The controversy behind new Michael Jackson single ‘Breaking News’

Ever since Sony began streaming the first single from the King of Pop’s first posthumous album, Michael Jackson fans have been crying foul. My first listen left me a little perplexed; something wasn’t quite right, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what was wrong. As Honey described it, “it just doesn’t feel like a Michael Jackson song.”

The song sounds like a track that MJ would have written, but the vocals on the verses sound suspiciously like an impersonator. Several members of the Jackson family have weighed in on Twitter to announce that it is not Michael performing on the track, while longtime producer Teddy Riley has shared his belief that it is definitely Jackson. Who are the fans supposed to believe?

An in-depth article by the UK King of Pop Fanclub reveals the possibility that Sony layered another performer’s voice over Michael’s original demo recording in order to flesh it out a bit. I find the idea appalling, but realize that without Michael to oversee what is released in his name, this type of thing is bound to happen. I was actually glad to have somewhat of an explanation for why the song didn’t sit right with me the first time I heard it.

It’s a shame that anything to do with Michael Jackson remains as much of a controversy after his death as it did while he was alive.

UPDATE (11/12/2010): Michael Jackson’s Estate has issued the following statement about the single “Breaking News.”

Dear Fans,

As the Michael album was being put together, it was decided to bring Teddy Riley on board to work on several songs, including “Breaking News,” a song Michael recorded with Eddie Cascio and James Porte in late 2007 while living at the Cascio family home with his children. Riley produced and submitted “Breaking News” to Sony for inclusion on the album. At that time, no one ever mentioned that the vocals we heard on the Cascio songs, which were basically in demo format, might not be Michael. It was known, however, that the background vocals were a combination of Michael and James Porte.

After the tracks were submitted to Sony, three of these Cascio songs were selected to be on the album, and “Breaking News” was one of the three. The day after the submission and selection of the album tracks, for the very first time, the authenticity of Michael’s vocals on the Cascio tracks was questioned.

Because of these questions, I was immediately asked by co-Executors John Branca and John McClain to conduct an investigation regarding the authenticity of the lead vocals on the Cascio tracks.

Six of Michael’s former producers and engineers who had worked with Michael over the past 30 years – Bruce Swedien, Matt Forger, Stewart Brawley, Michael Prince, Dr. Freeze and Teddy Riley – were all invited to a listening session to hear the raw vocals of the Cascio tracks in question. All of these persons listened to the a cappella versions of the vocals on the Cascio tracks being considered for inclusion on the album, so they could give an opinion as to whether or not the lead vocals were sung by Michael. They all confirmed that the vocal was definitely Michael.

Michael’s musical director and piano player on many of his records over a 20-year period, Greg Phillinganes, played on a Cascio track being produced for the album, and said the voice was definitely Michael’s. Dorian Holley, who was Michael’s vocal director for his solo tours for 20 plus years (including the O2 Concert Tour) and is seen in the This Is It film, listened to the Cascio tracks and told me the lead vocal was Michael Jackson.

These are all engineers, producers and musicians who worked on tours and/or in the studio with Michael when he was recording Bad, Thriller, Off The Wall, Dangerous, Invincible, HIStory and Blood On The Dance Floor, and they all reconfirmed their belief that the lead vocals were Michael’s voice on the Cascio tracks.

The Estate then retained one of the best-known forensic musicologists in the nation to listen to the vocals without any instrumental accompaniment (“a cappella”), and to compare them with a cappella vocals from previous Michael songs. This expert performed waveform analysis, an objective scientific test used to determine audio authenticity, on the Cascio tracks, as well as previously released tracks with Michael’s voice, and reported that ALL of the lead vocals analyzed (which included Cascio tracks) were the voice of Michael Jackson.

Sony Music conducted their own investigation by hiring yet a second well-respected forensic musicologist who also compared the a cappella lead vocals from Cascio tracks against previously released vocals of Michael’s, and found that Michael’s voice was the on all sets of the raw vocals. The Cascio tracks were also played for two very prominent persons in the music industry who played crucial roles in Michael’s career. Both of these individuals believed that the lead vocals were Michael’s.

