Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Take a Second Look

The Jackson 5's earliest hits were credited, both writing and production, to The Corporation™, in large part because Motown honcho Berry Gordy was trying to avoid creating any more superstar writer-producer teams such as Holland-Dozier-Holland, but also because the team was headed up by the man who embodied the Motown corporation, Gordy himself. Gordy had cowritten Motown's first big hit, Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)," from 1959, but he quickly slid into the executive's chair, leaving the writing to others.

When he returned to songwriting, his facility for lyrics had, let's face it, disappeared. It's not that the words to the Jackson 5 songs were silly or embarrassing, but they don't fall where the meter would seem to require them. The chorus goes, in part:

Oh darlin' I was blind to let you go
But now since I see you in his arms

I have heard this song for decades and only recently figured out what that last line says. The rhythm of the song forces Michael to sing "Now since I see YOU ... inhisarms," with the last three words swallowed by their own speed. "You" is one of the least important words in the line, but it gets the most emphasis. For so long, I thought the final phrase was "you anymore," because the cadence indicated that those words were a mere afterthought, rather than the pivot of the line.

None of this is intended to detract from the fact that this is an awesomely good record. It also appears to be the central lesson Michael Jackson learned in writing his own lyrics; in his subsequent "Don't Stop (Til You Get Enough)," Jackson manages to cram the words "force don't" into the same note and beat, even though they belong on totally separate lines.

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