help get it released after not making the Dangerous album.
* you’ve worked a lot with Sheryl Crowe. Were there ever talks about a duet with Michael ?
Bill: Michael told me he was hurt by some statements Sheryl made to the press about her touring with him. I just let the two worlds stay apart.
* Rob Hoffman told us this about Slash :
“Slash came over for a couple tracks. Interestingly, there was no alcohol, drugs or cigarettes on the session at all. Only one crew member smoked and he had to go outside to do it. But when Slash came MJ knew it was part of his thing. He said “let him have is alcohol, cigarettes, whatever it takes”. So we setup in another room at the Hit Factory, and Slash had his people send over the list. Jack, vodka, mixers, and marlboro’s. The drink of the day was Jack and coffee if I recall correctly ”
Do you have crazy stories about the Slash sessions for Dangerous ?
How many takes did he play for the Give in To Me solo ?
In numerous interviews, Slash said he recorded 2 songs for this project. Do you remember the name of the other song he was mentioning ?
Bill: I, too, remember the booze, etc. Mostly, it went very easy. Slash wanted to bring his own engineer, and I didn’t like that idea too much but I went along. The other song was the “intro” to Black or White, the scripted vignette. The way the credits were eventually printed seems to have made it unclear who played the hook on Black or White. Slash played the scripted vignette, I played the song.
* You did a great job on the Black or White rap. Before you recorded it, did Michael have another rapper in mind ?
Bill: No, that was my demo to play my words to MJ. He fell in love with it immediately, much to my surprise, and we never touched it again.
* I once read a theory on the internet stating Michael wanted to repeat a beat indefinitely in order to “hypnotize” the listener/dancer. The end of Dangerous is very repetitive (and addictive if you ask me). Did Michael tell you he wanted this song to last longer ?
Bill: Yes, I suppose Who Is It is a better example of that hypnosis, though I’ve noticed somebody cut it way down on subsequent releases, losing some of the dark drama.
* Overall, how many songs did you write for Michael ?
How many did you record with him ?
Are there “gems” you worked on with him we may happen to hear in the future ?
Bill: I wrote on Monkey Business, Dangerous, Black or White, Give In To Me.
The core of my work during the Dangerous period, was, for me, Black or White, Earth Song, Dangerous, and Monkey Business. Who Is It and Give In To Me were late bloomers, and didn’t, I feel, have as much of my influence. I was dissapointed when Monkey and Earth didn’t make the record, but I got over it.
I have to look through my tapes to see what else is there, I can’t remember. But I do remember If You Don’t Love Me, always was a bit of an orphan, but somebody leaked it on Youtube and now it sounds pretty fun. There was also “Streetwalker” a true orphan, I made that track while MJ was on tour for Bad. Holed up at Smoketree for a couple weeks, played all the stuff, and my friend Jasun Martz came and played the blues harp solo, when I sent it in Michael said, “Billy that harmonica is ignorant!” (and not in a good way) I wrote the whole thing off until noticing a week ago that they released it! As is.
* There are many rumours you about some Beatles covers you recorded with Michael. I’ve read Michael had recorded (or demo-ed) dozens of Beatles songs with you. Supposedly, the project was to be called “Strawberry Fileds Forever”. Is it true ? If so, how many songs did Mike record, and will they ever see be released ? Were there similar to the originals, or did you and Michael change the arrangements on those covers ?
Bill: During the Bad sessions, Michael asked me to drive him home to Westwood one night. During the drive, we played lots of Beatles songs he had compiled on a tape, he was pretty interested in my opinion, and I told him we should pick Come Together.
* Did Michael ever tell you why he stopped working with Q after Bad ? Whose decision was it ?
Bill: Michael was growing and wanted to experiment free of the restrictions of the Westlake scene. That’s why he got me and John Barnes to work at his home studio for, like, a year and a half? On and off. We would program, twiddle, and build the tracks for much of that album, send the results on two-inch down to Westlake and they would, at their discretion, re-record, and add things like strings and brass. This is how MJ started to express his creative independance, like a teenager leaving the nest.
I eventually got fired from Bad and Frank Delio took me to lunch and said, “Don’t worry, next album you will be a producer” and everybody kept their word.
Within a couple days I had thrown a track together playing guitars and using some crude midi stuff. (This was 1985) I never intended that track to be released that way
They put it out without informing me, and I still don’t know what the credits say.
I had a question about “they don’t really care about us”
I was listening to it in the studio today and the kcik and snare/clap sound great but the mix sounds very odd to me, Michael’s vocals are very very low except when the addlibs kick in then they are super loud and super spread out. the special FX are also ULTRA LOUD compared to the rest of the song, am I the only one hearing this?
is this the way Michael wanted this song mixed?
Just curious, I love the song but I can barely hear vocals on michael’s verses, is it my setup??
Rob: This would be best answered by Bruce, but MJ was present for every mix. He would generally have a rough mix on the SSL that would develop during tracking. Bruce would take that and make it better, more stuff would be added later, and Bruce would update the mix as needed. Nothing went to mastering without MJ’s approval. So it’s safe to say that anything you hear on “They Don’t Care About Us” is how Michael wanted to hear it.
Another question for the boys and girls who worked with MJ. As one can hear from the beatbox clips and an awful lot of the songs he performed, MJ has a particular timing. It’s like he’s steering for the rhythm section. I wonder, did you use MJ’s vocals as guide track in an early stage during the production process? How did MJ work with the rhytmsection/sessionplayers?
Rob: Always. During HIStory and Blood we used MJ’s beatbox and vocals as a guide for whatever overdubs were put on the tracks. In most cases Michael would sing whatever parts he wanted to the musicians. If he wasn’t able to be there, he would sing it on tape for them.
I have a question for Bill Bottrell about the track ‘Dangerous’. Firstly – I cannot emphasise a big enough “congratulations” to you. It is an exceptional masterpiece of a song, and one which I never grow tired of listening to; it probably falls under being my favourite MJ track (and seemed to be a particular favourite of Michael’s). I’m fascinated about the evolution of this song ever since I first heard the demo in the mid 90’s. The album track is quite different to the demo (more so than many other demo -> album version evolutions). I’m interested to know what brought about this change in the arrangement of the song? To my ears, both versions are fantastic tracks – the demo has more of an 80’s sound, but has amazingly intricate drum sections that seem to have had been distorted within an inch of their lives, panning all over the place; it’s an aural experience like no other, and quite different to the coarse, harder, more funky beat of the final album version. Who made the decision to go for such a different style and how did this come about and why?
