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Kit O’Toole on Classic Pop Culture

Michael Jackson a name that will cemented in history forever. Kit O’Toole, author of Michael Jackson FAQ,sat down with Steve Ludwig of Classic Pop Culture to discuss the book in addition to how Michael revolutionized modern music and pop culture.


00125022Michael Jackson FAQ takes a fresh look at Jackson’s four-decade career, covering his work in three acts – the Jackson 5, the Jacksons, and his solo years. Along the way, O’Toole reveals details such as Michael’s earliest musical influences; the Jackson 5’s start on the Steeltown label; the key players truly involved in the group’s discovery; Michael’s transformation in to a prolific songwriter; his explorations of genres, from soul to disco to pop and hip hop; the tours, videos, and notable television appearances; his best-selling albums (Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad, Dangerous); outtakes and obscure tracks; and more.

The purpose of this book was not to focus on the controversy surrounding Michael or even his life, this was to focus on him as an artist. Kit explained that so many books has been written about those topics, but she wanted to stress his contribution to music and pop culture instead.

He did so many thing and revolutionized music video. He made an impact opening doors for a lot of African-American artists.

-Kit O’Toole

The interview continued with O’Toole sharing 10 songs from Michael’s solo and years with the Jacksons going more in depth with a few sharing the art of the songs from his vocals to the writing and collaborations. Steve Ludwig went through each of the 41 chapters pin pointing a few here and there for further discussion. This interview zoned in on the art and musical genius of Michael Jackson.

Michael Jackson FAQ also takes a long look at Michael’s work in films (The Wiz, Captain EO); his guest vocal appearances; and his collaborations with such music makers as Quincy Jones, Bruce Swedien, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, and Diana Ross.

The interview touched on Michael’s relationship with his brother, Jermaine, in reference to the chapter ‘Whenever You Need Me I’ll Be There: The Unique Singing Chemistry of Michael and Jermaine Jackson.’ O’Toole also discussed Michael’s friendships with Queen’s Freddie Mercury and producer/songwriter, Rod Temperton. The friendships that Michael Jackson created in the industry was displayed in his music as he was the pioneer of fusing Rock, R&B, and Pop.

Most importantly, Michael Jackson FAQ celebrates Michael’s legacy – his influence on countless artists from New Edition to Justin Timberlake, as well as his widespread impact on artistry across many media, from music to choreography to videography to fashion.

That’s what I hope that people walk away with is renewed appreciation of what he did, what he left us, and how his legacy is enduring.

-Kit O’Toole

Kit O’Toole writes about what made ‘Off the Wall’ timeless

With the Michael Jackson documentary making its way this month to Showtime, author of Michael Jackson FAQ Kit O’Toole, tells us 5 integral elements that made Off the Wall a modern classic. Read below!

Michael Jackson’s landmark solo record Off the Wall is receiving the royal treatment this month, with Spike Lee’s documentary Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall debuting this month on Showtime. The original album will be reissued as part of a package bundling the CD with the DVD or Blu ray of the film. Lee’s movie serves as a reminder of the importance of the album, a sophisticated blend of R&B, funk, disco, and jazz that sounds as fresh today as it did in 1979. Artists such as Justin Timberlake, Usher, and Beyoncé still emulate its genre-spanning sound, winning crossover appeal with polished dance grooves.

What makes Off the Wall so effective and timeless that it inspires musicians in 2016? Five integral elements contributed to the making of a modern classic.

