Michael and Janet Jackson’s Scream Turns 20 Twenty – A Look Back

Sources: Dazed – By Michael Cragg | Edited By – All Things Michael

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Amazing lead single Scream – released twenty years ago – however offered a more relatable and enjoyable sense of catharsis. A duet with younger sister Janet Jackson, and produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, “Scream” finds the pair spitting out tightly wound lines railing against the press almost through gritted teeth, the industrial beats and clattering percussion encasing an incredible vocal performance from Michael that peaks with the line, “oh brother please have mercy ’cause I just can’t take it”. Its sense of unleashed frustration makes it one of Jackson’s most enduring songs outside of his 80s purple patch, the aggression sounding defiant as opposed to bitter. It also came with one of the best (and allegedly most expensive) videos of all time, director Mark Romanek housing the siblings in their very own wipe-clean, hyper-modern spaceship, complete with indoor zen garden, remote controlled art gallery and futuristic squash court. To celebrate its anniversary, here’s a look at some of the stories surrounding the making of “Scream” and its video.

THE RECORDING SESSIONS WERE EVER SO SLIGHTLY COMPETITIVE

Prior to “Scream”, Michael and Janet’s only time in a recording studio together had been in 1982 on Thriller’s PYT. Since then both had gone on to have reasonably successful careers separately, but the general consensus was that “Scream” represented Janet – who’d released the career-defining Janet. album two years prior – showing support for her beleaguered brother. Not that she was about to keep it low key to make him look good, mind you. In a 2012 interview, Jimmy Jam recalled the first studio session in New York. “When Michael went into the studio, the idea was that he was going to sing it first and then Janet would go in and sing after him,” Jam recalled. “So Janet’s sitting there, me and Terry are sitting there, and Michael goes in. Before he sings, he’s just real calm and quiet, ‘Can you turn my headphones up a little bit?’ Then all of a sudden the music comes on and he starts dancing around the room, hitting all his signature moves. When it was over, I swear to God, it was just silence in the room. He said, ‘How was that?’ We’re like, ‘Yeah, that sounded really good.’” This caused a bit of problem for Janet who had planned to follow him into the booth to record her vocals. Instead she decided she’d do her vocal later in Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’ Minneapolis studio, away from her brother. “So we go to Minneapolis with Janet, where she does a great job on her vocal,” Jam continued. “We send it to Michael, he goes, ‘Wow, Janet sounds great. Where did she record that vocal?’ I said it was in Minneapolis. ‘I’m coming to Minneapolis.’ So Michael comes to Minneapolis to re-record his vocal, and it was a real glimpse into his competitive nature. It didn’t even matter that it was his sister.” According to Jam, 90 per cent of Michael’s vocals on the finished version was taken from that original New York session.

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MICHAEL SPENT A WHOLE DAY SEARCHING FOR THE PERFECT HANDCLAP SOUND

During the same interview Jam also recalls how far Michael would go to get the right hand clap sound – ie he was a bit of a nightmare. “We’d spend a day just on the volume of the hand claps. I mean, literally,” he explained. “And we’d turn them up and he’d say, ‘Okay, I’ll come back tomorrow and we’ll listen to it again.’ We come back the next day, and he’d go, ‘Can we turn that up just a little more?’ Yes, we turn it up. ‘Okay, make me a tape.’ Okay. ‘I’ll come back tomorrow and we’ll listen again.’ I mean, it was literally like that.” While hand claps aren’t exactly the elements that leap out in amongst the metallic clatter of the song’s cacophony, Jimmy Jam did share this ‘jampad’ picture that clearly shows “MJ clap on chorus last ones”. “Last ones” in this context seems to translate to “oh God I hope these are the last ones.”  Read the full story here

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2 thoughts on “Michael and Janet Jackson’s Scream Turns 20 Twenty – A Look Back

  1. Great article, this and the extended one. I love that this anniversary is creating such buzz. I listened to an hour long interview w/ Janet’s choreographer for the project this morning. I have no doubt Michael was competitive – he was the biggest star in the world – but he was also harder on himself than anyone.

    One point though – “Since then both had gone on to have reasonably successful careers…” REASONABLY successful????

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