Dave Way: Generally, this is due to Teddy Riley’s being asked to contribute to that song. I don’t know the demo that you’re referring to but I’d guess it’s one of Bill’s earlier versions. At some point, Teddy was asked, I’m sure by Michael, to do his thing and he essentially “re-produced” it.
I don’t remember if any of Bill’s elements made it to the final mix. The credits don’t seem to indicate that but then again, the credits are not always correct. Bill would probably know.
Rob: From what I know, I think Dave’s observations are true of many of the songs on Dangerous. The record was headed in a very different direction before Teddy got involved (a la Brian Loren), but once MJ started working with him he was asked to contribute to many of the tracks that were already started, and to work on his own stuff. Maybe Bill and Bruce can chime in . . .
Re: MJ vs. Prince
Judge for yourself:
YouTube – Michael Jackson,James Brown,and Prince on stage (1983 )
Rob: For what it’s worth, MJ and Prince did have a meeting during HIStory as well. We were all kicked out of the room however (Prince’s wishes, not MJ’s), so I don’t know what was said.
I would LOVE to know who was involved in all the “Live” studio remakes of Dangerous for versions ala 1993 AMA’s, 1995 MTV VMAs and onwards.
Rob: A lot of the inspiration came from choreographers working with MJ. We would get videotapes from rehearsals, and have to do edits and add sound fx based on their dancing. The choreographers would actually come to the studio to help. Very interesting way to make music, letting the visual dictate the form and overall sound.
…. And quite revolutionary at the time, no? I’m not an expert in this field, but I’m not generally aware of other ‘pop’ artists using anything like this before, to that extent. Though I may be wrong? The sound effects with the Dangerous live performance particularly were very much at the foreground, and almost part of the rhythm of the piece (shoulder brush, clicks, sounds when spinning the guy over etc). Had this been done like that before in that way? Was it quite experimental Rob? Early on were you figuring out what did and didn’t work as you went along, and playing around with ideas, or was someone (eg Michael) quite specific on how it should be from the start?
Rob: I had never seen it done before except in pieces of the Thriller video, and whatever percussion noises came through in Michael’s vocal tracks. For the videos and tour performances the dancers and MJ would dictate what sound fx should stand out, and we would try to match the sounds in his head with sound fx libraries, and custom samples from foley sessions we would do. Sometimes he was very specific, and other times we were left to our devices. There are some long sequences in the Ghost movie that I was pretty much left on my own, matching foley and sound fx with video from the set.
Robmix – I can’t remember if I asked this previously, but were you involved at all with the recording/mixing of “Tabloid Junkie”?
If so, can you share a little bit about that? Did MJ happen to produce a demo of that song before recording the final version?
Obviously something like this would be hidden away in the “vault”, but I’d die to hear something like a FULL beatboxing track or early demo of “Tabloid” by MJ, like a really early demo.. that’d be amazing.. the short video on Youtube just isn’t enough!
Rob: A little bit of the recording, a lot of that track was done by Jam and Lewis before we ever heard it. The “demo” was simply their track, no MJ input early on.
@ Rob – Thanks for the info. I somehow had completely ignored ‘Ghosts’ when considering Michael using sound effects in his dance routines – it’s full of them. And very integral to the sequences! Care to tell us more about that process, and Michael’s involvement in it?
Talking about Ghosts, were you involved in the slight re-mixing of “2Bad” “Is It Scary” and “Ghosts” for the short movie? If so, why were these slight variations made, and at who’s request? Oh, and did you sample (or reproduce) the first chords from 1987’s “Bad” for the part in the ‘Ghosts’ sequence for ‘2Bad’ below (see 2.10min in on ‘Michael Jackson’s Ghosts’)?
And, slightly off topic, but still related, a sequence in the short movie ‘Ghosts’ includes a part where the ghouls start stomping up the walls. Have a look at the video below to see the ‘stomping beat’ used for this (at 5.54min in) – it always reminded me of the beat from the Bee Gees song ‘You Win Again’ (check the video underneath ‘Ghosts’ below). Coincidence? Did you work on this orchestral music section Rob?
Rob: I was involved in the entire “Ghost” film. The remixes were Michael’s idea of course. I believe the “Bad” sample came from Brad Buxer’s EIIIxp sample set that he used from tour. For all the remixes we would start with the album mix, and mute everything but the groove to start building a bed. Then Mj would advise us on what he wanted to hear and for how long. MJ’s notes would usually be done on Brad’s micro-cassette recorder from the actual video set. Sometimes they would dance to a click and we would count measures to chop up the form. At that point in the process it was Eddie Delena, Brad, and myself.
The sound fx were built as sequences using the rough cut video for form. From what i remember it was all done in Studio Vision, and recorded in Pro Tools. Again, they danced to click for that stuff.
The Bee Gees thing is pretty remarkable, I had never heard that and MJ never mentioned it as a reference. His “stomp” reference was always “We will rock you” by Queen. So yeah, it’s a coincidence. Those stomps are samples from the “History” album and custom samples we recorded at Royaltone studios with Michael’s dancers.
All the orchestra and choir stuff was Nicholas Pike. There was only one orchestra/choir section that we had to add synth sweetening to – the part where the ghosts descend from the ceiling of the ballroom. That was just choir at first, but Brad and I added synths after. I think it was mostly “pop oohs” from the EIII library and probably “Lovely Vox” from the JD-990.
To all the engineers, could you help me out on some recording dates?
I’m interested when the songs that were on his albums were recorded, including the unreleased songs
Rob: For HIStory everything was recorded between January ’94 and April of ’95, except “Earth Song”, and “Come Together” which were pulled from the archives and finished during HIStory.
There might have been a couple demos recorded on the road prior to ’94 but they did not end up on the record.
Ghost and Blood on the Dancefloor were all recorded in ’96, but of course all of those tracks were started during HIStory as well. The original Ghost track was a Teddy track from the Dangerous era.
^ Wow, I didn’t even think to ask this here, although I had always wanted to know if the Dangerous Recording Sessions were filmed by Michael’s crew. I am dying to know, were any of the HIStory recording sessions filmed at all? …..
Rob: Not really. We got interviewed a filmed a little bit. But everything was kept very low key.
