Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Behind The Sample: Michael Jackson - 'Behind The Mask'

Like many children of the '80s, I grew up idolizing Michael Jackson. In fact, some of the earliest surviving VHS footage from my youth showcases my attempts at the moonwalk.

Despite many of his later accusations and odd behaviors, Jackson's early influence on my own musical upbringing always remained, so I was taken aback when I heard of his passing. To his fans, it was the end of an era.

Naturally, I was a bit hesitant to embrace Jackson's latest "album", Michael -- a collection of unfinished songs recorded by Jackson and delivered posthumously by several producers on behalf of his estate.

While it's hard to say from an outside perspective whether the album stays true to Jackson's meticulous and perfectionist vision, it is obvious that the producers worked hard to make this collection sound like a complete album. And while it may not always meet the insurmountable expectations of mourning fans, it does have some outstanding moments.

I would even go so far as to suggest that a few of the tracks on Michael are among Jackson's best in years.

One particular track which has quickly become an album favorite of mine is called "Behind the Mask." The song is refreshingly full of the energy and danceability that originally earned Jackson his throne as the King of Pop.

According to one Metafilter blog, "Behind the Mask" has been long-awaited by his fans - a song that's been sitting on the shelf since Jackson's time working with producer Quincy Jones and possibly recorded as far back as his Off The Wall or Thriller days.

You can listen to Michael Jackson's "Behind the Mask" below: *

What I didn't realize when I first heard "Behind the Mask" was that it is essentially a reinvention of another song by the same title by Yellow Magic Orchestra.

The original version was recorded in 1979 by the influential Japanese group, who are often credited as pioneers of modern electronic music.

Stream Yellow Magic Orchestra's original version below:

Yellow Magic Orchestra - Behind the Mask .mp3

Found at bee mp3 search engine

You may immediately notice that Jackson's version of the song retained the otherworldly keyboards and robotic vocals of the original, while ramping up the dance rhythms. But it's once MJ takes control with his signature vocals that the song cruises into hyperdrive.

After hearing Jackson's contribution, one might wonder how the original melody was ever conceived without him in mind.

But there's more to this story...

Jackson's recording never made it to album form until now. What is interesting is that the song was re-recorded by Jackson's keyboardist, Greg Phillinganes.

Phillinganes joined Eric Clapton's band and the song "Behind the Mask" was then released on Clapton's 1986 album,

Don't believe me? Stream Eric Clapton's version of the song below to hear for yourself:

Eric Clapton - Behind The Mask .mp3

Found at bee mp3 search engine

* (The Michael album credits "Behind the Mask" songwriting to Jackson, Chris Mosdell and Ryuichi Sakamoto (of YMO), with production by Jackson and John McClain.)


Anonymous said...

Awesome post, this is the only song on the album that i think is actually michael. Its such a sick song! I made a tribute to mj last year, lemme know what you think :D

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad I found this article. I knew the song sounded like some song from long ago. YMO!