1987

Top 10 Michael Jackson Covers

This Sunday would’ve been Michael Jackson’s 57th birthday. Instead of dwelling over the fact he’s no longer with us, it’s a time to celebrate his wonderful music. No matter what you thought of him it’s clear his music has inspired artists across a span of genres from R&B to rock. Some artists have even taken it upon themselves to cover their favorite Jackson song. Of course no one does it better than Michael, but some artists have come close. There are a ton of terrible ones out there, but here are ten of the best Michael Jackson covers.

10. “The Girl is Mine” – Richard Cheese

Richard Cheese is known for making lounge style covers out of popular songs. He previously covered Jackson’s “Beat It,” but it’s his version of “The Girl is Mine” that’s unique and hilarious. The song starts out like a standard lounge tune and Cheese sounds smooth and silky. Just imagine him snapping his fingers to the beat while listening to it. After the first verse he introduces a special guest, which is supposed to be Stephen Hawking. Yeah, you read that right. Of course it’s not actually him, but hearing an automated voice singing this Jackson duet is weird, but is sure to put a smile on your face. It’s a bit silly, but you gotta admit Jackson’s tunes sound pretty good in lounge style.

9. “Billie Jean” – Nonpoint

This song has been speed up to be a punk rock anthem and tuned down to be a metal nightmare, but Nonpoint puts a different spin on it. They slow things down to make a brooding, melancholy song. Singer Ellias Soriano sounds vulnerable, broken, and hurt as he wails “but the kid is not my son.” Any ounce of happiness or fun is completely stripped away from the track. We’re left with the underlying angst and anger that was masked by the catchy beats. It’s not until you hear the song in this style that you realize how somber it can be.

8. “Dirty Diana” – Bruno Mars/Christina Aguilera

Both of these artists covered the sexy song during live performances and they’re both excellent. Mars’ version is very faithful to the original. In the clip, he plays the dirty riff while the synth soars behind him. He didn’t go too far from the source material, but he at least sounds really good while singing it. I’m sure he could release this as a single and it would sell well. The same goes for Aguilera’s version, which she sang at a Jackson tribute concert. But her impressive vocals matched with the steamy lyrics will give you chills.

7. “Speed Demon” – Xerath

It may come as a surprise to learn how many metal bands love covering Michael Jackson songs. “Beat It” seems to be the favorite track, but this British band went for one of the underrated tracks from Bad. Everything about this version kicks ass from the riff given a dirty make over to the intense vocals screaming “Speed demon!” that sounds like singer Richard Thomson is ripping his vocal cords. This track captures the dangerous and edginess Jackson tried to give off on the original. This track has the same spirit of the original, yet has its own flavor that makes it unique.

6. “P.Y.T.” – The Wood Brothers

There’s a good chance you may not have heard of this Americana blues band, but they know what makes a good cover song. As part of the A.V. Club’s project where artists choose a song to cover from a list, these guys choose this tune from Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It starts out a little wonky with the jarring vocals and silly music, but it all falls into place by the time they reach the hook. They turn the song from an R&B dance track to a smooth, folksy tune that sounds just as silky as the original. The coolest part is during the refrain where instead of singing “Pretty young things/repeat after me” they freestyle riffs instead, but that doesn’t stop a chorus of people from responding with “Na-na-na-na.”

5. “D.D.” – The Weeknd

With comparisons to the late pop star, it’s no surprise that The Weeknd covered this sultry track from Bad. It starts out pretty faithful to the original, but once it gets to the chorus hard electronic beats take over creating a lush soundscape of pulsating rhythm. This version takes the grittiness and edge out of the song, but turns it into more of an atmospheric track that ends up sounding more sad than angry. It’s a subtle tweak to the song, but it’s effective at giving it a completely different vibe.