Bill: There was often a hand-held video camera shot by a trusted employee, like Brad. Occasionally, a full film crew would come in, as in the Andre Crouch choir session for “Earth Song”.
But while recording “They Don’t Care About Us”, and especially “D.S.” did Michael ever make facial expressions of “disgust”, kicked with his leg, threw his fist in the air and stuff in the both?!
For some reason that is always the picture I get in my mind while listening to those records, especially D.S.
Rob: That would be a great question for Eddie Delena as he recorded those vocals. For what it’s worth, the studio was usually kept so dark when MJ was around you could barely see anything, especially him in the booth.
I’ve seen some footage of Michael on youtube where an Akai MPC can be seen in the background. Do any of you know if he ever did any sequencing or was skilled with using an MPC?
Rob: MJ had very little technical knowledge, at least that he would demonstrate. He knew that up was louder, and could communicate his wishes very well. If we loaded sounds into the MPC he would bang out rhythms, but he didn’t really operate any gear.
It’s so sad that MJ was so self-conscious of his looks that he wanted to be in the dark. Poor trouble soul.
Rob: I’ve found that most singers want to sing this way. Singing is an emotional experience, and you don’t want people judging or god forbid laughing at you when you’re trying to bare your soul.
I’ve been wondering for years why Come Together was on HIStory. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this song had already been released in 1992 on the Remember The Time CD single, and as many other fans, I’ve always felt it didn’t fit with the rest of the songs of HIStory. As a result, it feels like the album is cut in 2 distinct parts : the first 7 seven songs, then Come Together, and the last 7 songs. Any thoughts about this song ?
Bill: I’m probably going to be the only person to complain that some of his work with Michael was released, but, oh well…
I did a lot of work as a hired engineer that I never would touch after taking on the responsibility of “producer”.
In Michael’s case, “Come Together” would fall in that category. I was officially just an engineer, but I played and produced the whole track, (in very crude midi fashion) and never thought it was release material. But Michael supported and motivated me, and changed my life. . . and put it out.
Bill, thank you so much for taking the time to post on here. Us fans greatly appreciate it. Just a few questions regarding your answers:
1.) When you worked on the Victory album, did Michael ever have you work on a track called “Buffalo Bill”? Or was it just the Freddie Mercury stuff?
2.) You mentioned that you worked on “Streetwalker” during the Bad Tour. Was the song originally created for the Bad album? I’ve listened to an interview before where it was stated that the final track on Bad was between Streetwalker and “Another Part of Me” and the latter obviously made the cut.
3.) Did Michael ever intend on working on an album with just Beatles songs?
4.) I’ve read that Bad was thought about being 2 albums but Qunicy Jones shot down the idea. Do you know anything about that?
Bill: 1. We did mess around with “Buffalo Bill”. It was a heavy John Barnes influence, and the cool chorus:
Who shot Buffalo Bill?
They said he shot alot did he ever get killed?
2. “Streetwalker” was recorded after Bad was released. I don’t understand the story told about it and “Another Part of Me” it’s impossible.
3. If he ever thought about an entire Beatles cover album, he never mentioned it to me.
4. I wasn’t in the brain trust on “Bad”
Russ, Bill, Rob or Resonater: If you worked in the Encino studio on demos, how was it to work there? Was Michael working differently? Was the family involved sometimes?
Bill: I recall the monitors were terrible. I kept trying to install something I could listen to, but the room was very small, and it wasn’t to be. Maybe that’s where I learned to Never Listen to Speakers.
It was wonderful working there. We watched from the sidelines as all the family life happened, Janet in the hot tub with Rene, Mom, Dad, brothers coming and going, entertainments like Elizabeth visiting and Michael wanted twinkle lights in the trees like they had at Tavern on the Green.. some character coming out with a tractor/crane to put them up, and tearing up the grass, then another character coming out to quickly replace the grass with sod, just in time for the party..ha..Which went without a hitch.. Michael would have kids over, and the best part.. if you went from the control room through the synclav room and went through a door, you found yourself in the candy store! Laser Tag, Pinnochio costumes, watching “To Kill a Mockingbird” with Michael on a rainy winter day. (This wasn’t trivial, it required calling his professional projectionist and sitting in his custom theatre eating popcorn)
The other movie Michael insisted I see in his theatre….”This is Elvis” Now I insist everybody go see that movie. You’ll learn about M.J.
Come Together was used in the moonwalker film and first came out as the b side of Remember the time, the credits were (for both) as follows:
Produced by MJ, Co-produced, recording engineer, and guitar and drums performed by Bill Bottrell.
The credits of the edited version released on History are not available – as there are no per song credits, but rather musician credits are bundled up for the whole second disc. You are mentioned in there a whole bunch. The production credit reads “MJ and Bill Bottrell”
Bill: Hey, thanks, man
it’s all a bit overwhelming and hard to remember. He legally didn’t have to credit me, but he did!
There were online stories that you (Bill) started producing Come Together without MJs permission but once he heard what you had done, he was cool with it. I take it this is not true.
No, I remember it as I said upthread. His idea.
Can you please describe the very early versions recorded of “Black or White”? i.e. is it true there was a heavy metal guitars section where Bill’s rap eventually ended up?
Please refer to the acetate picture below; it shows a MEGA RARE Promo [Flight Only] acetate (only 10 produced?) that were given to Sony Execs on their way to Neverland, from London, back in 1991. It was meant as a teaser for what was to come on Dangerous, and contained an EARLY DEMO of “Black or White”, “Men In Black” and an early version [supposedly] of “Monkey Business”. Any comments?
Bill… could this extreme rarity possibly contain one of the early versions of “Black or White” with no rap but instead a Heavy Metal guitar section? Any ideas? Maybe “Men In Black” could be explained too..
Bill: There was nothing on that tape but an early version of Black or White.. probably with an early drum machine click (a Linn drum) and big holes in the middle where EVENTUALLY we added Tim Pierce on heavy metal guitar.
If there was some Sony/Epic nerd listening, and he/she called my rhythm guitar “heavy metal” well.. that’s just foolish.
A question to Mr. Bottrell:
Do you know why Michael chose the 9th of Beethoven for the intro of Will You Be There?
Bill: Soul, man, just soul.
Finally, I have a question I’m not extremely proud of, but I have to ask it.
