What is Pop Art? Pop is “Popular (designed for a mass audience), Transient (short-term solution), Expendable (easily forgotten), Low cost, Mass produced, Young (aimed at youth), Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous, Big Business,” according to artist Richard Hamilton.
On this day in music history: February 12, 1983 - “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 9 weeks, also topping the Hot 100 for 7 weeks on March 5, 1983. Written by Michael Jackson, it is the fourth R&B and pop solo chart topper for the superstar singer and songwriter. Jackson is inspired to write the song after an encounter with an obsessed female fan (later determined to be mentally ill and committed to an psychiatric institution), who claims in one of several letters she sends to him claiming that he is father of “one of her twins!!” At one point, the woman in question breaches the grounds of the Jackson family home family home in Encino, CA, and is discovered by security lounging by the pool. These incidents are not revealed until the release of Jackson biographer J. Randy Taraborelli’s book “Michael Jackson - The Magic And The Madness” in 1991. Michael publicly states that it was inspired by groupies he and his brothers encountered during their early years in The Jackson 5, and that is was about no one in particular (mostly to prevent copycat incidents like the one with the obsessed fan). Jackson records his lead vocal on the song in a single take in August 1982 at Westlake Audio in Los Angeles, CA. The track features musicians Louis Johnson (bass), David Williams (guitar), Greg Phillinganes (electric piano, synthesizer), Michael Boddicker (emulator), Bill Wolfer (synthesizer, synthesizer programming), Greg Smith (synthesizer), and Tom Scott (lyricon). Originally recorded with just a drum machine providing the rhythm, producer Quincy Jones and Jackson decide at the last minute that the song “needs an extra punch”. Jones brings drummer Leon “Ndugu” Chancler (Miles Davis, Weather Report, Willie Bobo, Bobby Hutcherson, George Duke) into the studio to play live drums on top of the track. Clocking in at nearly six and a half minutes, the track is edited down to 4:50 for the album and single versions, while the full length version is issued as a 12" single in January of 1983.
The now iconic music video for “Billie Jean” is directed by Steve Barron (“Take On Me”, “Hold Me", “Don’t You Want Me”).
The single wins Jackson two Grammy Awards for Best R&B Song and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 1984. “Billie Jean” is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: February 12, 1981 - “Moving Pictures”, the eighth studio album by Rush is released. Produced by Rush and Terry Brown, it is recorded at Le Studio in Morin Heights, QC, Canada from October - November 1980. Following their breakthrough success on the US album charts with their previous album “Permanent Waves”, Rush return to the studio in late 1980 to record the follow up. Continuing in the vein of the previous album, the band successfully bridges the gap between creating complex and challenging music, that is also melodic and radio friendly. The album cements the Canadian progressive rock bands reputation at mainstream album rock radio, yielding the classics “Tom Sawyer” (#8 Mainstream Rock, #44 Pop), “Limelight” (#4 Mainstream Rock) and “YYZ”. The albums iconic cover artwork features a photo taken in front of the Ontario Legislative Building in Queens Park, Ontario. The title is a triple entendre pun on the images of movers carrying paintings (the paintings are the cover art to Rush’s “2112” album, the famous “Dogs Playing Poker” painting, and a painting of Joan Of Arc being burned at the stake), while people are crying because they are “emotionally moved” by those pictures, and a film crew is also in the shot filming a “moving picture”. First remastered and reissued on CD in 1997, it is reissued again in 2011 as a CD/Blu-ray disc deluxe edition. The Blu-ray disc features a high resolution 5.1 surround mix of the original album, and the original music videos for “Tom Sawyer”, “Limelight” and a previously unreleased clip for “Vital Signs”. The album is also reissued as a 200 gram vinyl LP by Mercury Records in 2015. “Moving Pictures” will peak at number three on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified 4x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
Last night, whilst Kanye West did his thing at MSG, James Blake quietly shared a brand new single on his BBC Radio 1 Residency. There’s no news whether “Modern Soul” will feature on Blake’s follow up (supposedly titled Radio Silence) to 2013′s Overgrown, but either way, it’s a stunning effort. Blake’s fluttery voice floats above the blistering set of electronics and piano melodies that make up the instrumentation. Listen to the song above!