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MICHAEL: The Story Behind The Album

Article by Princess-Yvonne posted over a year ago
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(4-12-2010) On December 14, 2010 the much anticipated album from Michael Jackson entitled MICHAEL will be released. The Official Online Team of the Michael Jackson Estate and Sony Music have released some details about the project which we can share with you now below.

Introduction

Michael Jackson passed away as his vision was taking shape for his next album, working diligently on songs he expressly wanted to share with his fans.

These songs could simply have become part of the rich legacy of unreleased work left behind by one of the world’s great artists. But as it soon became clear to both the Michael Jackson Estate and Sony Music, there was an obligation not only to Michael’s fans but to Michael himself not to let this amazing music gather dust in a vault. It was decided the album that was taking shape needed to be properly completed and released in a thoughtful, dignified way that would honor Michael’s legacy.

While Michael was not there to complete the tracks as only he could, he had left behind a unique roadmap mapping out his creative vision in the form of notes and detailed conversations with the people he was working with as well as those he was planning to work with.

This enabled everyone involved in “Michael” to follow his voice and the guiding hand they felt was present in helping them complete the album. For those who generously lent their creative talents to “Michael,” this was a labor of love honoring someone who had inspired all of them.

How “Michael” Came Together

“Michael” had been evolving as Michael Jackson albums would.

In 2004, Michael, with the help of his then-attorney, John Branca, ended his relationship with Sony Music and its then CEO, Tommy Mottola. In the intervening years, Michael had been working on music intended for a forthcoming release, drawing up its creative blueprints and recording tracks that would provide the foundation while, at the same time, the regime at Sony Music changed and Michael developed good relations with its current executives, working with them on the 25th Anniversary album commemorating “Thriller” in 2008. Michael was delighted to personally receive special multi-platinum discus for the project at a reception held by Sony Music in Los Angeles in February 2009.

As work for the new album resumed, he would slowly narrow down the tracks and refine them as his vision took shape. Much of the recording was taking place out of the public eye and in secret. Akon noted in an interview that after their song “Hold My Hand” was leaked to the Internet due to a security breach, both he and Michael became extremely cautious about the location of any work they might do to protect it from being exploited in that way again.

Akon: “Well, after that experience, we all became super protective. More so him, though. You know, he was like “Okay, we gotta figure this out. Now, we’re gonna work out of the house. I’m not working at the studio no more.”

Nonetheless, Michael still was aiming to write, record and release his artistry to his fans. Neff-U (Ron Feemster) in an interview told of being around Michael shortly before his passing, and witnessing a renewed passion in Michael for writing music and sharing it with the world. He said:

Neff-U: “But he was, like, "We've got to give the world a gift. We have to give them these songs…”

Interviewer: “And so, the process--Would he come with lyrics? Would he make them up as he went along? Did he say, "I want to write a song about this today?" “

Neff-U: “No. He was, like, "How you feel?" I was, like, "I feel good." I was, like, "How you feel?" He was, like, "I feel good." And he was, like, "Let's see what happens." And the fireplace would be on, even during the summertime. You know, it was just the whole atmosphere, it was really cool. Um, and I would start to play, and he would just start to hum. And then, the next thing you know, the lyrics would come. And--And the song would start developing itself.”

Several people, including Neff-U, Eddie Cascio and Frank Dileo, Michael’s manager at the time of his passing, knew of Michael’s plans to continue recording once he relocated to England for the start of what would have been the O2 performances, the rehearsals of which were featured in the hit film “Michael Jackson’s This is It.”

Eddie Cascio: “The plan was to continue the recording process over in London, and on the days off or the weeks off that he had, you know, we would be, you know, working at a studio that he was gonna have put in at his home in London…He had made it clear that, you know, that he wanted-- he wanted me to be out there and to-- to continue working on the music…You know, he had every intention to entertain his fans once again through his music.”

After an inventory was taken by the Estate of the songs Michael had been working on, the decision was made that to bring Michael’s artistry to completion and to do it proper justice, many of the very producers and talent he trusted his work to in life or those he had planned to work with would be asked to bring his vision to reality. Using the blueprints Michael provided with his notes, his voice and the creative ideas he had shared, they took the songs in various stages of production and completed the album.