After MJ’s passing, Gotham Chopra claimed he helped Jackson write lyrics and Michael paid him a few thousands each time. Here are his exact words :
“Eventually, Michael and I would get down to work. He was working on a new album and asked me to help him write lyrics for songs. It was an informal relationship – I’d wander downtown with a backpack full of dictionaries, and thesauri, and rhyming books. Michael would hum songs and talk about what he wanted to say with the song and we’d try and marry our skillsets and come up with something. We came up with great stuff. Michael swore me to secrecy those days. I happily complied. After we were done with those sessions – they’d usually go until about 2 AM or so – Michael would wander into the bathroom and come out with a sack he’d pulled out from under the toilet. In it, he kept several thousands of dollars. He’d ask me how much I wanted. I just sort of shrugged and he’d hand me a couple of thousand dollars.”
Since Gotham Chopra met Michael around 1988 and went on tour with him in 1992, I guess this was happening in the Dangerous days, but I can’t be absolutely sure. This brings me to the album BAD. On this record, Michael is said to have written 9 of the 11 songs. Here is my question : did he use ghost writers ?
Bill: the Chopra thing doesn’t sound right. Michael properly saw himself as a great writer after “Billie Jean” and had no need to seek songs or writers. He was fastidious about any outsiders and the possibility of getting sued. i once watched him spy an unknown cassette on the console on which was written the name of a (famous) writer and the name of a song. He eyed it like a spooked horse, stepped aside, and walked to the other side of the console without coming within 5 feet of the alien tape.
Just wondering if anyone knows why Michaels vocals at the begining of ‘Streetwalker’ are so distant. Its like he was singing in another room? ‘Streetwalker’ was released very raw.
Bill: Simply so the downbeat of the song would be surprisingly huge.
Re the Dangerous demo: Thanks Rob and Dave. That would certainly explain the differences, but none the less, the demo is a great standalone track. I’d love to know some details about the song and it’s evolution, the thinking behind it, etc.
Bill: I wrote the music to “Dangerous” while fiddling around with “Streetwalker”. MJ was on tour for Bad, I was working alone at Smoketree. I did much fooling around with midi sounds and samples. It was probably 1988. What was the little E-mu box? I cut lots of versions including one nobody’s ever heard, consisting of samples of me playing brushes on a galvanized trash can, in place of all the drums and perc.
I quite liked them all, but “Igno-Dangerous” was my favourite.
I never felt competition with Teddy, and when MJ suggestied Teddy do a version, I had no problem.. Hey, it’s all about the writing.
Teddy’s version rocks and sounds like the 90’s, where mine was stuck in the 80’s.
Everything was in devine order.
When prince Abdulla of Bahrain played me my old epic demo, I about fell over. I hadn’t heard it in 17 years!
Did they credit me?
Now I wanna go find the trash can version.
I’ve been looking for info on certain recording dates for a book but haven’t found much. I always thought Blood on The Dancefloor was originally from the Dangerous sessions
Bill: Blood on the Dancefloor was a song I wrote for MJ during the sessions when Dangerous was written, sometime in 1988. I thought I’d be a clever salesman and I teased Michael about this great song I had called Blood on the Dancefloor. He was out of town and I was trying to tweak the song and this went on for weeks. He was really intrigued, so much so that before he ever heard what I did, he wrote his OWN Blood on the Dancefloor. He asked me if he could use my title and I of course, said “sure”.
Next thing I knew I was at Record Plant in 1996 and I heard his “new” version. Very cool.
Dave: The track Blood On The Dancefloor was one I remember for a couple of reasons…
I was in NYC working with Teddy Riley when he told me we were going to LA to work with Michael. I was very excited of course. For the next couple of weeks, we camped out at Soundtracs studios and Teddy came up with about twenty song ideas. Pretty full on but just tracks. No melody or hook ideas. All from his computer (an Atari Stacy running Notator then), MPC and racks and racks of keys and samplers. All of it was coming up through the SSL with compressors and eq etc. and we made a reference DAT with each idea to be able to play for Michael when we got to LA.
When we were finally sitting at Record One with Michael, he asked us to play some of the ideas. I hit play on the DAT. At ear splitting level, the first track immediately showed where Teddy was coming from. It was hard hitting, hard grooving, new jack infused funk and Michael was visibly pleased and from there all nervousness in the room (from all sides) was gone. When we finished playing the DAT, which included what became “Remember The Time” and “In The Closet”, Michael asked us to play the fist one again. It became his favorite.
Now that we knew things looked good and that we were going to be staying in LA for awhile, we got to putting some of these ideas onto multitrack. I was excited to use the huge Neve that was at Record One then. It was gorgeous. So we recalled all the keys settings etc and spent a week or 2 getting everything down (I believe it all went straight to Mitsubishi 32 trk).
In the meantime, Michael had started coming up with lyric and melody ideas to the tracks and we almost immediately got into recording some vocals ( chorus vocals on “Remember The Time”) and melody ideas for some others. I was simply blown away by Michael’s singing and technique. He was ON.
But for some reason, after we retracked that first cut on the DAT, it just wasn’t as exciting as what Michael first heard. It didn’t hit as hard and tight and he asked me why. I said that I thought it mainly had to with the console. In NY we were using an SSL and it has a harder, edgier sound. Michael then asked if we could get one of those. Of course we couldn’t just wheel in an SSL and back then, the only way to get that sound was to go to a studio that had one. Of course he then asked, “Well who has one?” and I responded with the only studio in LA that I’d worked in at that time – Larrabee. Next thing I knew, we were all moving 10 mins east on Ventura to the new Larrabee NORTH.
We tracked that song again at Larrabee and did our best to match the DAT but Michael still seemed to prefer the DAT. He took the DAT version and had Matt Forger bounce it to a multitrack at Havenhurst so he could put down some lyric ideas.
The next day, he came in with a good chunk of a complete song called “Blood On The Dance Floor”. I remember thinking that was a very cool title.
But for whatever reasons, that song didn’t get worked on much, if at all after that.
I thought it was strange since it started off as almost everybody’s favorite track, but that’s how it goes sometimes. You never know where a song will (or won’t) go.
Fast forward to 1996 and I’m at Record Plant working with Michael again and he plays me some of the songs they’ve been working on and says “This one’s the title track”. It’s called “Blood On The Dancefloor”. What do you know? It’s the track from that very first DAT with some more music and percussion added and of course, Michael’s excellent vocals.
My first question is about the Dangerous demo.