Just to be absolutely certain, I also contacted Jason Malachi, a young singer who some persons had wrongfully alleged was a “soundalike” singer that was hired to sing on the Cascio tracks, and I confirmed that he had no involvement with this project whatsoever.
Sony decided that, given the overwhelming objective evidence resulting from the exhaustive investigations outlined above, they wanted to release a record that included three of the Cascio-Porte tracks – because they believed, without reservation, that the lead vocal on all of those tracks were sung by Michael Jackson.

Although there still seem to be concerns being expressed in some quarters about the authenticity of the lead vocals, notwithstanding the opinion of those who worked with Michael, and two independent forensic analysts, ultimately, Michael’s fans will be the judges of these songs, as they always are. We take all fan comments very seriously, and as I’d stated above, there is nothing more important to the Estate than Michael’s music, his legacy and his fans.

Michael’s fans are extraordinary in their quest for accuracy and their passions to raise their voices in a search for truth! We join with them in our care and concern for Michael. We are continuing to follow up with those who have worked in the studio or on tours with Michael, and if any new information comes to light, we will keep you and the fans advised.

Thanks,
Howard

Howard Weitzman, Esq.
Attorney for the Estate Of Michael Jackson
Santa Monica, CA

‘Never Can Say Goodbye’

I scurried into Walmart this afternoon to look for a small computer desk. Office stores are hard to come by in our small town, and although I don’t usually like the quality of their furniture, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to look.

As our computer needs and habits change, we’ve found ourselves relying on the two notebooks much more than the desktop that occupies the large, L-shaped desk in the spare bedroom. Because space is a real commodity in our home, it makes sense to replace it with something smaller. Anyway, that’s another blog post. Back to my story.

So, I’m browsing Walmart’s pitiful selection of fake wood furniture, when I hear a sound that stopped me dead in my tracks.

You knock me off of my feet now, baby! Whoooooooo!

As the bass line to “The Way You Make Me Feel” began blaring throughout the store, I forgot all about furniture and starting looking for the source. Just as I turned the corner, I saw the most beautiful of sights. An oasis of Michael Jackson merchandise in the middle of retail hell. Sparkly Jackson jewelry, t-shirts, handbags, buttons, posters, books, and CD’s lined the shelves.

Resistance was futile.

A few minutes later, I was standing in the checkout lane with my plunder. “Do you love Michael Jackson?” asked the checkout girl as she roughly tugged a hanger from the neck hole in a t-shirt.

“I love Michael Jackson!” I proudly announced. “I have since ’91,” I added to make sure she knew I wasn’t one of those born-again fans who only started liking him again after he died.

She made a little smirk and said, “I don’t like him.” And just like that, the thrill was gone.

As I made my way to the car with my merchandise, I considered what she must have thought of me; a 35-year-old man buying clothing and jewelry adorned with a pop star that she cares nothing about.

Poor girl. She just doesn’t know what she’s missing.

Telling the truth

Why not just tell people I’m an alien from Mars. Tell them I eat live chickens and do a voodoo dance at midnight. They’ll believe anything you say, because you’re a reporter.

But if I, Michael Jackson, were to say, ‘I’m an alien from Mars and I eat live chickens and do a voodoo dance at midnight,’ people would say, ‘Oh, man, that Michael Jackson is nuts. He’s cracked up. You can’t believe a single word that comes out of his mouth.’

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s handwritten letter to photographer

Several years ago, Michael Jackson penned a very personal and heartfelt letter to his friend, William Pecchi Jr., who had worked on Michael’s film Moonwalker.  Pecchi was asked to accompany Jackson during his Bad tour to film crowd reactions, and he often rode in the vehicle with Michael. This letter, which was the result of one of their conversations, offers an intimate glimpse into the mind of a genius and humanitarian.

Pecky,

I very, very seldom write letters, but in this moving occasion I couldn’t help myself. I want to thank you for putting the effort forward to capture the magic and excitement of the people of the world. What you do is a very personal and powerful medium to me. It is the art of stopping time, to perserve a moment that the naked eye cannot hold, to capture truth spontaneous truth, the depths of excitement in human spirt. All else will be forgotten, but not the films. Generations from now will experience the excitement you’ve captured; it truly is a time capsule.