4. “Billie Jean” – The Bates

This German punk band, known for their cover tunes oddly enough, turns the R&B filled track into a raucous punk anthem made for moshing. Their version is pretty faithful to the original except when it comes to the music. Their gritty guitars and energetic vibe punches up the song and brings it into the rock realm. The best part is the chorus where you can picture them pogo dancing while singing “Billie Jean is not my lover.” Something about it is fun, upbeat, vibrant, and just really inviting. Whether you like Michael Jackson or not this song is sure to get you in the pit. They’re cover songs are pretty spectacular. Check out their version of The Cure’s “Wailing Wall.”

3. “I’ll Be There” – Mariah Carey

This Jackson 5 track was always kind of mushy and definitely got the feels going, especially when Michael performed it in concert. Carey does a very faithful rendition of the song that doesn’t hold back on the emotions. Her soft soaring vocals that made her a household name in the 90s, work perfectly with this slow track and turns it into something beautiful. She did such an amazing job with it that it became a regular in her catalog and many believe it surpasses the original. She was even nominated for a Grammy for the song in 1993. Of course it took on new meaning when she performed it at Jackson’s memorial service in 2009. Say what you want about Mariah now, but back in the day her voice was something out of this world.

2. “Smooth Criminal” – Alien Ant Farm

These guys proved it was possible to make a kick ass MJ cover without royally fucking it up. Jackson has always incorporated rock influences into his music and this proves how well his songs work when you replace the synth with gritty guitars. It turns this classic Jackson jam into a headbanger. What’s even better is the video filled with references to the singer’s videos from Bubbles to the “Thriller” ending. How many can you spot? Alien Ant Farm may not be remembered for anything else, but at least they gave us this awesome cover that shows how universal Jackson’s music is.

1. “Thriller” – Imogen Heap

Ever think the creep-tacular filled “Thriller” would work as a soft ballad? Somehow Imogen Heap makes it work. With a stark, beautiful piano accompanying her she sounds haunting, yet beautiful as she sings Jackson’s iconic tune. She sounds breathy and airy as she whispers “Cause this is thriller/thriller night.” It really catches you by surprise with how awesome it is. Who would’ve thought the song would work well at a slower speed and without Vincent Price’s eerie laugh? This is everything a good cover is supposed to be: a hint of the original, but different enough to grab your attention.

Which Michael Jackson cover is your favorite? Is there another great one I missed? Let me know in the comments!

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Bad 25 Documentary

Bad_25_film_posterRelease Year: 2012

Rating: 9.5/10

This Spike Lee directed film premiered last year on TV and only came out on home media mid-2013. When it was first released, the response to it was overwhelming and it’s easy to see why. The film is focused and well put together. Rather than trying to talk about Michael Jackson‘s entire career, it focuses on the Bad era. Unlike other documentaries that have been released since his death, this one feels authentic since Lee speaks with several people who have worked extensively with the singer. It’s an awesome film that gives fans an inside look at the making of Bad.

With Bad being my favorite Jackson album, I was all over this film. I think it’s safe to say that this is the best documentary released since his death. Hell, it may even be one of the best ones out there. What I really like is all the footage that’s included. Some of it has been seen before, but there are so many others from around the world that have rarely been seen. What’s even better are all the behind the scenes and candid footage from the era. I can’t tell you how much I loved the making of the “Bad” and “The Way You Make me Feel” footage. I was surprised that I hadn’t seen it before since most of these films recycle interviews you can easily find on the internet. Fans get to see rehearsals for scenes from “Smooth Criminal” to “Bad.” There’s also a segment on the “Speed Demon” video where it is revealed that it was Jackson’s idea to have a California Raisin commercial based on his image. It was amazing to see how he was involved with every step of the commercial.

I also love the way the film is set up. It actually goes through the entire Bad album track by track. It begins with the title track and ends with “Man in the Mirror.” There are some songs that get longer segments than others, but at least they have something interesting to say about each track. If anything I wish they would’ve looked more at “Another Part of Me.” Much wasn’t said about the song and then it goes on to show the entire video released for the single. While it was nice to see it should’ve been left off, especially since that space could’ve been used for more interesting facts and candid footage. One of the most interesting songs the filmed looked at is “Just Good Friends.” What made this segment so memorable is that just about everyone Lee spoke with agreed it’s a throwaway track, which is how I feel about the song as well. Not only do these segments provide information about the songs themselves, they also look at things in pop culture that found its way into Jackson’s music.