YouTube – Michael Jackson – Dangerous Demo (Rare)
If you listen to it at 5:48, you can hear the Laura Palmer theme from Twin Peaks :
It can’t be a coincidence. Bill, do you have any idea why Michael used this theme in the demo ? Whose idea was it ?
Bill: I remember I was a fan of Twin Peaks, maybe I sneaked it in there? Is it blatant? I hope not. see my post on Dangerous demo upthread.
So, if I get it right, in Encino no family members were involved in the creation (helping, playing instrument, singing etc.) of a song from Michael’s Bad or Dangerous… right?
It looks like you’ve never heard Men In Black. I’m also curious to know more about this song but, at the same time, Loren’s tracks are not among my favorites. THANKS for your time and honesty Mr Bottrell.
PS: I can’t believe you didn’t know you were also credited as producer in HIStory!!!??? Just moneywise, there’s a difference! You really didn’t wonder where some royalties were coming from at that time? Eh eh.
Bill: When I was at Hayvenhurst (Encino) it was pretty much all Michael as far as working goes.
Yeah, I heard Men in Black endlessly through the doors at Record One. I can’t remember how it goes, but it was cool.
Regarding my apparent carelessness about what was released:
Believe me, if there was money involved, I’d be all over it. But the demos, rarities, and early versions were not slated for release, and I never made a deal for them. I got paid for my time.
When Dangerous came out, I was designated “Producer” and “Writer’ and made deals appropriately for my work on that album, including “Monkey Business” and “Earth Song” Part of that deal was to give up my claims to royalties on my previous “experimental” work.
This is why I never really followed what was going on in that world, and why I ask if I (at least) got credit for those rarities.
Re “Streetwalker” recording time:
Quincy Jones himself told that (detailed) story on the re-release Bad CD. Could his memory be THAT bad??? Are you sure, Bill, cos Streetwalker sounds like it would have fitted sonically and thematically on the BAD album – a sort of ‘Bad’ meets ‘Way you make me Feel’ street tune? Not doubting you but just asking you to double check your recollection.
Bill: Well, I know for sure the version we hear on Bad Re-issue was done between Bad and Dangerous, while Michael was on tour. Now i’m just trying to imagine some earlier version from Encino, (and coming up with nothing) OR. maybe there was a Westlake (Quincy) version!
I was always real suspicious of the “story” on the Bad reissue. MJ has spoken about how streetwalker and dangerous were related during a plagarism court deposition and reading between the lines, it sounded very much as if it was done post Bad. Add to this the overall sound of the track, especially the vocals which at least to my hears are harsher, and the horn stabs and vamp sound like synths as opposed to the seawind horns – anyways I always had trouble beleiving this track was made during the Bad project. perhaps there was an earlier version or demo or something, or maybe just quincy got it mixed up with another number.
Bill: in terms of the track on the re-issue, would you say there had been much done to it since you worked on it? in terms of “cleaning it up” or pro-tools or whatever, it’s real loud on that CD!! FWIW i love the guitar behind “baby I love you, baby i want you”
Bill: Yeah, this has become very confusing. I testified at Michael’s Denver plagiarism trial: about how I was working on “streetwalker” and came up with the “Dangerous” track.
I still can’t work out if there was maybe a previous demo of “Streetwalker”. It seems to me I can’t remember MJ ever coming all the way out to Smoketree.(to do vocals)That would indicate maybe a demo from Encino. Maybe Matt Forger worked on it.
What is heard on the Streetwalker release is my rough mix from Smoketree.
I played the horns, (samples) drums, bass, and guitars, and Jasun Martz came in to do the blues harp.
Here is why I’m shocked that some of my roughs have been released: There was a process that I learned well, that any MJ release went through: a process of vetting, re-thinking, replacing midi with live players, etc. It was a long process. “Streetwalker” never did that. Nor did “Come Together”. I doubt I ever made an analog mix of Streetwalker, somebody just took it from the DAT.
Russ: “Streetwalker” was recorded during the “BAD” sessions, not after. As Epic records began putting pressure on us to finish the album, Humberto Gatica was brought in to occupy Westlake Studio “C,” this way we had two Studio’s under one roof operating in high gear. I know he worked on “Streetwalker” for a couple weeks or so, as I was there. This move later became a thorn in Bruce Swedien’s side, when it became Grammy time.
“The Making of BAD” yes Michael did bring in a film crew … I’d love to see the footage, it was an exciting few days in the studio with them.
Bill, have you any idea on the following regarding “Men In Black”:
– which year it was worked on in the studio? Or even the year which you stated you heard it being played many times; was this at Record One at Sherman Oaks, or Ocean Way Studios on Sunset Blvd?
– do you remember if it only made the demo stages, or was it complete or almost completely produced/mastered piece?
– was it only Bryan Loren and MJ who worked on it?
Bill: It was at Record One, the little room with the API. (1990?) (about the time of our little run-in with Saddam Hussein) Brian and his engineer were in there forever. I never heard vocals on the song. They were using very early Pro-tools (called “Sound Tools”?) They dealt with tech issues more than I would have tolerated.
I have a question for robmix and anybody else who may have worked on the HIStory album.
Much of the music on HIStory was a direct reaction to what happened to MJ in 1993. A lot of it is very angry (Scream, They Don’t Care About Us, This Time Around, DS, Tabloid Junkie etc).
How was Michael’s demeanour in the studio during the recording of these songs? Did he rile himself up for these recordings or was he able to switch the anger on and off for the recording process?
Some footage went on YouTube years back that supposedly showed MJ kicking a stool around the studio as he recorded They Don’t Care About Us. Was it legitimate?
I think HIStory is easily his most personal album, and this aspect of the recording process – the anger of the music contrasted with the subdued persona you have described – really interests me.
Rob: MJ just wasn’t an angry person. I never saw him kick or throw anything around the studio, or yell at anyone. He wasn’t like that. He was able to turn the emotion on in the studio, then be done with it.
I have a question about Scream. Did Janet come into the studio at any point to record her vocals, or was it all done long distance?
If she did come into the studio, what was she like, how was the interaction between her and MJ, etc?
Rob: She did all the backgrounds with MJ at the Hit Factory in NYC. Studio 3, same vocal chain – Sony C800g into a Neve 1084, followed by an 1176ln. You often couldn’t tell the two apart, they were so tight together.
