The Unheard Music: Michael Jackson - Thriller Demos
Whether you like MJ or not, you have to recognize his contributions to pop music and the changes that came because of them. Because of this, a lot of attention has been paid to Thriller and it's success, although not much has been said about the creative process between MJ and Quincy Jones. Bruce Swedien, one of Michael's engineers who worked with him throughout his adult career, is publishing a book about Michael in the studio, but how much will be divulged is in question and, of course, it's much nicer to hear the sessions than to read about them. So, it is with great pleasure that I present a selection of demos and rough versions of songs that did and didn't make the cut from the Thriller sessions. As for details regarding the source of these recordings, unfortunately I know as much as you do. I received these from a post via Guitars 101 which contained no further details about their origins. They clearly sound like high-generation cassette dubs, but they could be from around 1999 when reissues of Michael's first four adult albums were being produced and researched or far earlier. Otherwise, the only things I've done to these files is clean up the tags and file names, so take solace in the fact that they haven't been unnecessarily altered. My only disappointment with these files, apart from the mediocre sound quality, is that MJ and Quincy's version of the Yellow Magic Orchestra's Behind The Mask is not present. Maybe it'll show up in the near future with his family and label preparing to cash in on his death, but until then we'll have to settle for the Greg Phillinganes version which is based on Michael and Quincy's work. Well, that or Eric Clapton's version. Let's pretend I didn't write that last sentence.
Michael Jackson - Thriller Demos
02 Hot Street
These are clearly professionally produced recordings, but I'm assuming these versions weren't considered final. Hot Street isn't bad but both it and Trouble don't seem release ready compositions.
03 Billie Jean
This is another demo recording, although unlike the version featured on the Special Edition reissue of Thriller (not to be confused with the 25th anniversary edition, the Special Edition has bonus cuts and interviews with Quincy Jones. there are no remixes from Kanye West or anyone of the sort.), this has mostly finished lyrics and is the complete song. The synths sound a little like something Moroder would use.
04 Love Never Felt So Good
A short piano and vocal recording. Actually, this one is quite nice, but who knows if it got any further than this nice little demo.
05 Nite Line
Another rather complete demo recording, just like Trouble and Hot Street. Decent song, but it was to leave it off the album.
06 The Girl Is Mine
07 Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'
More demos sessions. The Girl Is Mine is a solo demo with a string section and everything. It doesn't sound like a synthesized string section so it's odd if this was just meant to be a demo, but it's pretty short so who knows. As for Wanna Be Startin' Somethin', like Billie Jean, this is a rather complete recording. It's kinda rough and MJ doesn't sound like he's worked out his performance yet, but the basic idea is all here including the mama-say-mama-saa-mamoko-sa thing at the end.
08 Thriller (Starlight Session Excerpt)
09 Baby Be Mine (Session Excerpt)
10 Billie Jean (Session Excerpt)
11 Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' (Session Excerpt)
12 Hot Street (Session Excerpt)
13 P.Y.T. (Instrumental Excerpt)
These recordings all appear to be excerpts of sessions with Michael singing over what seems to be finished tracks. The vocals are definitely not finished, and in several places you'll notice different lyrics. This is most notable on Thriller which features the original chorus when the song was known as Starlight. How I wish the full versions of these recordings were out there! Again, they may show up sometime in the near future as there will be a lot of archival research in the very near future, if it hasn't already begun.
14 Groove Of Midnight
Apparently this song was recorded by Siedah Garrett. This doesn't sound like a demo let alone a complete song. This sounds more like Michael messing around while waiting for the tape to be restarted. Whatever it is, it's not much and is more confusing than enlightening.
15 Carousel (Complete Version)
This song almost made the album, but was replaced by Human Nature. Michael Sembello is one of the co-writers. Nice enough track, definitely b-side or compilation worthy.
16 There Must Be More To Life Than This
This track originally listed Freddie Mercury as a co-performer, but he is clearly not here. Just a very polished performance of Michael singing this fine number.
17 Trouble (Alternate Source)
18 Hot Street (Alternate Source)
19 Nite Line (Alternate Source)
There is nothing different between these tracks and the other versions contained here other than someone cleaned up the audio a little bit. If they didn't sound a little better I wouldn't have bothered posting them, but I'm not promising any real clarity here.