  1. Michael Jackson’s voice. Producer Quincy Jones encouraged Jackson to explore the full range of his voice, particular the lower register. Renowned vocal coach Seth Riggs was hired to work with the singer, and their partnership would continue for the rest of Jackson’s career. From the moment a deeper voice utters “You know, I was wondering” at the beginning of the kickoff track “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” a more mature Jackson has made his entrance, announcing a new era in his artistry. His sensual voice wraps around the words in “Rock with You,” seducing a woman through music and dance. When he half-whispers “Love to run my fingers / Softly while you sigh,” Jackson demonstrates his skills as an interpreter, his phrasing perfectly suiting the mood of the romantic “I Can’t Help It.” If anyone doubted his skills as a vocalist before, Off the Wall immediately put those fears to rest.
  2. Quincy Jones’ production. When Jones met Jackson on the set of The Wiz, they quickly formed a personal and professional bond. Toward the end of filming, Jackson asked for recommendations for possible producers for an upcoming solo album. Jones subsequently suggested himself, a controversial idea at the time. Epic Records doubted Jones, a jazz composer and producer, could successfully oversee a crossover R&B/pop album. Instead, he used his jazz background to create a sophisticated album, drawing upon his vast musical connections to recruit the best musicians available. Artists such as George Duke (keyboards), Larry Carlton (guitar), Louis Johnson (bass, best known as a member of the Brothers Johnson), and Jerry Hey (trumpet) shaped the sound, while Jones protégé Patti Austin provided backing vocals and sang on the duet “It’s the Falling in Love.” Jones surrounded Jackson with seasoned singers and musicians, resulting in a cosmopolitan, polished sound that elevated disco to new realms.
  3. Rod Temperton’s songs. A member of the group Heatwave, Temperton penned hits such as “Always and Forever,” “Boogie Nights,” and “The Groove Line.” Recognizing his talent for blending jazz and R&B, Jones recruited the composer/keyboardist to write songs for Jackson’s new project. He submitted three tracks for consideration: “Rock with You,” “Off the Wall,” and “Burn This Disco Out.” To Temperton’s amazement, Jones selected all three compositions. The first two would largely shape the album, allowing Jackson to fully explore his range as well as his “percussive singing” ability. “Off the Wall” contains unusual, jazz-tinged chord changes in the chorus, and “Rock with You” includes lyrics that perfectly capture the romance (if temporary) of disco. After proving his hit making capabilities, Temperton would go on to write classics such as “Yah Mo B There” by James Ingram and Michael McDonald; “Sweet Freedom” by McDonald; “Give Me the Night” by George Benson: and, most famously, “Thriller,” “The Lady in My Life,” and “Baby Be Mine” by Jackson.
  4. Michael Jackson’s songs. During his time with his brothers as The Jacksons, Jackson had rapidly developed as a songwriter. His first solo composition, “Blues Away,” had appeared on the group’s self-titled 1976 LP; however, he proved his talent for writing catchy songs with “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” from the 1978 Jacksons album Destiny. When it came time to begin work on Off the Wall, Jackson recorded three demos: “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough,” “Working Day and Night,” and “Get on the Floor” (co-written with Louis Johnson). The first two tracks reveal Jackson’s love of heavy rhythm, with “Working Day and Night” allowing him to use his voice as a percussive instrument. “Get on the Floor” demonstrates how much Jackson enjoyed recording the album—his laugh and “woo!” toward the end of the song radiates infectious joy. “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” became a massive hit, foreshadowing future masterpieces such as “Billie Jean” and “Beat It.” Jackson clearly had a knack for writing R&B and dance tracks with pop appeal, a technique that would win over fans of various genres.
  5. Paulinho da Costa’s percussion. An unsung hero of the album, da Costa provided the intricate percussion heard on Off the Wall. Originally from Brazil, da Costa was an in-demand musician, appearing on thousands of albums as well as recording soundtracks for movies and television. His style mixes jazz, Cuban, and Brazilian influences, making him a frequent Jones collaborator. In his autobiography Moonwalk, Jackson names da Costa as an essential ingredient of “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough.” Indeed, that track as well as “Working Day and Night,” “Get on the Floor,” the title track, and “Burn This Disco Out” would simply not work without da Costa’s complicated, driving rhythms. He was capable of more subtle work, too, particularly on the Stevie Wonder composition “I Can’t Help It.” Listen to Off the Wall through headphones to fully experience da Costa’s masterful percussive work.

Off the Wall remains a classic because it sounds timeless, a remarkable feat considering it dates from the last days of disco. Jackson proved that dance music could be sophisticated and incorporate various genres. His willingness to cross boundaries and transcend simple musical labels would serve him well, the ultimate example being the crossover success of Thriller. Not stopping there, Jackson would continue experimenting with classical, rock, hip hop, R&B, funk, and pop throughout his career. The 1979 album would mark a turning point in Jackson’s life, one that officially established him as an adult artist with a unique voice. Off the Wall would provide a template for future artists to follow, challenging them to reach fans through intelligent, multi-genre tracks. When Jackson sings, “I sure would like just to groove with you,” listeners cannot help but obey.

Bruce Swedien Recording Method

Tomorrow marks the start of the 2014 NAMM show in Anaheim, California, lasting until January 26th. What could be more apt than a few words from Quincy Jones in The Bruce Swedien Recording Method? You can also check out Bruce Swedien’s website here.