She also did a few leads during those days, but felt more comfortable doing them in Minneapolis, I assume without Michael watching, so she finished her leads there. They were like two kids together, singing songs they remembered from their childhood, reminiscing. She was extremely nice, a little shy, and humble. One of my favorite memories from the whole record actually. I worked with her again briefly in L.A. for a different record, and she was the same, very gracious.
I may be entirely wrong about this, but were household sound fx used in creating some of the beats? Sounds like cutlery/plates with a chorus effect on Dangerous.
Rob: Yes. During the HIStory sessions there were sampling sessions where we created custom sound fx libraries, and we had the entire Sound Ideas library. I can only assume Teddy was doing similar things during Dangerous.
I’m yet to see an audio industry professional who has not also been a fan of MJ’s work, so what’s wrong with non-professional fans dropping by here?
I’d personally love to see more people talk good about this man because I believe he deserved a good remembrance, despite all the bullshit he had to go through all his life.
Rob: Oddly enough, and I think I’ve said this before, I was not a fan of MJ when I got the call to work with him. I was a huge fan of Bruce, and really liked Teddy Riley’s programming on Dangerous, but I spent most of my youth listening to Black Flag and the Dead Kennedy’s.
It took all of about one hour of working with Michael to become a huge fan, and to be completely in awe of his abilities as an artist. He pretty much opened my eyes and ears to pop music in a new way, and paved the path for the next ten years of my career.
I have a few more questions :
1 – Among the recorded songs for History, what was the proportion of finished songs and demos?
2 – Do you know why Michael Jackson changed the falsetto part on earth song?
3 – When I listen to Scream and then to Invincible, it seems to me that the sound of Invincible could be heard on the first many years before. Were the arrangements on Scream really important to Michael Jackson? More than the other songs from History?
4 – In your opinion, which song was the hardest to finish? Why?
5 – For the first time, Michael Jackson made his album with orchestral songs (4, I think), was there a particular reason for that? I love the idea that Michael Jackson making a whole album just with orchestral songs!
6 – Do you know if the unreleased song Susie from 1978 was the early demo of Little Susie? Or are they two different songs?
7 – Why did Michael Jackson prefer to change the orchestral part of Little Susie for synthetic sounds? Was there a particular reason for that?
8 – Who decided to introduce the song Little Susie with a little girl and a music box (I love this idea!)?
9 – In This Time Around, who is the “second” mysterious girl on BIG’s rap?
10 – What was used to create the rolling sound in They Don’t Care About Us?
11- Considering the whole HIStory recorded sessions, what was the thing really impressed you the most from Michael Jackson?
12 – Was there a song Michael Jackson was especially proud of?
13 – Why did Michael Jackson want to record his own Smile version? Do you think that this melody was a part of his story?
14 – Do you know if Michael Jackson intended to record other “classical” musics like Smile?
15 – Who were the persons involved in the You Are Not Alone arrangements? Was R-Kelly here?
16 – Did Michael Jackson record his HIStory sessions with cams?
17 – An unheard masterpiece?
Thank you for your answers .
Rob: Uhh, wow . . .
1 – We probably worked on close to 40 tracks. 14 of which ended up on History, some more on Blood on the Dancefloor. There were a couple songs that were completely finished but not included. Only MJ knows why. And no, I won’t give the titles. Even though MJ has passed I respect his right to not release those songs, and I don’t want to fuel the speculation.
2 – If you’re talking about the ad libs, my understanding is the first time he sang it he didn’t have lyrics so he just kind of babbled. Once he wrote the lyrics and needed to sing it he knew it would kill his voice so it was sung the very last night of the project before mastering.
3 – The majority of the arrangement of Scream was completed by Jimmy and Terry before playing it for Michael. I don’t recall if very much changed instrumentally before they wrote lyrics and sang on it. As for why Invincible reminds you of that – you’d have to ask Rodney. . .
4 – hardest songs for MJ were probably Little Susie and They Don’t Care About Us. He had recorded them numerous times, and wasn’t happy with the results until HIStory.
5 – As far as I know there was no intention to record more songs with orchestra than previous records. Kind of just happened. It could have been influenced by the beautiful room at the Hit Factory but that is pure speculation.
6 – Not sure on the history of little susie. I never heard a demo of it, but I know that it existed before the HIStory sessions.
7 – I think it had to do with the key actually, and wanting Steve Pocaro’s take on the arrangement. At the time we didn’t know why he didn’t just rerecord the orchestra.
8 – That intro was all MJ’s idea from what I recall.
9 – not sure.
10 – rolling sound ? not sure what you mean.
11 – His work ethic, and the fact that I never heard him hit a bad note. On top of that he seemed to have the entire arrangement of every song in his head.
12 – Not that I recall. I don’t remember him having a favorite.
13 – it was a discussion that he and David Foster had about their favorite old songs while they were sitting at the piano. MJ loved Charlie Chaplin, that’s pretty well documented.
14 – I have no idea
15 – You are Not Alone was done by R. Kelly at his studio in Chicago. The files were brought to NY by his programmer Peter Mokran, and tracked to tape by Bruce. Additional overdubs were added by Steve Porcaro. Michael traveled to Chicago to work with Rob so I have no idea what happened there.
16 – no cameras anywhere
17 – I think there is one from our sessions. No, I won’t give out the title.
Could you report your memories on “Much Too Soon”?
Rob: That’s a very special song, and one of my favorite memories of Michael and Bruce. It was recorded very early on during the HIStory sessions. I believe at the time we only had the very beginnings of Stranger in Moscow, maybe the first part of the groove on They Don’t Care . . . . MJ as working at Sony studios with Brad Buxer most of the time, and the rest of us were over at the Hit Factory doing odd bits of work, and mixing. Michael came in one day and said he had an idea and needed a guitar player. So they called in a local session guy, Jeff Mirinov.
He sat with MJ in the iso-booth and Michael patiently sang every note of every chord, and the melody. He had the whole thing in his head. Once Jeff had it down, Michael came into the control room and sang live while Jeff did some takes. He used an SM-57 into Bruce’s Neve 1084’s into an 1176, silver face, set at 20:1 just to tame the peaks. The three of us sat at the console, and I believe we did about 5 or 6 takes. All of them amazing. We recorded to 2″ 24 track analog of course (Studer), 3M 996 with dolby SR. It would have been transferred to Sony 3348 for archiving, and possible overdubs. But the song was shelved and never brought up again. I was pretty shocked, one of my favorite MJ songs of all time.
