Conteùdo de sensagent
|Single by Michael Jackson|
|from the album Thriller|
|B-side||"It's the Falling in Love"/"Can't Get Outta the Rain"|
|Released||January 2, 1983|
|Genre||Dance-pop, R&B, funk|
|Length||4:55 (album/single version)
6:22 (original 12" version)
2:20 (home demo version)
|Producer||Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones|
|Michael Jackson singles chronology|
"Billie Jean" is a dance-pop R&B song by American recording artist Michael Jackson. It is the second single from the singer's sixth solo album, Thriller (1982). It was written by Jackson and produced by him and Quincy Jones. Originally disliked by Jones, the track was almost removed from the album after he and Jackson had disagreements regarding it. There are contradictory claims to what the song's lyrics refer to. One suggests that they are derived from a real-life experience, in which a mentally ill female fan claimed that Jackson had fathered one of her twins. Jackson himself, however, stated that "Billie Jean" was based on groupies he had encountered. The song is well known for its distinctive bass line and Jackson's vocal hiccups. The song was mixed 91 times by audio engineer Bruce Swedien before it was finalized.
"Billie Jean" became a worldwide commercial and critical success; "Billie Jean" was one of the best-selling singles of 1983 and is one of the best-selling singles worldwide. The song topped both the US and UK charts simultaneously. In other countries, "Billie Jean" topped the charts of Spain and Switzerland, reached the top ten in Austria, Italy, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden, and peaked at number 45 in France. Considered to be one of the most revolutionary songs in history, "Billie Jean" was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in 1989.
Awarded numerous honors—including two Grammy Awards, one American Music Award and an induction into the Music Video Producers Hall of Fame—the song and corresponding music video propelled Thriller to the status of best-selling album of all time. The song was promoted with a short film that broke down MTV's racial barrier as the first video by a black artist to be aired in heavy rotation. Also, Jackson's Emmy-nominated performance on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, in which Jackson premiered his "the moonwalk" also helped to popularize the song. The song was also promoted through Jackson's Pepsi commercials; during the filming of one commercial, Jackson's scalp was severely burned. Covered by modern artists, "Billie Jean" sealed Jackson's status as an international pop icon.
Jackson stated several times that "Billie Jean" was based on the groupies he and his brothers encountered while part of The Jackson 5. "Billie Jean is kind of anonymous. It represents a lot of girls. They used to call them groupies in the '60s." He added, "They would hang around backstage doors, and any band that would come to town they would have a relationship with, and I think I wrote this out of experience with my brothers when I was little. There were a lot of Billie Jeans out there. Every girl claimed that their son was related to one of my brothers."
Jackson biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli promoted the theory that "Billie Jean" was derived from a real life experience the singer faced in 1981. The Magic & The Madness documents how a young woman wrote Jackson a letter, which informed the singer that he was the father of one of her twins. Jackson, who regularly received letters of this kind, had never met the woman in question and ignored it. The woman, however, continued to send Jackson more letters, which stated that she loved him and wanted to be with him. She wrote of how happy they would be if they raised the child together. She pondered how Jackson could ignore his own flesh and blood. The letters disturbed the singer to the extent that he suffered nightmares.
Following the letters, Jackson received a parcel containing a photograph of the fan, as well as a letter and a gun. Jackson was horrified—the letter asked that the pop singer kill himself on a certain day and at a specific time. The fan would do the same once she had killed their baby. She wrote that if they could not be together in this life, then they would be in the next. To his mother's dismay, Jackson had the photograph of the woman framed and hung above the dining room table of their family home. Afterward, the Jacksons discovered that the female fan had been sent to a psychiatric hospital.