I will not be totally satisfied until I know you’re at the right angle at the right time, to capture a crescendo of emotion that happens so quickly, so spontaeously. What you have done was good, but I want the best, the whole picture, cause and effect. I want crowd reaction wide lens shots – depths of emotions, timing. I know we can do it. It is my dream and goal to capture TRUTH. We should dedicate ourselves to this. The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly. That is dedication. There is no other way to perfection than dedication, perseverance. Just tell us what you need to make it happen. Take the leadership to direct the other cameramen.

I enjoy working with you that is why I asked you to come, you have a gentle spirit that’s very likable. Maybe I look at the world through rose colored glasses, but I love people all over the world. That is why stories of racism really disturb me. You hurt my heart and soul when you told me of your boyhood in Texas. Because in truth I believe all men are created equal. I was taught that and will always believe it. I just can’t conceive of how a person could hate another because of skin color. I love every race on the planet earth. Prejudice is the child of ignorance.

Naked we came into the world and naked we shall go out. And a very good thing too, for it reminds me that I am naked under my shirt, whatever its color. I’m sorry to bring up such past news, but in the car I was hurt by what you said. I’m so happy that you have managed to overcome your childhood past. Thank God that you’ve graduated from such beliefs of ignorance. I’m glad I’ve never experienced such things. Teach your kids to love all people equally. I know you will.

I speak from my heart saying I love you and all people, especially the children. I’m glad God chose me and you.

Love M.J.

Michael Jackson’s ‘This Is It’

Last Wednesday evening, I donned a wig, fedora, red satin jacket, black surgical mask, and a sequined glove to go watch Michael Jackson’s This Is It – a documentary chronicling the King of Pop’s last days. Before leaving, I jokingly referred to the four people accompanying me as my “entourage.” It turned out to be not far from the truth when they almost had to drag me to the car a few hours later.

As soon as we arrived at the theater, two women spotted me and freaked out. As other fans arrived, several began to ask if they could either photograph me or have their picture taken with me. Some brought their children to greet me, whispering in my ear that they wouldn’t know the difference. This scene continued up until we were able to go into the theater and grab some seats on the top row.

I had been looking forward to seeing this film for weeks, and it exceeded all my expectations. I saw Michael Jackson as I had never seen him before – a man in charge of the smallest detail, but a human being who was full of love and graciousness towards others and filled with concern for our planet. I have no doubt that the concerts he was rehearsing for would have been some of the best that the world had ever seen. It’s a shame that this is the closest we will ever get to seeing the final product, but also a blessing that his death has exposed so many more people to his message.

I had been expecting to have a strong emotional response to the film, but found myself only tearing up a few times – once when Michael referenced his brothers and parents, and again when he sang a few lines of “Speechless.” MJ was thin, but amazingly energetic and his voice was flawless. It was much easier to be enthralled than emotional.

As the film ended and we made our way toward the exit, people once again started coming up and asking me for photos. I met one very nice lady who insisted her kids stand beside me for a picture. She adjusted my hair, stood beside me for a snapshot, and then gave me a hug as other fans gathered around with cell phones and cameras pointed in our direction. She began talking about what a wonderful person Michael was and her eyes welled up with tears. As she walked away, I heard her daughter ask, “Mom, are you sure that’s not Michael Jackson?”

After posing outside the building with a few more beaming MJ fans, my partner insisted that I go to the car. I was getting quite a head rush from my five minutes of fame and also felt inspired that so many people in my area are fans of Michael Jackson.

There is an instant kinship among Michael’s fans. We understand what it means to love someone that the world considered to be outside the concept of normal. We know what it’s like to be ridiculed for having that appreciation, and to constantly have to defend someone whom most of us never even had the privilege of meeting in person. As crazy as it might have seemed to some, I felt honored that these people allowed me to be their substitute for the evening; a way in which they could continue to physically cling to the thing they miss the most.