Pretty magical at the time, my first vocal session with MJ, Bruce driving the ship, and Michael nailing every take perfectly sitting next to me. Tough to beat that !
I’ve got a couple more questions if you have some spare time :
1. did some songs change drastically throughout the HIStory sessions ? I’m talking about different lyrics, different arrangements, longer/shorter edits…etc
For instance, was there a complete version of Scream without Janet ?
2. Was Much Too Soon ever a contender to be on the final tracklist ? IMO, it would have been a great track to close the album
3. What about the D.S. vocal takes ? Was Michael particularly angry or “on fire” during this session ? This song probably meant a lot to him, and I really wonder what his state of mind was at the time…
Rob: 1. not really, Michael always seemed to have the entire arrangement in his head, though of course the actual sounds – drums, strings, etc. he played with depending on who the musicians were. The main thing we would have to edit or add was intro stuff, and bridges. Often a song might only be a string of verses and choruses, and the bridge or intro would come later. “They Don’t Care” is a song that took many different forms in the bridge. A lot of musicians played on it, and in the end MJ and Eddie edited together what you actually hear. I think there were something like 300 tracks to sort through just in the bridge section. Also he might not have all the lyrics when he started singing, as in the case with Earth song, and he would just sort of vocalize through it.
2. Much Too Soon, not that I remember. It seemed to be dropped fairly quickly.
3. Not really, Michael always seemed pretty zen about the whole press thing. Again, I never saw him lose his temper, not once. When he sang, he knew how to turn it on.
Why on MICHAEL credits “Much Too Soon” has been credited in 1981 ?
Rob: Not sure. Maybe he wrote it in 1981. He certainly didn’t give that impression when he came in to the studio that day. And no one in the production crew intimated they had ever heard the song before.
Speaking of Much Too Soon, have you heard the final version that’s getting released on the new album ? Was the original version just vocals + guitar ?
What about the harmonica, the accordion and the “Ennio Morricone-like” female background vocals? Are they recent overdubs, or were some of them recorded back in 1994 ? I’m asking because you’re probably the only one who can tell the difference (lucky you !)
Rob: Haven’t heard the released version. I don’t recall any other overdubs on the song, though there’s an outside chance we put strings on it. If so, maybe Geoff Grace who’s here on GS would remember. He and Brad were doing string arrangements for some of the songs during that part of the project. Other than that, it was just Mj and guitar. . . .
What was it like working on Come Together, in my opinion, it’s far superior to the original! So much attitude, what a guy!
Rob: We did very little on “Come Together”. . . most if not all of it was recorded prior to HIStory. Eddie DeLena and MJ did most of the work on that one.
Does an “MJ Only” version of Scream exist?
Rob: Not to my knowledge. When we did the vocals for Scream at the Hit Factory in New York MJ did not sing Janet’s verses. Those sections were left empty, and Janet sang the leads back in Minneapolis where she was more comfortable.
I have 3 questions about HIStory.
– When was recorded exactly Much Too Soon ? 1994? 1995?
– Did Mike worked with other artists for duets than his sister Janet for HIStory?
And I’m still shock that Mike liked and listened Nine Inch Nails’s Downward Spiral! The song CLOSER is far from his univers! The lyrics are, very far from Heal The World! Did Mike wanted to work with Nine Inch Nails ?
Rob: It would have been recorded in the first few months of ’94.
MJ never revealed if he wanted to work with NIN. He just liked the sounds. . .
There were no other duets recorded at the time.
You may have already told us this, but did you get to meet Jimmy Jam and Lewis?
If so, did you get to hear the Tabloid demo they presented to MJ, or any of the other instrumental demo tracks they had in mind for him? Were you involved in this recording? If you have any stories about MJ and the Jimmy Jam/Lewis tracks, their meetings with MJ/recording sessions etc, they would be awesome to hear 🙂
Rob: I’ve got a few of Jam and Lewis stories. . . They’re probably my favorite production team of all time !!
I was there when they first played the track ideas for MJ. There were 3 ideas. One of course became Scream, the second became “Runaway” for Janet, and I don’t recall the third, but I’m fairly certain it was not Tabloid or History. I also assisted on the Scream vocal sessions with both Jimmy and Terry. This was all in New York. Janet, as has been said before, recorded her leads back in Minneapolis while we moved our camp to Los Angeles.
When we got to L.A., Jimmy spent a lot of time at Larrabee studios with both Andrew Scheps and I. He had brought Tabloid and History out from Minneapolis with him. “Tabloid” sounded almost finished from the very first time we pulled it up. At some point Jimmy brought Steve Hodge out to help with mixes as they had a lot of experience getting Janet’s vocals sound right.
Jimmy and MJ spent a fair amount of time listening to Sly and the family stone tracks for background arrangement ideas on “Too Bad”. MJ had access to their multi-tracks so they even listened to those but I was not there to see that.
History the song took four Sony 3348 digital multitrack machines and two SSL’s all tied together for the mix.
Several people have asked me about the weird flanged hihat part on Too bad. That’s actually a hihat part played by Jimmy that I used as a trigger on a gated robot sound from the Roland S-760. The gate was a Drawmer 201. Kind of Teddy Riley trick. . . Also, Jimmy played the main clav part on that song, my Roland JD-800, stock sound.
As a funny side note, my last year of audio engineering school I sat down with one of my teachers to talk about career direction. When asked what I wanted to do I said I really wanted to learn engineering from Bruce Swedien, and work with Jam and Lewis. He laughed in my face, and said “yeah don’t we all.” And something about not aiming so high. . . Just over a year later I was assisting and programming for everyone on my list 🙂
Hey RobMix. I got two questions that I hope you can answer for me.
Thanks a lot in advance.
1. Did MJ ever change/finish the lyrics right there at the spot? Or did he always have the lyrics 100% fready and recorded exactly what he had already written?
2. After you all were done with the production of the instrumental part (even if it was to be changed when everything was completely ready), when MJ stepped inside the booth to lay his vocals, was there any particular instrument or effect that he wanted you to mute out of what was coming out through his headphones? Perhaps because that sound/instrument was distracting him?
Rob: Most of the lead vocals were recorded with just MJ and Eddie Delena in the room. Total privacy. There were definitely songs that Michael would sing before they were finished, he might vocalize different sections to see if lyric ideas came up. Earth Song is a good example of that.