For Akon, it was an opportunity to finally finish “Hold My Hand,” a song that had not been ready for the world to hear when it leaked out on the Internet after he and Michael recorded it.

Akon: “But its time has definitely come; now in its final state, it has become an incredible, beautiful, anthemic song. I’m so proud to have had the chance to work with Michael, one of my all time idols.”

In an interview, Akon added that he felt a responsibility that the song should be heard and released through the proper channels.

Akon: “You know, I wanted his children, more so than anything, to benefit off this record, 'cause that's what he would've wanted, you know, and his family to properly be able to sit back and say, "He left something behind that we can all benefit and cherish."

He continued:

So far, I haven't heard any, you know, complaints from anyone involved, so I know that everything is going the way it's supposed. So, it feels good knowing that his property now is gonna have the showcase opportunity that it was supposed to, and that feels good. That feels great. Like, that feels better than anything, knowing that it's now gonna be properly presented to the world.”

Three of the tracks have relatively mundane origins. Michael had a longstanding friendship with the Cascios, a suburban family he got to know because patriarch Dominic was one of the managers at the Helmsley Palace Hotel, where Michael regularly stayed while visiting New York. He was welcomed into the home of Dominic and Connie for dinners as a respite from his hectic life as a superstar artist, and became a mentor to sons, Eddie and Frank, who growing up had musical aspirations.

In 2007, Michael and his family spent four months staying with the Cascio family at their Bergen County home, which had a simple home recording studio in which the tracks for “Breaking News,” “Monster,” and “Keep Your Head Up”’ were recorded. Frank Dileo, Michael’s former manager, has confirmed that he spoke to Michael by telephone at the Cascio's home studio several times while he was recording with them, and said Michael “was excited and enthused by the music and the experience.”

While these vocals may have been “guide vocals,” or in demo form, it does not detract in any way from their quality or their authenticity. In fact, since the announcement that “Monster” is to be one of the tracks included on “Michael,” 50 Cent (Curtis Jackson) has confirmed that Michael contacted him personally about his desire to collaborate on this track. The day the track list for the album was announced publicly, 50 Cent sent a message to his fans on Twitter that “michael reached out to me to do this song before he passed it going to be the biggest thing ever. hes the one we got our idea from”.

In a subsequent interview in advance of the release of “Michael,” 50 Cent described how his DJ told him Michael was interested. He said:

50 Cent: “…he was interested in working with me, and he said he had something he wanted me to actually hear, a song that he created that he would be perfect for us to collaborate on…”

adding…

50 Cent: So, you know, it's, like, I was aware of the actual song, that there was something that he wanted to do, and I said I'd collaborate with him. I wanted to do the record.”

Likewise, Teddy Riley, who had worked with Michael since 1991 on Dangerous, HIStory, The Addams Family Values project and Invincible, knew Michael’s work intimately. He listened to the music before becoming involved in helping finish “Michael” and producing two of the three Cascio tracks, “Monster” and “Breaking News.” He knew it was his friend’s voice when he heard it and The Finisher, as Michael affectionately called him, did what he always did when coming in on a project with Michael. He said:

Teddy Riley: “Needless to say, we spent months and months in the studio together. The times I spent with Michael were very important, dear, special, and learning experiences. I studied Michael and everything about him from day one. I know Michael's voice in every range; I've explored Michael's vocal ability from baritone and tenor to alto and soprano. As the years went by, I've witnessed his tones changing, sometimes up or down. My feeling on the authenticity of his vocals on this album (another masterpiece) are that they were all done by Michael in different places and in different climates. The vocals sounded very polished, very on key and processed. I have no doubts that these are Michael's vocals. I stand for myself with no discrimination.”

