Mar 21 2012

Michael Jackson’s ‘Blood on the Dance Floor,’ 15 Years Later

Category: Interviews,Quotes About MJ,VideosSeven @ 4:07 pm

Written by Joseph Vogel

SOURCE: The Atlantic

On June 6, 1990, musician Teddy Riley was supposed to be at friend and fellow band member’s birthday party. Instead, he spent the night at a Soundworks Studio on 23rd Avenue in Queens, working on grooves for none other than the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

“I told [the group] I had a lot of work to do,” Riley recalls. “Michael was my priority. I was going out to California to meet him soon, and he wanted me to bring my best work.”

It was a fortuitous decision.

Later that evening, Riley learned someone was shot on the dance floor at the party he had skipped. He was shaken. At just 23 years of age, violence and death were already becoming a recurring theme in his life. Within that same year, his half-brother and best friend both had also been murdered.

The rhythm track Riley worked on that night was aggressive, ominous, menacing. But it had no words, no title, and no melody.

The following Saturday he was on his way to Neverland Ranch to meet Michael Jackson. Riley was nervous. Jackson had already tried out a handful of people to replace legendary producer, Quincy Jones, including L.A. Reid, Babyface and Bryan Loren. None stayed on.

Jackson had high hopes, however, for Teddy Riley, whose street-inflected New Jack Swing style brilliantly fused jazz, gospel, R&B, and hip hop. Indeed, perhaps its greatest achievement was in bridging the divide between R&B and hip hop, a bridge, incidentally, that Jackson had been hoping to find since working on Bad.

Jackson listened carefully to the tapes Riley brought with him and instantly loved what he heard. The tracks used different chords than he was accustomed to. The rhythms were fresh and edgy. The beats swung with velocity and hit like sledgehammers.

Among several tracks Jackson listened to that day was the groove Riley worked on the night of the party. Jackson had no idea about the context. “He knew nothing about it,” Riley says. “I never told him anything about it.”

A couple of weeks later, however, Riley says he was shocked to learn Jackson’s title for the track: “Blood on the Dance Floor.” Riley got goose bumps. “It was like he prophesied that record. He felt its mood.”

Over the subsequent months, Jackson and Riley began working feverishly on a variety of tracks, sometimes separately, sometimes together at Larabee Studios in Los Angeles. “I remember he came back with this melody, ‘Blood on the dance floor, blood on the dance floor.’ I was like, ‘Wow!’ He came up with these lyrics and harmonies. Then we just started building it up, layer by layer.”

Riley used a vintage drum machine (the MPC 3000) for the beat. The snare was compressed to make it pop (“I want it dry and in your face,” Jackson used to say). It was a sound they used throughout the Dangerous album. “Listen to ‘Remember the Time,'” Riley says. “It’s very similar.”

Ultimately, however, “Blood on the Dance Floor” didn’t end up making it onto Dangerous. “It wasn’t quite finished,” Riley says. “There were still some vocal parts missing. Michael loved the song, but he would listen to it and say, ‘I like what you did here, but we still need this here.’ He was a perfectionist.”

As the Dangerous sessions continued, other tracks began to take priority, including “Remember the Time” and “In the Closet.” Jackson wouldn’t resume work on “Blood” until nearly seven years later. It was now January of 1997. Jackson was in the midst of his HIStory World Tour, and had decided to visit Montreux, Switzerland during a break between the first and second leg (according to news reports, while there he also tried to purchase the home of his longtime idol, Charlie Chaplin).

Here, at Mountain Studio, Jackson went to work on the old demo. “We took Teddy’s DAT (Digital Audio Tape) and worked it over with a four-man crew,” recalls musician, Brad Buxer. The completed multi-track, engineered, and mixed by Mick Guzauski, was modeled very closely on the last version Jackson and Riley recorded.

“When I heard it finished, I wished I could’ve been the one to [complete it],” Riley says. “But Michael knows what he wants, and he was happy with it.”

