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Tell me twice.

October 15, 2009

Here’s hoping that army of producers that Michael Jackson was apparently working with over the last 8 years is sitting on some good material, because the two posthumous “new” songs we’ve heard from the late gloved one aren’t really spurring severe reflection on talent lost.

Death is a bitch.

Death is a bitch.

Shortly after Jackson’s death this summer we get a sample of “A Place With No Name”, an unabashed and uninspired (well at least these 24 seconds) of America’s “Horse With No Name.” Now we get “This is It,” which is a pretty pedestrian ballad to begin with, but now gets added media hype because Paul Anka’s come out saying he cowrote the song in 1984 and it was already released as “I Never Heard” by Safire in the 1990s. Pretty average back then, too. Regardless, Anka’s going to get credit and 50% royalties now, which I’m sure the guy who wrote “Diana” and “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” really needed. As cheesy as both of those songs are, they’re still miles better than “This is It.” Especially “Diana.” If I’ve had a few, I quite enjoy that one.

I’ve read a bunch of quick-hit news posts about how America actually granted Jackson permission to swipe their biggest hit for his own song, but surely the guy wasn’t delusional enough to believe singing new words to one of the most familiar melodies of the past 40 years was going to constitute any semblance of creativity. Surely working with some of the most formidable producers in popular music could have given him some kind of insight into the art of sampling as opposed to outright musical hijacking. You know, like how the Verve went and pilfered one section of an orchestral recording of a popular song for their biggest hit. I mean, Christ, why not work with P. Diddy? He hasn’t done anything worthwhile since he was pinching 1980s hits for his own 1990s hits. Those were somewhat blatant lifts too, but at least they were enjoyable.

The tragic thing, of course, is that in the wake of Jackson’s death, everyone dug out the old albums and singles and realized what a great songwriter he was in his prime. If you can find it, listen to the demo of “P.Y.T.” which is completely different from the Quincy Jones-reworked cut that ended up on Thriller. I mean the guy was letting go of songs that most artists/songwriters would kill for when he was 22. Should’ve dug some of that up — polished off “Carousel” or something.

But it’s the hindrance of songwriters aging isn’t it? Aside from Paul Weller, who seems to be one of the few songwriters out there determined to better himself with each passing year. Look at Paul McCartney — sure we all thought Memory Almost Full was a God-given gift two years ago, but how much have you listened to it in the last year? The Fireman album, then? Yeah, not so much. It ain’t no Abbey Road. Let’s be honest — it ain’t no Venus and Mars, either.

And who knows, maybe Paul Anka really needs to cash in Michael Jackson’s death as much as everyone with a hand in his estate does. I mean, the last notable thing Anka did was the big band-tinged covers album Rock Swings. Funnily enough, you know what one of the best cuts was?

Paul Anka – The Way You Make Me Feel

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