There would definitely be parts of the track he might want muted while singing. Depended on the track. Nothing comes to mind off hand, because he would often make do with what he had if changing the cue mix would take too much time.
Now that we are talking about Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis work with MJ, there’s any MJ unreleased track produced/written by Jimmy and Terry?
Rob: Not that I’m aware of. HIStory, Tabloid, Scream, Is it Scary, and then Jimmy’s contributions to the other songs on the record are all that we worked on. There was a track during the initial listening session with Jam and Lewis, but it never showed up again during our sessions.
In your experience, did Michael really record 100+ (more or less.) for EACH album?.
See?!, there’s this myth that’s been around eversince he passed, and I believe it is not true.
I don’t think there’s more than 50 finished unreleased track that they (Sony and The Estate) can use for new albums. But you know better than me.
Can you say how many tracks left are there from the time you worked with him? If you don’t want to say any names, that’s ok, but at least say an approximate number.
Rob: we worked on about 40 tracks for History. 15 were released on that record, with three stragglers released on “Blood on the Dancefloor”.
Just a few of the unreleased tracks on History could really be called close to finished. Many of the rest are just pieces of grooves, clicks with a few sounds, maybe some MJ vocalizing, and that’s about it. Babyface worked on two tracks which you’ve heard on 3T. Dallas Austin did a few things that no one’s heard, but I don’t know how much involvement MJ actually had on those. Rene and Bruce created lots of tracks but MJ only worked on Too Bad. So 100+ ? Not on HIStory.
1. Just wondering if you could provide me some details about the beginning of recording HIStory in January 1994, ie. date recording started if possible?, where (I presume Hit Factory) and what was recorded first
2. Also, do you what date the album was taken to Bernie Grundmans to be mastered?
3. Which songs from HIStory were recorded at the Hit Factory NYC, and which ones at Record One and Larrabee?
4. Why did recording move to LA in December 1994?
Rob: 1. Writing began on the Dangerous tour, and at Neverland with Brad Buxer and Michael. We began recording at Hit Factory about a week or two after the Northridge earthquake (the reason for MJ coming to NYC in the first place). I’m sure I have the date somewhere but not offhand. Bruce and Rene had lots of tracks before MJ even got there. MJ started with Stranger in Moscow.
2. Bernie ? Not sure. I’d have to dig it up. Maybe April of ’95. . .
3. Everything was started at Hit Factory except the Jam and Lewis, Dallas Austin, and R. Kelly songs. More recording and all mixes were completed at either Record One or Larabee, with a few sessions at Oceanway, Westlake, and Soundcastle. The Jam and Lewis songs were all mixed at Larabee, everything else was mixed at Record One.
4. It was too cold in NYC, M wanted to go home.
During the recording of HIStory, the song “Why” was up for consideration, but was eventually given to 3T for their album. Is there a full version of Why with just MJ on the vocals, and if so, what would be the likelihood we could see it released. I’ve always loved that song.
Rob: I don’t recall MJ actually singing on it. Though he may have sung it with Bruce and Kenny in studio 4 while we were working away in Studio 3. From what I recall, MJ thought it sounded too much like a Babyface song and thought 3T would like it.
You’ve wrote that you haven’t heard the released version. When you have the possibility to listen to the released version of ‘Much Too Soon’ can you please confirm that the released track is indeed Much Too Soon?
I’m asking this because of the lyrics of the song. MJ sings I’ve learned my lesson much too soon. Now there’s a song titled ‘Learned My Lesson’ which MJ wrote in the early 80s (the track itself is registered at the US coppyright office since ages). Are both the same song or not?
Could it be that the estate chose the track ‘Learned My Lesson’ and renamed it into ‘Much Too Soon’?
Rob: I listened on iTunes, and that’s Much Too Soon for sure, but it’s impossible to tell if that’s the version we recorded during History. The version we worked on was not orchestrated to that degree. No accordian, no harmonica solo, and I don’t recall a guitar solo either. But ours could have been the foundation for the released version, I just can’t tell.
As for it being the same as the song ‘Learned My Lesson’ from the 80’s, I have no idea.
You said Blood was started after HIStory. Any idea when this was? If it’s any help, the studios used were Soundtrack in NY, Montreux in Switzerland and Record Plant in LA.
Dave: I mixed Superfly Sister and Morphine at Record Plant and I think I mixed Ghosts and Is It Scary, or at least one of them which was at Larrabee West.
These were all after History was out.
From what I remember, which isn’t all that much, those songs had not been worked on since they were originally recorded. At least that was my impression.
These sessions were markedly different for me than the Dangerous album.
Dangerous was fun and upbeat with lots going on and lots of people in and out. Blood was comparatively quiet with basically just me, Michael and Matt Forger.
One thing I remember which I’ll share…one night, after tweaking a mix with Michael over the phone he said, “Great, can you please put on Matt ?”. Matt talked to him for a sec and then said to me ” OK, I need that DAT player, a pair of Auratones and an amp”. He then immediately left to catch the first flight out of LAX to some remote location where Michael was. Apparently this wasn’t the first time he’d done that.
Once Michael heard it in person, the mix was approved and we printed.
Thanks for that Dave. The credits for ‘Morphine’ say Ocean Way was used in 96/97. What was done at this studio?
What month did you and Teddy arrive in 1990 for the dangerous project? Where is Teddy based now that Virginia Beach was damaged?
Is it true Heavy D recommended Teddy to Michael?
Were you there in NYC when HIStory began?
Dave: don’t know about the recording of Morphine. Only know that we mixed it at Record Plant in 96 or 97.
We arrived in L.A. in Feb of ’91. I remember only because at that time, I had recently started playing golf and I’d brought my clubs with me. I was thrilled that I could run down to the Par 3 Studio City golf course on Whitsett before heading to the studio in the middle of February.
Don’t know about if Heavy D recommended Teddy but that might be true as we had a couple of hits with Heavy right about that time with “Now That We Found Love” and ” Is It Good To You”.
I was not involved with History at all though I had been working with Dallas Austin a lot before then. Dangerous was the last project I worked on with Teddy. While we were in L.A., he was building his studio in Virginia Beach. I thought hard about whether to follow him there or to stay in L.A. which I immediately loved. Also, there was a girl at Larrabee that caught my eye.
We now have two kids and still live in L.A. though I don’t golf much these days.
The discussion took place on message board gearslutz.com in June 2009 – October 2011.