Jackson wrote "Billie Jean" with his female fan(s) in mind, and later stated that when he wrote the song, he knew it would be a success. "A musician knows hit material. Everything has to feel in place. It fulfills you and it makes you feel good. That's how I felt about 'Billie Jean'. I knew it was going to be big when I was writing it." The singer explained that he was so absorbed by the song that, in one instance, he did not notice that his car had caught fire as he drove down a freeway with a friend until a passing motorcyclist informed him. Jackson noted, "The kid probably saved our lives."
The pop singer faced numerous disagreements with the song's co-producer. Quincy Jones did not want "Billie Jean" to appear on Thriller; he felt that the song was too weak to be part of the collection. The producer disliked the demo and did not care for the song's bass line. Jones wanted to cut Jackson's 29 second introduction, which was the longest one ever created at the time. The entertainer, however, insisted that it be kept. "I said, 'Michael we've got to cut that intro'", Jones later recalled. "He said, 'But that's the jelly!'[...] 'That's what makes me want to dance'. And when Michael Jackson tells you, 'That's what makes me want to dance', well, the rest of us just have to shut up." Jones also wanted to change the track's title to "Not My Lover", as he believed that people would think the song referred to the tennis player Billie Jean King. Jackson refused to change the title and asked Jones to give him co-producing credits for the track; he felt that the demo tape sounded exactly like the finished product. In addition, Jackson wanted extra royalties. Jones granted neither and the two fell out for several days.
Having resolved their differences, Jones had Jackson sing his vocal overdubs through a six-foot-long cardboard tube. Jackson's entire lead vocal was performed in one take; he had received vocal training every morning throughout the production of the song. Jazz saxophonist Tom Scott played the lyricon, a rare wind-controlled synthesizer. Bass guitarist Louis Johnson was then brought in and he played his part on every guitar he owned, before Jackson finally settled for a Yamaha bass. Greg Phillinganes was also drafted in; he played the keyboard. He later said of the song, "'Billie Jean' is hot on every level. It's hot rhythmically. It's hot sonically, because the instrumentation is so minimal, you can really hear everything. It's hot melodically. It's hot lyrically. It's hot vocally. It affects you physically, emotionally, even spiritually."
The song was mixed by Bruce Swedien ninety-one times—unusual for Swedien, who usually mixed a song just once. Jones had told Swedien to create a drum sound that no one had ever heard before. The audio engineer was also told to add a different element: "sonic personality". "What I ended up doing was building a drum platform and designing some special little things, like a bass drum cover and a flat piece of wood that goes between the snare and the hi-hat", Swedien later wrote. "The bottom line is that there aren't many pieces of music where you can hear the first three or four notes of the drums, and immediately tell what the piece of music is." He concluded, "But I think that is the case with 'Billie Jean'—and that I attribute to sonic personality."
"Billie Jean" was written by Jackson, the lyrics based upon a real life experience. Laced with interjections and vocal hiccups, the song features a prominent and repetitive bass line.
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"Billie Jean" is considered a dance-pop R&B song. It opens with a standard drum beat: kick, snare and hi-hat, and it contains hardly any reverberation. The pattern continues unchanged throughout the entire song. After four bars, a repetitive bass line enters. Each time it passes through the tonic, the note is doubled by a distorted synth bass. This accompaniment is followed by a repetitive three-note synth, played staccato with a deep reverb. The defining chord progression is then established. Jackson's quiet vocals enter, accompanied by a finger-snap, which comes and goes during the verses, as the rhythm and chord progression repeats.
According to Daryl Hall, when Jackson was recording “We Are the World,” Jackson approached him and admitted to lifting the bass line for "Billie Jean" from a Hall and Oates song (apparently referring to Hall’s "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" from the 1981 album Private Eyes): "Michael Jackson once said directly to me that he hoped I didn't mind that he copped that groove." Hall says he told Jackson that he had lifted the bass line himself, remarking, "it's something we all do."
