Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" / Michael Jackson

What can I add to the tsunami of commentary on the death of Michael Jackson? I wouldn't bother at all, except that everywhere I turn for the past couple of days there has been Michael Jackson music playing, and it is way too catchy not to get stuck in my head. Here I have been away from this blog for months, finishing a book (and then, for the past few days, officially on vacation -- see my other blog The Family Truckster) -- how ironic that it should be Michael Jackson to haul me back.

Sadly, however, I notice that the songs being played are mostly from the first half of his career, up through his hugely successful Thriller album. Did the man not record any music later? Of course he did, and a chart I saw in USA Today says that many of those later albums -- Bad, HIStory, et cetera -- sold in the range of 7 million copies each. Who was buying those records?

I loved all those early Jackson 5 Motown hits, of course -- who could fail to love those? -- but for me Michael Jackson's crowning achievement was Off The Wall, the album where he finally declared himself a grown-up artist. And of all the intoxicating dance songs on that album, "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" is my favorite. Those little shimmers of synthesized strings runnning through it, like shivers of desire; the insistent pulsating rhythm and the backbeat melody; Michael's wails and vocal spasms -- it's such a sexualized tapestry of sound.

Oh, yes, brothers and sister, listening to this track you could have no doubt that Michael Jackson had experienced sex. Exactly what kind of sex he had experienced was always up for speculation, but there is something so flesh-and-blood about this track, you couldn't deny it. And there's just enough melodic darkness to his riffs, just enough jerkiness to the rhythms, to give it an undertow of menace. Kinkiness, even.

I'm not going to analyze the lyrics, because they barely exist -- it's the disco-tized texture of this recording that's the real genius. Michael seems totally in thrall to animal desire on this track. He sounds hynotized, imprisoned, delirious, out of control. He doesn't sound happy, and yet he's ecstatic. The ambivalence of this song is simply mind-blowing. Who knew that Michael (not yet Jacko, the grotesque thing he would become) could be so complex?