While much of the album stems from new inspirations and work Michael was doing with contemporary artists he wanted to work with, as was often the case some songs fermented over time until they found the right album. Two songs on “Michael” - “Much Too Soon” and “Behind the Mask” -- fit the spirit of those songs that Michael would eventually find homes for. In fact, it was John McClain, one of the co-executors of the Estate and a producer for the song “This Is It” released last year on the companion album for the highly acclaimed documentary, “Michael Jackson’s This Is It”, who chose to work on both songs himself. “Much Too Soon” was written around the time of “Thriller” but Michael had never found the right album for it. “Behind the Mask” also had its origins in the 1980s when Michael heard the music performed by the Yellow Magic Orchestra, and contacted Ryiuchi Sakamoto asking for permission to write lyrics for it.

The “Authenticity” of Three Tracks

The debut of “Breaking News,” one of three tracks on the album Michael recorded in the New Jersey home of the Cascio family, led some to cast doubt on the “authenticity” of these songs. This triggered no shortage of bizarre theories by people seeking attention and those claiming to have knowledge of a vast conspiracy. One London tabloid printed a claim by a Michael impersonator from Italy armed with these “facts”: He thinks he may have recorded tracks in secret in a studio in Switzerland “after being approached by a man, whom he thinks was from Bahrain, to record the studio sessions, and paid 2000 Euros per track.”

Mindful of the importance of Michael’s legacy and how much he valued his fans, both the Michael Jackson Estate and Sony Music went to even greater lengths on their own to authenticate the tracks before it was even announced they would be included on the album. As Estate attorney Howard Weitzman detailed in a letter circulated among Michael’s fans:

* Six of Michael’s former producers and engineers who had worked with Michael over the past 30 years – Bruce Swedien, Matt Forger, Stewart Brawley, Michael Prince, Dr. Freeze and Teddy Riley – were all invited to a listening session to hear the raw vocals of the Cascio tracks in question. All confirmed that the vocal was definitely Michael.

* Michael’s musical director and piano player on many of his records over a 20-year period, Greg Phillinganes, played on a Cascio track being produced for the album, and said the voice was definitely Michael’s.

* Dorian Holley, who was Michael’s vocal director for his solo tours for 20 plus years (including the O2 Concert Tour) and is seen in the film, “Michael Jackson’s This Is It”, listened to the Cascio tracks and said the lead vocal was Michael Jackson.

* Engineers, producers and musicians who worked on tours and/or in the studio with Michael when he was recording Bad, Thriller, Off The Wall, Dangerous, Invincible, HIStory and Blood On The Dance Floor, all listened to the music and they all reconfirmed their belief that the lead vocals were Michael’s voice on the Cascio tracks.

* Two of the nation’s preeminent forensic musicologists in the United States independently evaluated the tracks using audio analysis. Both reported that the lead vocals analyzed were those of Michael.

* Two prominent persons in the music industry who played crucial roles in Michael’s career, were also played the music and both believe that the lead vocals were Michael’s.

As a result, Sony Music concluded: “We have complete confidence in the results of our extensive research as well as the accounts of those who were in the studio with Michael that the vocals on the new album are his own.”

And the album was mastered and prepared for release using a mural created by artist, Kadir Nelson, as its cover. The mural is the visual story of Michael’s life and career and acknowledges those people and events that influenced him.

MICHAEL’S SONGS:

1. Hold My Hand (Duet with Akon)
Written by Aliaune Thiam, Giorgio Tuinfort, Claude Kelly
Produced by Akon, Giorgio Tuinfort & Michael Jackson

“Hold My Hand” debuted as the first single. Recorded with Akon in 2008 in Las Vegas, it leaked out and was never released. Akon completed the song, with a music video to premiere December 9. “Hold My Hand” was written by Akon, Giorgio Tuinfort, Claude Kelly and produced by Akon, Giorgio Tuinfort and Michael Jackson.

2. Hollywood Tonight
Written by Michael Jackson, Brad Buxer/Spoken Bridge Written by Teddy Riley
Produced by Teddy Riley, Michael Jackson/Co-Produced by Theron “Neff-U” Feemster

Written by Michael during the time of the Invincible album, Michael pulled the track out of the archives in 2007 to work on the song with producer Ron “Neff-U” Feemster, Hollywood Tonight was written by Michael Jackson; the spoken bridge was written by Teddy Riley and the track was produced by Teddy Riley, Michael Jackson with co-producer by Theron “Neff-U” Feemster.

