Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Video of the Week: "Say Say Say" (Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney)

 After some time off from blogging for work, rest, and travel, I'm back this week with this gem from 1984, "Say Say Say." This collaboration, written and performed by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney, is a great showcase for two of the best vocalists in pop music history. The two made two recordings together: "The Girl Is Mine," which was one of the numerous hits from Jackson's landmark album Thriller, and this one from McCartney's album Pipes of Peace. While the former was one of the admittedly weaker songs on an album full of great songs, the latter is generally agreed to be the best song on an otherwise mediocre album. McCartney had another notable duet with an African-American in the early 80s with "Ebony and Ivory," a sappy ballad about racial harmony performed with Stevie Wonder.

 This song was recorded in 1981 when Jackson was visiting the UK, though it was not released for two more years. Like much of McCartney's other work, it was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London and the sessions were produced by George Martin. Sadly, this was the final project the two worked on together, as a rift developed later when Jackson purchased the publishing rights to Northern Songs, meaning that he collected royalties from most of the Beatles' record sales and broadcast performances, as well as other artists' recordings of Beatles songs. Ironically, McCartney gave Jackson the idea by showing him the catalog of songs for which he had purchased the publishing rights, but McCartney was not happy when Jackson outbid him for the Northern Songs property.

The video was directed by Bob Giraldi, whose previous credits include Jackson's "Beat It" video. Giraldi remarked that the video works because, "Michael didn't outdance Paul, and Paul didn't outsing Michael." The video has been credited as popularizing the idea of using dialogue and a story in music videos, though in this case the plot of the video seems to have little to do with the content of the song. The song is about a man trying to rekindle a failed relationship, while the video features the two performers as con men/vaudeville performers who run numerous scams and give the money to orphans. Critics pointed out the unlikelihood of Jackson besting a muscle man in arm wrestling, but these critics seem to miss the point, since both of them are in on the scam.

 In addition to the two main stars, there are a few other familiar faces here. Linda Eastman McCartney, Paul's first wife, appears as a member of the gang, which is a case of art imitating life since she had been touring as a member of the group Wings and then as part of Paul's solo band for years. Though not highly regarded as a musician, her presence on tours may be a big part of the reason the McCartneys had a successful marriage up until Linda's death from cancer in 1998. Michael's older sister LaToya is also in the video, as the girl who attracts MJ's attention and gets a bouquet of flowers at the end. Actor Harry Dean Stanton shows up as a pool shark who winds up getting hustled by Paul. Stay tuned for more videos and commentary, some more of which will feature both of these guys....

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