â€œIn the Studio with Michael Jacksonâ€ by Bruce Swedien, forewords by Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton c.2008, 2009, Hal Leonard Corp. $24.99 / $29.95 Canada 272 pages Courtesy Photo
You know it by the first five notes.
Within three seconds of hearing that beat, you know youâ€™re listening to â€œBilly Jeanâ€ or â€œThriller.â€ Thereâ€™s no doubt â€œOff the Wallâ€ has started or â€œBeat Itâ€ will make you want to dance.
And thereâ€™s no doubt that Michael Jackson had talent. But while he sang those songs and made up those moves, he didnâ€™t do those million-selling albums by himself. In the new book, â€œIn the Studio with Michael Jacksonâ€ by Bruce Swedien, youâ€™ll find out how those blockbusters happened and who was involved.
Studio engineer Swedien met Quincy Jones in 1959 and he considered Jones as a brother. So when Q called Swedien one Sunday in 1977 and asked if heâ€™d like to go to New York to work on a musical, Swedien jumped at the chance.
It turned out to be a career-altering decision.
The movie Jones was working on was â€œThe Wiz,â€ starring Jackson, Diana Ross, and others. Swedienâ€™s work there began a long-time friendship and eventual partnership with Jackson, whose music Swedien recorded and enhanced.
Swedien recalls, for instance, working on â€œOff the Wall,â€ which he believes was Jacksonâ€™s first grown-up album.
â€œMichael is always totally prepared!â€ enthuses Swedien. (Note: because this book was penned before Jacksonâ€™s death, everything is written in the present tense).
Swedien answers fansâ€™ questions (the sob at the end of â€œSheâ€™s Out of My Lifeâ€ was an accident-on-purpose) and he gives insights (Jackson always said â€œpleaseâ€ and â€œthank youâ€). Swedien also writes about the technical aspects of recording with Jackson, including his brainstorm of putting microphones around a wooden platform on which Jackson would dance, thus recording taps, snaps, and sounds that made every Michael Jackson song so memorable.
Let me start out by saying that, despite the scattershot way in which this book is presented, I liked it.
I liked it a lot. But I had issues with it, too.
First of all, despite the title of this book, much of it is about Swedien: his methods, praise from pals, kudos from people who learned from him, his studio equipment, his discographies, and so on. This is all quite interesting (particularly if youâ€™re a sound engineer), but it doesnâ€™t totally match the title and itâ€™s probably not what readers will be looking for when buying this book.
Secondly, while the first half of â€œIn the Studio with Michael Jacksonâ€ has some wonderful stories and delightful little memories of working with The King of Pop, the latter half of this book is often identical (sometimes word-for-word) to the first half.
Lastly, while Swedienâ€™s writing is sweet in a star-struck-fan sort of way, I found the! overabundance! of exclamation points! to be!! extremely! distracting!!
And now that Iâ€™ve ranted, let me say this: if youâ€™re devouring every smidgen of Michael Jackson information you can find, you must get â€œIn the Studio with Michael Jackson,â€ too, because itâ€™s a peek you wonâ€™t get anywhere else. For you, this book is definitely worth noting.