According to Inside the Hits, the lyrics refer to the commotion created by Billie Jean on a dance floor. She entices the crowd with a seductive come-on before luring Jackson to her bedroom, through the fragrance of her perfume. Jackson's vocal range spanned from a high baritone to a falsetto and he usually wrote melodies to show this range. However, in the verses of "Billie Jean", the singer's vocals range from a tenor to a low falsetto. A four note falsetto is showcased in the chorus and, during the last line, Jackson peaks at a full octave. The song has 120 BPM and is in the key of F# minor. Following the first chorus, a cello-like synth eases in at the beginnings of both the third, and later, the fourth, verses. Upon the announcement that the baby's eyes resemble Jackson's, a voice laments, "oh no". This is met with Jackson's signature falsetto "hee hee". The bridge debuts the strings, and holds a pedal tone tonic with the exception of two lines and a chord leading into the chorus. Violins are then played, followed by a four-note minor guitar solo. During the solo, vocal shouts, screams and laughs are added. Throughout this, the chord progression remains unaltered and is laced with Jackson's vocal hiccups. All the musical and vocal elements are then brought together in the final chorus. In the fade, Jackson repeats the denial of fathering Billie Jean's child.
On December 1, 1982, Thriller was released to critical and commercial success. A month later, on January 2, 1983, "Billie Jean" was released as the album's second single; it followed Jackson's successful duet with Paul McCartney on "The Girl is Mine". The song reached number one on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, where it remained for eight weeks. "Billie Jean" topped the R&B chart within three weeks, and became Jackson's fastest rising number one single since "ABC", "The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There" in 1970. It remained at number one for nine weeks, before the single was eventually replaced by The Gap Band's "Outstanding". "Billie Jean" peaked at number nine on the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart. It was also number one in the UK Singles Chart. "Billie Jean" and Thriller topped both the singles and album charts in the same week. This occurred on both sides of the Atlantic simultaneously, a feat very few acts have ever achieved. The song was the third best selling single of 1983 in the US and ninth in the UK. "Billie Jean" also reached number one in Spain and Switzerland, the top ten in Austria, Italy, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden, and number 45 in France.
In a Rolling Stone review, Christopher Connelly described "Billie Jean" as a "lean, insistent funk number whose message couldn't be more blunt: 'She says I am the one/But the kid is not my son'". He added that the track was a "sad, almost mournful song, but a thumping resolve underlies [Jackson's] feelings". Blender stated that the song was "one of the most sonically eccentric, psychologically fraught, downright bizarre things ever to land on Top 40 radio". They added that it was "frighteningly stark, with a pulsing, cat-on-the-prowl bass figure, whip-crack downbeat and eerie multi-tracked vocals ricocheting in the vast spaces between keyboards and strings". Overall, the magazine described the track as "a five-minute-long nervous breakdown, set to a beat". Stylus Magazine said of the song, "It's one of the best representations of film noir in pop music, ending with no resolution except a single mother and selfish, careless scumball." In a review of Thriller 25, Allmusic observed that "Billie Jean" was "startling" in its "futuristic funk". The track also won praise from Jackson biographers. Nelson George stated that Jerry Hey's string arrangement added danger to "Billie Jean", while J. Randy Taraborrelli added that it was "dark and sparse" by Quincy Jones' production standards.
"Billie Jean" has been recognized with numerous awards and honors. At the 1984 Grammy Awards the song earned Jackson two of a record eight awards; Best R&B Song and Best R&B Male Vocal Performance. It won the Billboard Music Award for favorite dance/disco 12" LP, and the magazine's 1980's poll named "Billie Jean" as the "Black Single of the Decade". The American Music Awards recognized the track as the Favorite Pop/Rock Single, while Cash Box honored the song with the awards for Top Pop Single and Top Black Single. The track was recognised with the Top International Single award by the Canadian Black Music Awards, and awarded the Black Gold Award for Single of the Year. "Billie Jean" has also been awarded for its sales. It won the National Association of Recording Merchandisers Gift of Music award for best selling single in 1984. By 1989, the standard format single was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, for shipments of at least one million units. The digital sales of "Billie Jean" were certified gold in 2005, for shipments of at least 500,000 units. The total number of digital downloads of the song in the US, as of March 2009, stands at 864,000.