It was, in some ways, an unusual dance song. Like “Billie Jean,” its subject matter was dark and disturbing (in this case, a narrative about being stabbed in the back in the place he least suspected–the dance floor). Jackson’s clipped, raspy vocals evoke a sense of foreboding, as the electro-industrial canvas conjures a modern urban setting. Still, the song feels anything but bleak. The beat cracks out of the speakers like a whip and the hook is irresistible.

Jackson told Riley he believed the song was going to be a “smash.” “He explained it like this: A hit is a song that stays on the charts for a week or two. A smash is a song that stays up there for six weeks,” Riley says. “He felt ‘Blood on the Dance Floor’ was a ‘smash.'”

“Blood on the Dance Floor” was released on March 21, 1997. Strangely, the song wasn’t even promoted as a single in the U.S. Riley says Jackson didn’t mind in this case. “He figured people in America would find it if they really wanted it. He wasn’t worried about it.” Globally, however, the song thrived, reaching the Top Ten in 15 countries and hitting No. 1 in three (including the U.K.). It also proved ripe for remixes and received frequent play in clubs and dance routines. Left off Jackson’s two major studio albums that decade, “Blood” ironically became one of Jackson’s most durable rhythm tracks of the ’90s.

Fifteen years later, what makes the song unique? I ask Riley. “It was just a direct, aggressive sound for Michael. He always pushed for something stronger. But what was really amazing was how he pre-meditated the energy of the song. He knew what it was about even before I told him what happened that night. I’ve never witnessed anything or anyone as powerful as Michael.”

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Mar 11 2012

“Be my eyes and show me everything that I cannot see”

Category: Books,Children,Friends,Interviews,MJ QuotesSeven @ 11:43 am

Michael with photographer John Isaac

This is an interview with photographer John Isaac who shares his memories of working and spending time with Michael. John remembers going to Neverland to photograph Michael and his son Prince, and he remembers a surprise Michael had for his fans at the concert in Milan.

John says he cannot watch the TII film yet because of the immense grief it causes, but says he sometimes sees Michael on a clear, starry night.

[Translated with slight edits to make sense of translation]

Q: When was the first time you saw Michael?

One day I received a phone call. The voice said: “Are you John Isaac?” I said, “Yes” and asked who he was. The voice said: “Michael.” I said “Michael,” The voice said: “Michael Jackson” I said, “Who?” and hung up. A few seconds later the phone rang again, and Bob Jones was wondering why I had hung up the phone on Michael Jackson! I replied: “It was really him?” and handed the phone to Michael. He said he was a fan of my photographs. He bought a poster I created for UNICEF on which featured many children because he loved the pictures and wanted to meet me. He asked if I could go to Neverland and sign the poster. I said I could sign one and send it to New York, but he insisted that I go to Los Angeles. Three days later, they came to the Big Apple to film “They Don’t Care About Us” (prison version) and he invited me and my wife Jeannette to go see the movie. So we went and we met. The next day he asked me to spend the afternoon with him at his hotel in Manhattan and studied my photographic work.

Q: What is the best advice he gave you?

He once told me that I had a knack for photography and should continue to use it to help children around the world. He knew how much I cared about children. I took him to Brazil when they were finishing the video “They Don’t Care About Us“, and he said something I’ll never forget. “John, be my eyes and show me everything that I cannot see.”  I was so excited that I made photos of children in the slums of Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, while they were filming. I travelled in his private plane to Brazil. It was my first trip with him. Michael always supported me, he was aware of my provenance. One day he said we’ve both been to many different places and that is why we both love children. (John Isaac was born in India and spent 20 years working as a photographer of the United Nations, covering countries such as Vietnam, Rwanda, Sarajevo …).

Q: You’ve been to Neverland to take family photos of the first son of Prince Michael and Debbie Rowe. Please tell us more about this experience.