Bruce Swedien – I call him “Svensk,” which means “Swedish man” – is the best! Nobody can touch what he created with the Acusonic Recording Process, using SMPTE to sync the multitrack recorders together, and using stereo pairs of tracks to build a sound that still can’t be beat. I’ve traveled around the world several times, and everywhere I go they play the music we recorded together. And every time it’s played in the clubs, the dance floor is packed! When you record the music right, with the perfect balance, a solid foundation, and just the right amount of reverb, people can’t reproduce it. They can try, but there’s a musical and emotional component that we were able to create together that was magical.

There is no one who matches Svensk’s innate sense of balance and musicality. He has always been able to find the musical blend that brings a song to life, and his mixes have set the standard for all who have followed. Since the first session we did together in Chicago at Universal Studios with Dinah Washington, Bruce and I have enjoyed making some incredible music. From that first session with Dinah and then another with the Count Basie Orchestra to The Wiz, Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad, Back on the Block, Q’s Jook Joint, and everything in between, Svensk has been my friend, my engineer, and my musical colleague. When we all started working together on Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, we were ready – ready to create something so special that it would make a profound mark on the music industry and world culture. Bruce had grown up listening to some of the best and most well-structured and well-balanced music in one of the best concert halls; I had been studying and honing my craft since I was a young teenager hanging around the Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, and Dizzy Gillespie Orchestras; Rod Temperton had discovered how to write great music and lyrics that would connect with music fans all over the world; and Michael had grown to be possibly the best and most professional singer I had ever seen. We had all the bases covered and were ready to go. And that’s just what we did!

If you’re going to make great music, you have to be able to maintain focus until the creative flow has found its course. Bruce, Rod, and I worked for days at a time, literally 24 hours a day, finding just the right direction for the music – finding the very best ways to communicate the music’s heart and soul. Many times, during the Thriller album, we worked five straight days and nights, but that’s how it had to be. That’s what it took and we all loved it. They’d be taking the studio assistants out on stretchers, but we were so focused on the fantastic music we were laying down that we hardly noticed the time.

For someone who wants to learn how to record great music, there’s no one better to emulate than Bruce Swedien. Pay attention to how he records music, but just as important, pay attention to why he records music and to the care and love that go into how he works. Making great recordings is about so much more than technical concerns, and Bruce has always known that. I truly believe that his part in the music we did together was irreplaceable.

Bruce, you’re absolutely the best – there’s no one better. You’re my musical soul mate, my close friend, and my brother – min vän och min bror. I love you, man!

The Bruce Swedien Recording Method is an incredibly timely and timeless reference for anyone interested in capturing and mixing the best possible music recordings. From the Michael Jackson albums (Off the WallThrillerBadDangerousInvincible, and HIStory), to many Quincy Jones hits (The DudeBack on the BlockQ’s Jook Joint, and many more), to classic greats from Count Basie, Duke Ellington, the Brothers Johnson, and Natalie Cole, Bruce Swedien’s impact on popular music has been undeniable. Engineers at all levels still use Swedien’s recordings as a standard by which they judge the sonic validity of their own work.

In The Bruce Swedien Recording Method, Swedien explains many of the techniques he has used to get award-winning drum, bass, guitar, keyboard, vocal, string, and brass sounds. On the accompanying DVD-ROM, he further reveals what he looks for in a recording and the steps he takes to imprint his characteristic world-class sonic signature on the music he mixes.

Throughout this book, Swedien consistently pinpoints the most important considerations in the recording process, with such insights as: You don’t listen to the equipment, you listen through the equipment… Nobody ever walked out of the studio whistling the console… The sound has to be so good to start with that it gives you goosebumps – the list goes on and on!

Quincy Jones Talks About Michael Jackson [video]

Happy birthday, Quincy Jones!

It’s not every day that we have an author turn 80. It’s certainly not every day that we have two celebrity authors turn 80 on the exact same day. Quincy Jones (Q on Producing) and Michael Caine (Acting in Film) are celebrating their double birthday together today. Best wishes to both!

Below is an excerpt of the DVD that comes with the book Q on Producing where Quincy Jones and Bill Gibson discuss Jones’ work with Michael Jackson.

PLUS: Read a brand new interview with Bill Gibson on Voice Council!

With invaluable advice on subjects such as songwriting, scoring, and the modern music business – to be expanded on in subsequent volumes – Q on Producing provides the foundation for what is sure to be the most anticipated series of tutorials on music production ever created.