My weekday alarms start going off around 5:30. I’m a morning person and usually love it, eager to be up before them and turn them off one by one as the morning progresses, like a static to-do list that never expires. Yet I’m diurnal; it’s less about the literal hour and more about the rise of the sun for me, so as dawn moves further into the day, I sleep in more often, and instead use my “early alarms” as an opportunity to check my phone for any reason to put the coffee on.
After a deliciously lazy weekend of reading and lounging, I didn’t expect to choke back a yelp and literally jump out of bed when I read Damien Shields‘ headline this morning.
It’s a strange feeling to have this information out, finally. I’ve been sitting on it for so long, I forced myself to forget about details of the report, lest I let them spill. When people asked (and they did) I just had to shrug and play dumb. “If you’re a singer or have any musical training,” I’d say, “Many things we know intuitively about Michael’s voice won’t surprise you.”
But it was still so satisfying to see them laid out in detail, with mathematical certainty. In its most basic definition, music is a series of frequencies that just sound good together. Sampling and illustrating those same waves made by Michael’s–and now, publicly, Jason Malachi’s–voices gives me a sense of satisfaction I never thought I’d get from math.
I should have known better if I’d been thinking after we lost the appeal last week. Thinking back to December of 2016, just minutes after the very same hearing that Sony admitted (via Zia Modabber and Andrew Demko) that the vocals were most likely not Michael, we stood outside the courthouse and debriefed, musing over details of the hearing.
Even then we knew it wasn’t a slam-dunk guarantee we’d win the anti-SLAPP, we still hoped and held faith in the system. Sony should have hoped for the same, even though their goal with the anti-SLAPP was likely to prevent discovery: the last thing they’d want is information like this getting out.
We chewed over the details and possibilities. What would happen in the end if we win, lose, or draw?
And here we are. Check and mate, Sony.
Yet, that’s not my favorite thing about this. The investigative work is mostly done; it’s existed for years collecting dust while we wrestled with Sony. Much of what the public believes about Jason Malachi is as true as we can get without a confession from the involved parties.
I’d rather focus what it says about Michael Jackson as a singer. He regularly reigns supreme in whatever iteration of “all-time best” polls as male or overall vocalists, often neck-in-neck with equal contender Freddie Mercury. Naysayers easily toss it aside whenever Michael’s voice edges favor over Freddie’s, scoffing that his overall popularity skews the results. Of course Michael Jackson would win. He’s Michael Jackson, he wins everything, merits notwithstanding.
Except that the merits of Michael’s voice do withstand public opinion. It’s often lost in the rhinestones, the precise choreography, the pyrotechnics, and even sometimes the media sensationalism: few people know how highly skilled Michael was as a singer. We’re so used to hearing his voice, it’s easy to forget why we liked it from the outset.
Half of that we owe to raw talent and hard work. Michael Joe Jackson was born with a voice, he busted his butt making sure we heard it, and the world is better for it. The other half, however, we owe to Seth Riggs, Michael’s long-time vocal coach.
It’s unclear precisely when they met in the 1970s, but the effect on Michael’s voice was profound. In particular, the miles of tape Michael cranked out between 1978 and 1983 between his own solo work (Off the Wall in 1979 and Thriller in 1982) and the delicious gems in The Jacksons records he supported is a journey of vocal transformation. Listen to takes such as “Time Waits for No One” then switch back to “Beat It”. Same guy, same era. As Michael aged he produced less, but his voice stayed the same, largely due to the work he put in to keep it in shape.
That Dr. Papcun sampled later takes such as “Speechless,” while necessary for the timing of the alleged Cascio-produced vocals, just adds fuel to my self-satisfied fire as a fan: how dare Jason Malachi even attempt to reproduce what Michael Jackson spent the majority of his life developing?
The report is 41 pages but contains many graphs and illustrations and it is an easy enough read. It details what we have always known about Michael’s voice (and compared to Jason Malachi’s) but describes it objectively, mathematically. It’s a wonder to see the differences in the vocals, to visualize what we have heard all this time, for someone with authority and knowledge to put words to the truth: Michael Jackson did not sing those Cascio songs.
Get your copy here and see for yourself: Papcun-Expert-Report-MJ-Vocals.
“Everybody talks, but not everybody sings, at least not well.” — Dr. George Papcun