The short film for Jackson's "Billie Jean" is considered the video that brought MTV, a fairly new and unknown music channel, into mainstream attention. It was the first video by a black artist to be aired regularly by the channel, as the network's executives felt black music wasn't "rock" enough. Directed by Steve Barron, the video shows a photographer who follows Jackson. The paparazzo never catches the singer, and when photographed Jackson fails to materialise on the developed picture. The entertainer dances his way to Billie Jean's hotel room and as he walks along a sidewalk, each tile lights up at his touch. After he performs a quick spin, Jackson jumps and lands, freeze framed, on his toes. Upon arrival at the hotel, Jackson climbs the staircase to Billie Jean's room. Each step lights up as he touches it and a burnt out "Hotel" sign illuminates as he passes. The paparazzo then arrives at the scene and watches as Jackson disappears under the covers of Billie Jean's bed. Trailed by the police, the paparazzo is then arrested for spying on Billie Jean. Jackson sported a new look for the video; Jheri curled hair. Jackson's clothes, a black leather suit with a pink shirt and bow tie, were copied by children around the US. Imitation became so severe that, despite pupil protests, Bound Brook High School banned students from wearing a single white glove like Jackson had on during the performance of "Billie Jean" at Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever.
Walter Yetnikoff, the president of Jackson's record label, CBS, approached MTV to play the "Billie Jean" video. He became enraged when MTV refused to play the video, and threatened to go public with MTV's stance on black musicians. "I said to MTV, 'I'm pulling everything we have off the air, all our product. I’m not going to give you any more videos. And I'm going to go public and fucking tell them about the fact you don't want to play music by a black guy.'" MTV relented and played the "Billie Jean" video in heavy rotation. After the video was aired, Thriller went on to sell an additional 10 million copies. The short film was inducted into the Music Video Producers Hall of Fame in 1992. In a 2005 poll of 31 pop stars, video directors, agents and journalists conducted by telecommunications company 3, the music video was ranked fifth in their "Top 20 Music Videos Ever". The video was also ranked as the 35th greatest music video in a list compiled by MTV and TV Guide at the millennium.
On March 25, 1983, Jackson performed "Billie Jean" to critical and popular acclaim. Staged at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever was a celebration of Motown Records' twenty-fifth anniversary (Motown was actually at its 24th year as a record label and was supposed to be done year after in 1984 for Motown was launched in 1959). Organised by Suzanne De Passe, the event was to feature all of the most popular Motown acts, both past and present. The Motown stars were to reunite for one evening, to pay tribute to Berry Gordy and acknowledge his effect on their lives. Jackson initially refused the invitation, and stated that he did not want to perform live, or perform with his brothers again. Jackson reconsidered after a personal visit from Gordy, for whom the singer had great respect. Jackson would perform on the condition that he have a solo spot. Gordy agreed and it was decided that the singer would perform "Billie Jean".
Following performances by Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and Mary Wells, The Jacksons took to the stage for their first group performance together in eight years. The brothers sang a medley of their old hits. After they finished with "I'll Be There", they left Michael alone on stage. Jackson addressed the audience and then went into his routine. He wore black pants, leather penny loafers a black sequin jacket, and a single white rhinestone glove. To begin his performance, Jackson snapped a fedora to his head and struck a pose—his right hand on his hat and his left leg bent. He then threw the hat aside and lip synced to "Billie Jean". During a musical interlude, the singer executed a move which many claim to have sealed his status as a pop icon. Jackson glided backwards to perform the moonwalk, before he spun on his heels and landed en pointe. It was the first time Jackson had performed the moonwalk in public; he had practiced it in his kitchen prior to the show.
Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever was watched by 50 million people and Jackson's routine earned him an Emmy nomination. With the performance, Jackson reached a new audience and increased the sales of Thriller, which eventually became the best-selling album of all-time. The day after the show aired, Jackson was called by his childhood idol Fred Astaire, who commended the singer. Another childhood idol, Sammy Davis Jr., had admired Jackson's black sequined jacket during the performance and later received it as a gift.
Jackson stated at the time that he was disappointed in his performance; he had wanted to remain on his toes longer than he had. Jackson subsequently said that "Billie Jean" was one of his favorite songs to perform live, but only when he did not have to do it the way he had on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever. "The audience wants a certain thing - I have to do the moonwalk in that spot", he later said. "I'd like to do a different version."
In a Top 100 list compiled by VH1 and Entertainment Weekly in 2000, Jackson's performance was ranked as the sixth greatest rock 'n' roll TV moment. Five years later, Entertainment Weekly named Jackson's Motown 25 performance as one of the most important pop culture moments in history. "It was a moment that crossed over in a way that no live musical performance ever had. There was a messianic quality to it", Entertainment Weekly editor Steve Daly commented.
In 1984, Pepsi sponsored The Jacksons' Victory Tour. In return, Michael and his brothers were to star in two commercials for the company. Jackson had reworked "Billie Jean" for the commercial and entitled it "Pepsi Generation". The song was used as the official jingle for the commercials and released as a 7" promo single. The launch of "The Choice of a New Generation" campaign in February 1984 was attended by 1,600 people who were issued with a programme and the 7" single. During the filming of the second commercial, a firework exploded and Jackson's hair caught fire. The incident left the singer in need of reconstructive surgery. The commercials were premiered at the Grammy Awards, where Jackson wore a hairpiece to cover his burns as he collected a record eight awards.
Jackson's original version of "Billie Jean" was remixed by rapper and hip-hop artist Kanye West for Thriller 25, a 25th anniversary reissue of Jackson's Thriller. Entitled "Billie Jean 2008", the remix garnered a mixed reception; most critics felt that it was impossible to improve upon the original. Bill Lamb, of About.com, described the remix as "lifeless", and added that it sounded like West had "entered the studio fully intimidated by the genius of the original". Pitchfork Media's Tom Ewing explained that a guest verse "might have added dynamics to the mix's clumsy claustrophobia". Mike Joseph, in review of Thriller 25 for PopMatters, described the track listing of the reissue as "pleasant" but West's "lazy" remix was the only exception. He added, "You've been given the opportunity to remix the most iconic single from one of the most iconic albums of all time, and all you can do is stick a drum machine on top of the song's original arrangement?". Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone disliked the removal of the original bass line, and compared it to "putting Bobby Orr on the ice without a hockey stick". IGN's Todd Gilchrist praised West's remix and stated that it was a "pretty great track". He added, "it almost overplays the track's originally understated drama, his additions enhance the song and demonstrate that in a contemporary context."
German punk rock band The Bates covered "Billie Jean" in 1996. It peaked at number 67 on the UK Singles Chart. British funk group Linx recorded the track in 1997 and retitled it "Billie Jean Got Soul". English musician Ian Brown took "Billie Jean" to number five on the UK charts in 2000. It was the B-side of "Dolphins Were Monkeys". Brown later commented, "I love Jackson. I want to do a Jackson EP with 'Thriller', 'Beat It', 'Billie Jean' and 'Rockin' Robin' or 'ABC' on it. Hopefully I'll get it done". The singer later covered "Thriller" on his second solo album, Golden Greats.