While most music documentaries have interviews with people who only worked the artists maybe once or speak with people who claim to know them, this one actually gets people Jackson worked with on a regular basis. We get stories from people who worked with him in the studio, to some of the video directors, like Martin Scorsese and even the model who starred alongside Jackson in “The Way You Make Me Feel.” They had so many great stories to share about the singer it will make you fall in love with him even more. There are also some interviews with current artists who were influenced by the King of Pop, such as ?uestlove, Chris Brown, Justin Bieber, Kanye West, and Mariah Carey. By hearing these people speak about their experiences with Michael the whole film feels authentic and truthful. It doesn’t feel like bullshit or someone just trying to make money off of him. You can tell they really loved and cared for him. This feeling is brought even more to life when Lee asks them where they were when they heard about his death. Just about all of them begin crying and it makes you remember where you were when the news came out. Not only is there information about Jackson’s songs, there’s technical information regarding music and choreography as well.

Since we do hear from studio musicians, engineers, and even choreographers who worked with the singer during this time, a lot of them take the chance to explain some of the more technical aspects of the songs. They’ll break down certain effects and techniques, such as a drum shuffle. There’s even one part where we see his vocal coach and plays some of Michael’s singing exercises where we get to hear his low range. It’s really freaky to hear, but interesting nonetheless. The choreographer shared some great information as to where the King of Pop got some of his dance moves, such as the moon walk or his infamous pop lock. It really makes you appreciate what he did for music and dance and even more.

Overall, the film gets 9.5/10. It’s an amazing documentary that gives you so much information you have to watch it several times to keep up with it. Part of what makes the movie so great is every time you watch you’ll find something new to focus on. It’s great to hear from so many people who worked with Jackson and even some current artists who have been influenced him. Thanks to this and a lot of the information given the film is more genuine than most of the ones released since his death. This is one Jackson film you will never get tired of.

You Can Dance- Madonna

You_Can_Dance Release Year: 1987

Rating: 7/10

Remix albums are tricky. There are some that are pretty good and then there are others that seem to exist for no reason. This one falls somewhere in the middle. This compilation takes Madonna’s better songs from her first few albums and makes them longer. Yes, they’re still fun and catchy, but there’s not much about them that make them any different or better than the original version. Still, it’s not a horrible album and would be great for any party.

The opener “Spotlight” is the only new song here and while it’s not bad it’s still kind of cheesy. It has the standard 80’s dance music, which dates the song, yet it manages to be upbeat and kind of catchy. The lyrics are pretty corny with the cliché message of anyone can be a superstar. Regardless, it’s still a fun dance song, but definitely not among her best. Then the remixes come in. It kicks off with the popular “Holiday,” which is a super fun and awesome Madonna song. But aside from some additional background vocals and lengthening bits of the track, there’s not much difference between this and the original version. The same goes for the remaining mixes on the album.

This collection does pick some of the best non-single tracks from Madonna’s first three albums: “Physical Attraction,” “Over and Over,” and “Where’s the Party?” But as mentioned before there’s nothing special about these mixes. They make the song longer, sometimes too long, and highlight different music sections but that’s about it. The most annoying mix here is “Into the Groove.” This track has the biggest differences when compared to the original, but for the worst reasons. Rather than setting it at a different pace or experimenting with the music, it adds repetitive distractions, such as dubbing, random creepy laughter, and slowed vocals that make her sound demented as she sings “dance.” This just shows that sometimes nothing can beat the original.