Debbie was not at Neverland, it was just Prince and Michael and I took pictures of father and son. I took the pictures with Debbie at a hotel in Los Angeles. I’ve been twice to Neverland. I drove an electric cart around the farm, saw movies in the theater, climbed on the train. I felt like a kid when I was there! One afternoon we saw a movie together. I was in the suite of Liz Taylor. Michael was very philosophical, often talked about philosophy and life. He asked me to tell him things about the children I had photographed around the world. When I worked for the United Nations, many stories of pain and suffering of all kinds of children. He was always very compassionate towards the less fortunate children.

Q: What is your favorite memory during HIStory World Tour?

At the beginning of the tour in Prague, I think he wanted me to photograph on the stage while he was singing “Heal the World.” I was scared up there in the spotlight with so many fans in front of me, my knees were shaking.  I enjoyed meeting fans around the world while traveling with him. I must say that I met many fine young men. Michael would not have been who he was, if not for all the wonderful fans who adored him so much. Being next to the King of Pop to visit hospitals and orphanages was something I especially appreciated.

Q: How many photographic sessions did you do with Michael Jackson?

I’m not sure how many, but I know there were many. Some special calendars for Sony and other announcements. He also wanted to take pictures with children before each concert.

Q: You told us that Michael had a surprise for fans at the concert in Milan on June 18, 1997: The photo of Michael’s hands and Prince on the screens near the stage. Michael decided to do this? What did he say?

He said it was one of the most special photos I had taken of him and Prince. I captured his hand taking Prince’s hand and he told me that he liked it so much he wanted to show the fans in Milan. It is one of my favorite toos. Michael does not even appear – only his hand protecting Prince.

Q: What picture of Michael do you feel most proud of?

There are many photos that I like, but one I took during a rehearsal in Los Angeles which was published in a special book: Laurent Hopman – Captain Eo Productions (program memory HIStory World Tour – Limited Edition). Michael is at center stage and all the dancers are around with different poses, rehearsing. It looks like a painting. Michael really liked this photo too. All dressed in casual clothes. I have no copy of this negative image because I gave them all to Michael.

Q: Why does it sometimes take three cameras at the same time? Did Michael wanted special pictures? It also seemed that he took more photos of fans than himself?

I remember that he wanted every moment of his life to be saved. Sometimes he wanted a black and white and the other two cameras were color photos. Today, with digital technology, you can convert the color to black and white with no problem, but with the old negatives it was more complicated. I also had three different types of lenses, so I could shoot quickly without having to change them. After a first selection on my part, Michael chose his favorite, and he had good taste selecting the photos! Michael was delighted to see the photos of his fans. They were very important to him.

Q: How did you hear of his sudden death, what was your reaction?

I saw it on TV. I was very, very sad. I felt so sorry that it happened so soon. However, I know he’s up there shining like a star. Every time I see a clear sky at night, I see Michael.

Q: Have you seen the movie Michael Jackson “This Is It“? can you comment on that?

My wife bought me the DVD. I’ve only seen parts of it and I grieved Michael’s death so much that I could not keep watching. Maybe one day I will see it to the end.

Q: What are your plans for the future, John Isaac?

I am finishing a documentary about myself as a photographer. In Japan I’ve been documenting on the survivors of the recent tsunami. While I was in Japan, I met some of Michael’s fans who were very friendly. In addition, Kodak House is preparing a permanent collection of my photographs in their museum. Unfortunately, I have no footage of what I did for Michael on tour or with Michael’s baby. I gave them all to his managers.

Edited and Translated from:
http://wwwyouaremylife-jaqueline.blogspot.com/2011/11/john-seja-meus-olhos-e-me-mostre-tudo-o.html

John’s life story and his wonderful photography:
http://askthephotographer.com/2008/12/31/photographer-profile-john-isaac/

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{ Thanks to our wonderful friends at UK Loves MJ for sharing this story! -Seven }

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