"Billie Jean" was recorded by American rock musician Chris Cornell for his Carry On album in 2007. Cornell said of his cover, "I didn't plan on it. It just sort of happened organically. I changed the music quite a bit, I didn't touch the lyrics." He added, "And it's not a joke. I took a completely different approach to it, musically." Cornell had previously performed the song live in Europe, including an acoustic set in Stockholm, Sweden in September, 2006. He later said, "I was getting ready to do some acoustic shows on a promotional tour for Revelations and I just wanted to have fun with it." The cover received favourable reviews from critics. MTV noted the "bluesier, more pained and impassioned feel" which stripped away "any pop elements of the original". Los Angeles Times described the track as "a grim, spooky take" on Jackson's "Billie Jean", and added that it was "amusing enough, even if it sounds a lot more like Metallica's 'Nothing Else Matters'". The newspaper concluded that "Jacko's mega hit [survived] the stunt translation".
Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" is considered one of the most revolutionary songs in the history of pop music. To accompany a single with a high-production music video was groundbreaking. "Billie Jean" aided Thriller in becoming the biggest selling album of all time and has been referenced by performers such as Justin Timberlake, Chris Brown and Usher. The Guardian reflected that "more thought went into the production of this single than would go into the entire recording careers of Axl Rose, Coldplay, Shania Twain or Gwen Stefani." Jackson's live performances of the song overshadowed the track; many preferred to watch him dance to "Billie Jean" rather than to simply listen to it. The song and accompanying performances contributed to Jackson's status as a pop icon.
Frequently listed in polls of the best songs ever made, "Billie Jean" was named the greatest dance record of all time by BBC Radio 2 listeners. After the announcement of the winner, presenter Zoe Ball said, "I'm delighted that "Billie Jean" has been voted the greatest dance record ever made. This is Jackson at his best." She continued, "This track is way up there for me - Jacko's rendition of it at the Motown 25th anniversary show has got to be one of the great live performances of all time. The bass line is awesome, the production is killer. It's just perfect." In a list compiled by Rolling Stone and MTV in 2000, the song was ranked as the sixth greatest pop song since 1963. "I Want You Back" and "Beat It" were placed at numbers nine and twenty-two respectively. The Beatles' "Yesterday", which Jackson owned the rights to, was placed at number one.
In a 2005 poll conducted by Sony Ericsson, "Billie Jean" was ranked as the world's third favorite song. Over 700,000 people in 60 different countries cast their votes. Voters from the UK placed "Billie Jean" at number one, ahead of "Thriller", with a further five of the top ten being solo recordings by Jackson. The song was placed at number seven in MTV Europe's All-Time Top Ten R&B Songs. In a survey of over 600,000 people, Channel 4 and HMV revealed "Billie Jean" as the 16th best song in their Music of the Millenium poll.Rolling Stone placed the song at #58 on its list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2010).
In an interview, R&B artist Pharrell Williams stated that "Billie Jean" was one of his favorite songs. "It is hard to say if there is a greater song than "Billie Jean". I think there will never be a song like this one again, with this bass line, with this kind of effect, this eternalness, this perfection." The song has featured in the film Charlie's Angels and the 2002 video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. When re-released as part of the Visionary campaign in 2006, "Billie Jean" charted at number 11 in the UK. It remained in the top 200 for over 40 weeks and was the most successful reissue by some distance. To this day, "Billie Jean" is still in heavy rotation; it is played on over 90% of the world's radios and receives more than 250,000 spins per week in clubs around the world. In 2010, the song was played in advertisements for Michael Jackson: The Experience.
Sales and certifications
"Outstanding" by The Gap Band
|Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs number-one single
February 12, 1983 – April 9, 1983
"Atomic Dog" by George Clinton
"Too Shy" by Kajagoogoo
|UK number-one single
February 27, 1983
"Total Eclipse of the Heart" by Bonnie Tyler
"Baby, Come to Me" by Patti Austin and James Ingram
|Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
March 5, 1983 – April 16, 1983
"Come on Eileen" by Dexys Midnight Runners
"Up Where We Belong" by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes
|Australian Kent Music Report number-one single
April 9, 1983 – May 9, 1983
"I Was Only Nineteen (A Walk in the Light Green)" by Redgum