Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Michael Jackson is my daddy!!

Hello again folks!

I have coined the season between June 25 and August 29 as "Michael Jackson Season". I woke up on June 25 and said "hmmmm, how do I feel today" and my self responded "Michael Jackson!" Who, other than myself, should I listen to about how I feel?

Well, in following the tradition of listening to myself, I played around watching some MJ videos and listening to old Jackson 5 songs and got inspired to record my version of Buttercup. Buttercup is an unreleased collaboration between the Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder that was highly anticipated and supposed to be released in 1974 (see article). I searched far and wide for a reason why this song was never released. My research has lead me to the following:

Motown was a machine. It brought young talent off the streets and into a family of recording, musicianship, writing, and production. The Jackson 5 auditioned for Motown and were embraced as the first kid act. They grew up in Motown and learned a lot, but Motown was still a business: the Jackson 5 received a standard (i.e., extremely low) royalty rate for their music and the boys became burnt out with singing the same pop bubble gum music they'd always sung (I know that feeling). In order to increase their creative potential, Joe Jackson negotiated a deal with CBS that included a higher royalty rate and increased creative license. The Jacksons (minus Jermaine and adding Randy to the mix) began recording with CBS in 1975...

...SIDE NOTE>>>>>(CBS, Epic, Sony Music Entertainment, and Columbia Records are all the same company. There are only 4 major labels, Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, and EMI Group. EMI is a British company. Among the big 4, Live Nation (which dominates live music sales) and Apple (which dominates digital music sales through iTunes), these are the only companies through which artists are able to reach mass audiences. However, with increased popularity of the independent sector, independent distributors like (those folks are out of Portland, OR. I've met them and spoken with them personally) artists who don't have the mass reach of the major companies can still make a decent living.

So, back to the story. From 1963-1976, Stevie Wonder was not only a musical genius, but an entrepreneurial powerhouse. Unlike Joe Jackson, Lula Mae, Stevie Wonder's mother, wasn't trying to sell her child. She left his father and moved the family to Detroit to be around relatives. Stevie could focus on creativity without the pressures of money and the music industry. Stevie grew up in the 1960s, so unlike Ray Charles, there wasn't this background of dehumanization and poverty in the South. It was Detroit where Motown was being born and the civil rights movement was telling black people they were beautiful. It was a different time and a different reason for making art.

By the time Stevie joined Motown, he had already produced 2 albums, so he had bargaining power. He, like Ray Charles, negotiated to own the rights to all his masters and a significantly higher royalty rate than other artists on the Motown label. Since he was writing all his lyrics and electronically and acoustically producing much of his music, he didn't have  to share his proceeds with other people. He was completely in control of his music career (I'm focusing on the period of 1963-1976 because it's relevant to the song "Buttercup". However, Stevie has always owned himself and is still making music, yet housed under the Motown label...I mean, who would have a problem with Stevie being on their label even if they weren't getting paid? I sure wouldn't)....SIDE NOTE>>>>>>>

>>>>Janelle Monae followed a similar recording and music production strategy as Stevie Wonder. She went to Puff Daddy and courted Bad Boy Records to be one of their artists. He wasn't hearing her. She began producing her music herself under the "Wondaland Arts Society" which she founded herself with a group of like-minded musical rejects. Puff Daddy then returned to her and said "yeah I wanna sign you" and Janelle was like "fuck that. We can enter a partnership though". She currently owns herself, I hope it stays that way. Bad Boy Records started out as an independent label owned and operated by Puff Daddy (Or P Diddy or whatever). Puff was muscled out of 50% of his company by Universal and Bad Boy is currently owned by Warner. Yep. It may be interesting to point out that Janelle Monae founded Wondaland after meeting Big Boi of OutKast and worked with them on some projects. OutKast was signed to LaFace Records...owned and operated by Sony Music Entertainment...are you beginning to see the links?

Back to the story: Michael Jackson, the real creative genius behind the Jackson 5, and Stevie Wonder, a creative genius in himself, met and started making music together. WHAAAAT!!!??? Things really began poppin' off in 1974 when Buttercup was supposed to be released. Could you imagine? The immense talent of Michael Jackson and the business savvy and talent of Stevie Wonder coming together in Motown's headquarters? They probably would've taken the shit over. Anyway, if the Jackson's were recording with Sony in 1975, then the plans were in the making in 1974. It takes about a year to go through the business of changing labels, not to mention the emotional trauma for a child (MJ was 15 years old). Michael had no agency in his life at that time. Joe was running everything, so nature couldn't exactly take its course. The Buttercup project was canned and Stevie had to move on with did the Jacksons with Sony. Later, Michael and Stevie would reunite for collaborations like "I can't help it", "Get It", and "Just Good Friends"...all good songs, but not highly acclaimed by pop music charts (I wonder why? #sarcasm).

All that said, attached is my interpretation and tribute to the wonder of Michael Jackson and Stevie that could've been if the industry would've just gotten out of the way and let the artists make art. Ladies and Gentlemen, BUTTERCUP.

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