3. Keep Your Head Up
Written by Michael Jackson, Eddie Cascio, James Porte
Produced by C “Tricky” Stewart, Angelikson, Michael Jackson

In 2007, Michael wrote that inspirational ode with Eddie Cascio and James Porte in New Jersey. Keep Your Head Up was produced by Tricky Stewart, Angelikson, and Michael Jackson.

4. (I Like) The Way You Love Me
Written by Michael Jackson
Produced by Theron “Neff-U” Feemster, Michael Jackson

This song was originally released in its early stages of development as a demo on Ultimate Collection in 2004; it was song that Michael loved and was finishing in Los Angeles. The Way You Love Me was written by Michael Jackson and produced by Theron “Neff-U” Feemster and Michael Jackson.

5. Monster (Featuring 50 Cent)
Written by Michael Jackson, Eddie Cascio, James Porte/Rap Lyrics Written by Curtis Jackson
Produced by Teddy Riley, Angelikson, Michael Jackson

Recorded in New Jersey in 2007 at the Cascio home, Michael actually recorded some of his background vocals through a PVC pipe for the song. The song also features the rap of 50 Cent, who Michael had contacted about the collaboration. Monster was written by Michael Jackson, Eddie Cascio and James Porte with Rap Lyrics Written by Curtis Jackson. It was produced by Teddy Riley, Angelikson and Michael Jackson.

6. Best Of Joy
Written by Michael Jackson
Produced by Theron “Neff-U” Feemster, Michael Jackson
Co-Produced by Brad Buxer

“Best of Joy” is one of the very last songs Michael was working on and had planned to continue to work on while in London for the O2 arena shows in Summer 2009. The song was written by Michael Jackson and produced by Theron “Neff-U” Feemster, Michael Jackson and co-producer by Brad Buxer.


7. Breaking News
Written by Michael Jackson, Eddie Cascio, James Porte
Produced by Teddy Riley, Angelikson, Michael Jackson

“Breaking News” recorded the song in 2007 in the New Jersey home of the Cascio family. Writers on the song are Michael Jackson as well as Eddie Cascio and James Porte. The song was produced by Teddy Riley, (Eddie Cascio & James Porte) Angelikson and Michael Jackson.

8. (I Can’t Make It) Another Day (Featuring Lenny Kravitz)
Written by Lenny Kravitz
Produced by Lenny Kravitz
Co-Produced by Michael Jackson

Recorded as a demo with Lenny Kravitz during the Invincible era, the song unexpectedly leaked in 2008 prompting Lenny to finish the song. Dave Grohl is the featured drummer on the track. Written by Lenny Kravitz and produced Lenny Kravitz and Michael Jackson.

9. Behind The Mask
Written by Michael Jackson, Chris Mosdell, Ryuichi Sakamoto
Produced by Michael Jackson, John McClain

After hearing "Behind The Mask" as performed by Yellow Magic Orchestra, Michael contacted Ryiuchi Sakamoto asking for permission to add his lyrics on the track. It was recently completed by John McClain. The song is written by Michael Jackson, Chris Mosdell and Ryuichi Sakamoto and produced by Michael Jackson and John McClain. “Behind The Mask” contains a sample of the recording "Behind The Mask" as performed by Yellow Magic Orchestra.


10. Much Too Soon
Written by Michael Jackson
Produced by Michael Jackson, John McClain

“Much Too Soon” was written at time of Thriller. But never found the right home on an album. The song was written by Michael Jackson and produced by Michael Jackson and John McClain. David Campbell is featured on the strings.

Conclusion

What does the future hold for the incredible wealth of other amazing tracks Michael left behind? The immediate goal of both the Estate and Sony was to complete this album that Michael had set out to make, selecting the combination of tracks that best represented the mixture of new creativity and vintage sounds Michael liked to combine. While it is too early to announce specific future projects, it is safe to say that given how much Michael valued his fans the selection and release of those works will be done in a way that properly honors his legacy.



Source: MJFC / The Official Online Team of the Michael Jackson Estate®
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