A musical recommendation: Bad

Bad (1987)
written, composed and sung by Michael Jackson
produced by Quincy Jones


Somehow, Michael Jackson managed to be the most commercially successful music artist of the 1980s in spite of releasing only two albums during that decade.  The second, Bad, is something of a turning point, for several reasons.  It was his first album after suffering major burn injuries, it was his first album since his skin began to appear more white than black, and it was his first album released after he became the most famous performer in the world.

Getting right to the point, it’s a pretty good album.  It’s certainly a very catchy collection of tunes and doesn’t suffer very heavily from the self-importance that would plague his later works.  “Man in the Mirror” is the only track that really gives a glimpse into the future messianic madness, but the large choir combined with cheesy, 80s-style synth bass make it an enjoyable listen in spite of itself.

A lot of the album is actually dedicated to seedy sides of life, which is simultaneously laughable and attractive.  Instead of singing about his mission to save and then rape every child in the world, Jackson sings about “Speed Demon”s and people with names like “Dirty Diana”.  “Bad” is an exercise in opposing extremes; on the one hand, Jackson sings about what a motherfuggin’ badass he is while accompanying his lines with almost vaudeville-esque harmonies that seem to demand jazz hands choreography.  According to Quincy Jones, this was supposed to be a duet with Prince, but it’s easy to see why he declined – it’s just not his style at all.

Overall, the singing is expressive and uniquely Jackson.  Unfortunately, the production is rather plastic and common.  The tones and arrangements are always as crisp as can be, without many hints of personality.  Perhaps the one distinct aspect of the production is the preference of synth basslines over bass guitar, which has its ups and downs.  The superslick production doesn’t come anywhere close to ruining the album and manages to make Bad, like all Jackson albums, a snapshot of trends and styles of the time.

Apparently, only one song on this album was not released as a single in one market or another, that track being “Just Good Friends”, which I find to be as catchy as anything else on the album, with a minor key progression that might represent the feel of the album more efficiently than any other track.


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