EXCLUSIVE There are some mysteries about a couple of unreleased tracks included in the upcoming Michael Jackson “Bad25” album. Two of the eight tracks– which are really wonderful–are unknown entirely to the engineers who worked on “Bad” in 1986. Those tracks are a lovely ballad called “I’m So Blue” and a slice of funk called “Song Groove (aka Abortion Papers).” Neither Bruce Swedien nor Bill Bottrell has any memory of them. I played the songs for each of them this weekend, and came up with no answers. “Michael must have gotten out and recorded with someone else,” Bottrell told me.
But don’t worry–they are completely by Michael Jackson. They’re the genuine article.
The anniversary boxed set of the huge-selling 1987 album contains quite a few surprises. Eight of them, actually. There are eight unreleased tracks that didn’t make it onto the “Bad” album. Surprisingly, they’ve remained in the vaults at Sony all this time. One of them, called “Don’t Be Messin’ Around,” was released earlier this summer as the “B” side of a re-released single on “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” from Wal-Mart. I have no idea why Sony did that, since it seemed a squandered opportunity.
Now these eight tracks are coming as a separate CD inside “Bad25,” which contains four discs. The first disc is a remastered version of the original album. The second disc has these eight songs. The third disc is a live CD from a concert Michael performed on July 16, 1988 at Wembley Stadium in London. The fourth disc is a DVD of live performances from that time. Target customers get a disc of the original music videos from “Bad.” What’s unclear is what happens to a Spike Lee documentary about the making of “Bad,” which should have footage from the recording sessions with Quincy Jones, engineer Bruce Swedien, and manager mastermind Frank DiLeo.
(Update: the documentary will be released this fall, separately.)
“Bad25” will be released on September 18th.
But it’s the eight songs that are going to make fans very, very happy. A couple of them are known, like “Don’t Be Messin’ Around” and “Fly Away.” But the others are real surprises, especially a track called “Streetwalker.” It the vague feel of “The Way You Make Me Feel” in that it’s a Motown oriented shuffle. But it’s also a dynamite track. The version on “Bad25” was mixed by Bottrell, but there are others by Swedien. Jackson was never satisfied with any of them. “Streetwalker” will be known to players of the video game “The Michael Jackson Experience.” But it’s also a hit. We’re going to be hearing it on the radio– a lot. (“Streetwalker” and another track, “Fly Away,” were first included in the “Bad” re-release back in 2001.)
The others are all gems. “I’m So Blue” is beautiful ballad, with a vocal by Michael that recalls his best work. If Sony were smart, they’d release it as their first single from this set. It also has a harmonica solo that either is by Stevie Wonder or sounds just like him. The other tracks– “Al Capone,” “Free,” “Fly Away”– are also excellent.
There are reasons the songs didn’t make the final album.
“Price of Fame” is a mixture of a “Billie Jean” outtake, musically, combined with the Police’s “Spirits in the Material World.” Michael’s vocal on this track sometimes dips into his “real” voice–a lower register–than his stage falsetto and whisper that he perfected. “Free” is just another breezy ballad. “Al Capone” is a different take on the hit, “Smooth Criminal.”
The strangest of the eight songs is titled “Song Groove (aka Abortion Papers).” Swedien doesn’t remember this track. Neither does Bottrell. It’s got a killer rhythm track and a very catchy hook and melody. But the lyrics–and I’m not sure whether Michael wrote them–are like the real flip side of “Billie Jean.” He sings “Those abortion papers/think about signing your name…”
Update: the estate tells me they even have a handwritten note about that track. I hope the Jackson fans don’t try to destroy these tracks the way they did the songs on the “Michael” album. Like those tracks, these are completely real, they’re Michael Jackson’s vocals, and they’re a wonderful reminder of the King of Pop at his zenith.
PS A gift for the fans: buying the boxed set with all of its ingredients isn’t necessary. There are several “upgrade” versions, starting with a two for the price of one CD that includes the remastered “Bad” and the demo tracks. Cool.