What is cool about the album is how the songs are put together. For the most part each song segues perfectly into the next without stopping. This makes it perfect for dance parties. The last three mixes on the album are previous remixes of “Holiday,” “Into the Groove,” and “Where’s the Party,” but with almost all the vocals stripped away. These are instrumental tracks with only the background vocals remaining in tact. Not really sure why someone wants to listen to these songs without the lyrics, but maybe these are meant for more dance focused fans.

Overall, the album gets 7/10. It’s not terrible, but you have to be in the right mood to really enjoy this record. For the most part the remixes do nothing more than make the original song longer. The tracklist includes some of the better dance songs from the singer, but it’s not enough to make this compilation worth your time. Maybe if you’re planning a party or if you pick up this record in the cheap bin it’ll be worth getting, but otherwise it’s not the best remix album out there.

Electric- The Cult

The_Cult-Electric_(album_cover)Release Year: 1987

Rating: 7.5/10

Since I scored tickets to see The Cult this week, I figured it’s time to re-familiarize myself with this album. The band had two records prior to this one, but it’s this album that got the band in the mainstream media. Leaving behind their alt rock Gothic sound that they started with, they go for a hard rock sound mixed with a hint of blues and the psychedelic. Some of their biggest hits are found here along with other tracks that get you moving and shaking. While it’s not the best album around and it’s not perfect, it’s still a great listen, especially if you want that rock n roll sound.

The title of the album seems to reflect the overall sound. Here, you’ll find nothing but hard edge guitars with spiraling solos alongside Ian Astbury’s awesome vocals. During its release, it was a new sound for the band, who previously dabbled in the Gothic genre. While they have no problem making this hard rock sound, it takes over the album to the point where some of the tracks begin to sound the same. Songs like “Electric Ocean,” “Aphrodisiac Jacket,” “Outlaw” are all good in their own right, but due to similar riffs and structure they don’t stand out. Compared with some of the better tracks here they just don’t stand up that well. But the songs are at least fun and get your head moving. Even though there are a handful of songs that blend together, there are a good amount that stick in your mind.

One of their most popular songs is the rocking “Love Removal Machine.” This has always been one of my favorite Cult songs. The riff is infectious and sexy, especially with the way Astbury yells “Baby, baby, baby/I fell from the sky.” And the way the music picks up the pace towards the end while keeping its sound is enough to get your heart racing. Another great track is “Peace Dog.” What’s interesting about this song is it really reminds me of the Doors’ song “Peace Frog.” Not only does it deal with the same subject matter of war and peace, but the vocals are pretty similar to Jim Morrison. Even the titles are similar. I’m not sure whether or not this was intentional, but it’s still a good song nonetheless.

The closing track “Memphis Hip Shake” is one of the best and most intriguing. Based on the title alone you would expect the music to be fast and wild and while the riff does start out like this, everything eventually slows down and plays sporadically throughout the rest of the song. There are moments during the verse where the music just stops completely catching the listener off guard. “King Contrary Man” tells the story of fighting and giving in to temptation. This is where the band mixes their new found hard rock sound with a hint of rockabilly to make a sleek and slick guitar riff. The music sounds like the epitome of the rock n roll sound.

What I did notice about a lot of these songs is they have nature and animal imagery in them. The theme begins with the opener “Wild Flower” where Ian sings about howlin’ and acting like a hungry wolf for a particularly hot woman. But the natural theme is further explored in the song “Bad Fun.” During the chorus Ian sings “Spirit like a rumblin’ train/Spirit of the thunderin’ rain/Vibrations got you on the run/Electric child on bad fun.” This theme has been found in most of their music since and it does make for great visual images. It’s references like these that give the band an overall psychedelic, hippie feeling. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like The Cult belongs in 60’s or 70’s era rock music.

Overall, the album gets 7.5/10. It’s a really strong album from the band and there are a number of great tracks here, but with similar structure and sound some of the songs begin to sound the same. Here The Cult adopts a hard rock sound rather than the Gothic feel they previously dabbled in, but they make it work for them really well. While it may not be the greatest album around, it’s still worth a listen to hear the evolution of the band.

