By Terri Schlichenmeyer
You know the songs by the first five notes. Within three seconds of hearing that beat, you know you’re listening to “Billy Jean” or “Thriller.” There’s no doubt that “Off The Wall” is playing or that “Beat It” will make you want to dance. And there’s no doubt that Michael Jackson had talent. But while he sang those songs and made up those moves, he didn’t do those million-selling albums by himself.
In the new book “In the Studio with Michael Jackson” by Bruce Swedien, you’ll find out how those blockbusters happened and who was involved. Studio engineer Bruce Swedien met Quincy Jones in 1959 and he considered Jones a brother. So when “Q” called Swedien one Sunday in 1977 and asked if he’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 “The Wiz,” starring Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. This is how Swedien began a longtime friendship and eventual partnership with Michael Jackson, whose music Swedien recorded and enhanced.
In the book, Swedien recalls working on “Off The Wall,” which he believes was Michael Jackson’s first grown-up album. “Michael is always totally prepared!” Swedien says.
Because this book was penned before Jackson’s death, everything is written in the present tense.
Swedien answers fans’ questions. The sob at the end of “She’s Out of My Life” was an accident-on-purpose. He gives insights. Jackson always said “please” and “thank you.” 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.
Despite the scattershot way 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 you’re a sound engineer, but it doesn’t totally match the title and it’s probably not what readers will be looking for when buying this book.
Second, while the first half of the book 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.
While Swedien’s writing is sweet in a star-struck fan sort of way, I found the overabundance of exclamation points to be extremely distracting.
If you’re devouring every smidgen of Michael Jackson information you can find, you must get “In the Studio with Michael Jackson,” too, because it’s a peek you won’t get anywhere else.