Thursday, August 29, 2013

Classic Material: Michael Jackson - P.Y.T

P.Y.T. is my favorite Michael Jackson song.  You should pause for a moment to consider what I just said...  Yup, this is my favorite.  I'd expect any reader to accept, a priori, that this is an awesome song... but why is it my favorite among a looooong list of awesome MJ songs?  We'll get to that.

First, though, we need to talk about the tiger.  In addition to its numerous distinctions, Thriller has the honor of being the best non-Ohio-Players gatefold cover ever.  That white suit?  The casual-yet-oh-so-fly Gordon Gartrel lookin' black shirt?  A baby tiger?!? In all of our combined lives and efforts, it's highly unlikely that we'd approach that level of fly...

Musically, why is it my favorite?
  • great contrast between the airy synth pads of the intro and the boogie of the main song
  • great bass line, with the main part of the phrase being stolen from another artist[1], but in the best way.
  • great music arrangment, with an artful layering and interweaving of the various elements over the course of the song.  Listen to the rhythm piano that's present only in the first verse as the instrumentation builds.  Listen for the bongos over the course of the song. Wow.  Produced by Quincy Jones, so, duh.
  • great vocal arrangement. quick... how many pop songs can you name where there are key changes in the backing vocals?  The chipmunk backing vocals in the final few bars?!? Bananas.
  • I'm not even going to talk about the breakdowns, we'd be here all day...

As with most classic material though, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  I remember being at a Four Barrel coffee in San Francisco's Mission District a while back.  Man, this place was hipster!  But the head Barista (who gets the honor of selecting tunes during the shift, I believe) was playing Thriller.  Yo, every toe in that place was tappin' and every head was bobbin'.  If there'd been one other black person besides me, a dance party might have even broken out.
Head Barista at Four Barrel gets it poppin' with P.Y.T.
So yeah, P.Y.T is my favorite MJ tune.  However, I also like the demo version of the song, which is similar only in title to the album version.  Here's the U-Tern Edit.  I also like what Kanye did with the chipmunk vocals on his track Good Life, which is notable for being the only track on which T-Pain is tolerable to my ears.


1 - PYT's bassline during the verses before the bridge is lifted almost directly from Carl Carlton's She's a Bad Mama Jama (She's built, She's Stacked), which was released in 1981, just a year before Thriller.  The truth of the matter is that every artist "steals".. being influenced by other artists, and sometimes appropriating these influences. One wonders if there might be a Robin Thicke/Pharrell style controversy around PYT were it to be released today.