Earth, Sun, Moon- Love and Rockets

Earth_Sun_MoonRelease Year: 1987

Rating: 7/10

This band had most of the original members of Bauhaus and they wanted to make sure fans and listeners couldn’t claim they were replicating Bauhaus’ success. They made their point with this 1987 release. They’re never one to shy away from experimentation as we would see on their later releases, but this album didn’t sound like anything they did before. While some of their dark, Gothic elements can be found here, it’s mostly overshadowed by the folk sound that takes over most of the album. If you’re looking for the rock oriented Love and Rockets, then you may not like this record.

The album opens with one of my favorite songs “Mirror People.” The opening is kind of hypnotizing with the swirling guitar riff and drumming, but it really pulls you into the song. Also, the bridge with the rock influenced guitar riff and with the line of “Time goes by/so slow/when you start to leave” makes it one of the catchiest tracks on the album. If you have the CD version of the album, you were treated to the slow version of the song. This easily could’ve been the exact same song, but slowed down a couple speeds. Rather, we get a re-recorded version of the track that’s indeed slower. This in turn gives it this creepy feeling, especially when we get the backwards singing. It’s amazing and gives you a reason to listen to the song again. But this is as hard rock as the band gets on this release.

The next track “The Light” introduces the new sound they were working with at this time. While odd guitar feedback and Daniel Ash’s cooing vocals during the opening gives the song an eerie effect, it also has a folk vibe due to the light acoustic guitar and the bongo drums that begin to surface. But it still doesn’t stray too far from their dark roots. As the songs go on we start to hear more and more of a folk sound come through and for the first half of the album, it isn’t bad. “Welcome Tomorrow” opens with a bright and vibrant guitar riff that almost sounds odd for the band. It also has this interesting vocal style where it’s half spoken word, half singing. And “No New Tale To Tell” may be a simple song in form, but with a catchy chorus and a stamping beat, you can’t help but fall in love with the song.

Aside from the opening track, one of the best songs here is “Lazy.” What makes it so good is they step away from the acoustic guitars and explore their blues/rockabilly sound. It reminds me of the beginnings of the rock n roll sound. As if to exemplify the song title, Ash’s drawn out singing makes him sound like he’s bored out of his mind. While the songs on the second half of the album aren’t terrible, it’s where the folk sound dominates and after awhile it’s tiring. Songs like “The Telephone is Empty,” “Rain Bird,” and “Youth” all have similar light, mellow acoustic guitar sound while Ash softly sings along. As I said these tracks aren’t necessarily bad, but the songs can get a bit dull. There’s very little about them that make them stand out or make them wake up the listener and pay attention. It’s fine that they wanted to expand their sound and try something new, but maybe the album would’ve benefit from them mixing different sounding songs with the folk ones to keep the record fresh.

Another thing I noticed about the record is it seems to have this nature theme, which is easy to guess from the album title. Songs like “Waiting for the Flood,” “Earth, Sun, Moon,” and “Here On Earth” all reference the planet or wildlife in some way, whether it’s talking about the cycle of our lives or why we should be nice to mother nature. “Rain Bird” sounds like it was written in the 60’s thanks to the music and lyrical content. It makes you wonder what was going on with the band at the time to make them want to focus on nature imagery. While it’s an interesting route for the band, it gets a little dull after a while. Just like with the sound here, if they would’ve changed things up a bit with the songwriting it would’ve kept the album from getting dull.

Overall, the album gets 7/10. If you’re used to the dark, gothic rock Love and Rockets, then this album may not be for you. While they don’t stray away from their dark roots, they mainly focus on light acoustic guitars and songs that deal a lot with mother nature. This doesn’t mean the album is bad, but if folk music really isn’t your thing then you’ll grow weary of the sound after the fifth track. It’s great the band was always willing to experiment with their sound, but maybe if they would’ve included some more rock songs along with the folky ones, it would’ve kept the album going.