1987, Music

Bad (1987) by Michael Jackson

I grew up with “Fat” and have a hard time separating the real song, the title track of this record, from its parody. But I haven’t listened to “Fat” in so long. Listening to Bad for the first time (and to the remaster, no less), I can’t help but wonder, “does “Fat” sound this terrible too?”

I was a little kid in 1987, not yet six. This music, particularly the most popular four singles – out of the absurd 9 singles released from this 10-track album – was everywhere and no doubt infiltrated my consciousness. It was ubiquitous and inescapable, not that 5-6 year old me wanted to escape danceable music.

But young me had no idea how horribly made this record is, both for how much money was likely invested in it and for how much money it made. Jackson (who wrote most of the songs) and his songwriters (who only contributed two tracks) have written some pretty catchy ’80s dance music. The lyrics are kind of awful, as you expect (though sometimes they’re okay) but it’s undeniable that these songs are catchy, particularly the four songs that you undoubtedly know, “Bad,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Man in the Mirror” and “Smooth Criminal.” Many of the other songs are nearly as catchy.

But Jackson has definitely embraced his jacksonness and jacksonisms to a degree that is almost self-parody, leaning into his weird vocalizations more than he really should. It’s distracting for someone who has never been a fan.

Jackson is backed by elements of a band – I hear a real organ here, a real guitar there – but mostly by terrible ’80s synthesizers. For example: only one track features a bass guitar, the rest of the bass parts (omnipresent on a record like this) are played by terrible ’80s keyboards, and you can hear them rather clearly.

The remaster makes this all worse: you can hear the bad ’80s “bass” and drums and keyboards so clearly that it just turns into this giant wail screaming “It’s 1987!!!!” I hate bad ’80s production but I am not sure I have ever encountered a record so horribly mired in it. Imagine what this record would sound like played with electric instruments, instead of electronic instruments. It might have endured as a near-classic or something.

That being said, Jackson’s personality shines through, even when he is making strange noises or singing terrible lyrics. And it’s more infectious than I ever would have suspected. Even the shittier songs have some degree of appeal, in spite of the terrible production.

So it’s not awful, which is a credit to Jackson himself and his knack for hooks. Because it sounds awful. I hope I never listen to another ’80s record produced by Quincy Jones. Jesus.


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