by Joseph Vogel
A Ten Things I Love Book Review
Over the years there have been a lot of books written about Michael Jackson. Most were about his personal life, his struggles, or his character – some honorable, some not – so I was pleased to finally read a book dedicated entirely to his creativity. Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson celebrates the excellence of an amazing artist.
Joe Vogel details the time, talent, and creative process involved in Michael’s albums taking us back to the decade each one was created in. He helps us get a feel for the nature of the songs Michael wrote, by highlighting what was going on in the world, within music, and in Michael’s life during that time period. He includes the actual critic’s reviews of that time once the songs were released, both positive and negative. It gives the reader a feeling of being back in that decade experiencing it as it was happening.
He captures beautifully the perfection that Michael embodied as an artist, providing examples about his incredible work ethic. He depicts the exhaustion, the excitement, the disappointment and the final elation that came with the release of each album.
We get a glimpse into Michael’s creative genius and talent, learning about the unique ways he used his voice, his choice of words, and his knowledge of music to create a specific effect and convey a particular emotion through every song. The book superbly demonstrates why Michael Jackson is untouchable as an artist.
Since Joe has broken down the chapters by specific albums I will write Ten Things I Love about the book using that same format.
I love that he started out writing about Michael’s bond with his fans and how it came to be through the gift of his music. He correctly establishes that fans aren’t “passive spectators” but a “vibrant community” who have always been dedicated to giving and receiving love from Michael Jackson.
The fan comments he included in this section fantastically illustrate the impact he has had on people all over the world. One woman’s story in reaction to Michael’s death especially touched me. She is a white woman who told of the beating she received when she uttered the innocent comment of “He’s cute” while watching the Jackson 5 on TV when she was 11 years old. It was a poignant and powerful story considering that Michael has now brought together people from all nations, races, religions and backgrounds and united them into a strong cohesive community.
Off The Wall is one of my favorite albums. I couldn’t help but smile when reading about “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” Joe knows how to word things in a way that describes exactly how the song makes you feel. For example, he notes how the tension builds inside of you as Michael starts to whisper, “You know, I was wondering… When Michael gets to the part about “the force, it’s got a lot of power” you know something magical is about to happen and Joe puts you right into the heart of the song with his description of it. He wrote about how Michael yelps into “uninhibited confidence, energy, and sheer joy.” It was so effective that I literally had to put the book down for a few minutes and go watch the video. I love that song!
He also demonstrates how vocally talented Michael really was by writing about the ranges he reached in songs like “Off The Wall.”
What I love about this chapter is the attention Joe paid to Michael’s incredible work ethic. The reader will come away understanding how hard he worked to make this the greatest selling album of all time. He worked months on end, day and night, “planning, creating, rehearsing, recording and polishing” only to find that in the end “it was a disaster” as Quincy Jones said.
You get to experience Michael’s profound disappointment and devastation in feeling that the album didn’t meet his expectations. I love how Joe captured the scene in that moment, detailing Michael’s tears, shock, silence and anger. Thriller is a wonderful example of why you should never give up. Despite his disappointment, Michael went back to work…and look at the result he produced; a true testament to his greatness as an artist.
One interesting fact I learned in this chapter is that the album cover for BAD was originally supposed to be a picture of Michael’s face covered in black lace. I’ve seen that picture many times and always wondered where it came from; now I know. Joe explains why the record company wouldn’t use it for the album: “Executives at Epic were horrified, fearing it would reinforce his ‘weird,’ feminine persona.”
My favorite song on the BAD album is “Man In The Mirror.” I love Joe’s explanation of Michael recording it. “He began feeling his way into its rhythm, words, and meaning, intuitively shaping and molding it.” Although the message of “Man In The Mirror” is important, Joe made me realize that the magic of the song has less to do with its message but more to do with Michael’s vocal interpretation of it and he explains that so eloquently.
I think Dangerous is probably my favorite album. As Joe demonstrates, this was a time period for Michael in which he transitioned to more socially conscious music, producing hits such as “Keep the Faith,” “Heal The World,” and “Black or White.” What I found interesting in this chapter is that Joe acknowledged the fact that many of the critics were not able to critique the album objectively because their own perceptions of Michael had been negatively influenced due to all the tabloid fodder.
Yet, he illustrated beautifully how the fans are the ones who determine the success of an album, not the critics, by pointing out that “Dangerous became Jackson’s most successful album internationally and his second-most successful in total worldwide sales, behind only Thriller.”
One of the songs that resulted from this time period is “Scream.” It was a song that allowed Michael to fight back against the intense scrutiny he had been receiving for the past few years. The song received criticism, of course, because as Joe pointed out “critics were lined up and ready to fire.” Due to the allegations of molestation he had been accused of, Joe depicts accurately how Michael had been dehumanized in the eyes of some people, which influenced their opinions of his music.
However, “Scream” soared to #5 on the Billboard charts as Joe indicated. It was the highest debut in the thirty-seven-year history of the Billboard Hot 100. What I love about this book is that Joe has a way of negating the critics by demonstrating the facts. Nice work Joe!
Oh! And the picture on page 185 is one of my favorites!
Man In The Music contains tidbits that the average person might not know. For instance, I did not know that the short film “Ghosts” was originally going to be a video to promote Addams Family Values. There are little gems like that all over in the book.
Invincible has some truly beautiful music on it, some of Michael’s best in my opinion, but once again, Joe writes about how the critics were unable to be objective about it because they were too focused on his perceived eccentricities instead. He indicates that a feud between Michael Jackson and Tommy Mottola created discord in the relationship causing Sony to stop promoting the album. As a result, sales plummeted.
Yet, he recognizes that Invincible sold more than ten million copies. His attention to this detail shows his understanding that despite their best efforts, fans came through for Michael. He confirms that by highlighting the fact that “Invincible was voted the “best album of the decade” by readers of Billboard.com.”
The Final Years
Joe writes in detail about the This Is It concert series Michael was planning on doing before he passed away, but what I loved most about this chapter was that he revealed a project Michael was engaged in regarding composing a classical music album. Evidently he had already created several pieces and was working with an award-winning composer named David Michael Frank. Unfortunately the project was never completed, but I echo Frank Dileo’s comments that Joe included in the book about it, “I hope one day his family will decide to record this music as a tribute and show the world the depth of his artistry.”
In addition to the things I have highlighted, there is so much more I love about this book, such as the pictures he included. Many of the pages house a magnificent image of Michael. It makes the book so much more engaging. It made me smile every time I turned a page and saw a picture of Michael on it.
If you are a die-hard fan, you probably know the number 7 has played a significant role in Michael’s life. I noticed Joe picked up on that in several areas.
Dangerous is 77 minutes long.
HIStory, had to have 7 minutes trimmed from it due to having too much material on the album.
And Invincible was 77 minutes long.
He couldn’t have ended the book in a better way. Joe paints images in our minds about the state of the planet using “Earth Song.” He outlines how Michael was planning on driving home the point to his audiences that it is not the machines destroying our world, but the people. He leaves us with the memory of Michael telling us that to change the world, it starts with us.
Man in the Music depicts perfectly why Michael Jackson is the world’s greatest entertainer. I highly recommend it.