Today (Aug. 31) marks the 30th anniversary of one of the most important pop albums of the late ’80s, and one of the most successful albums in Billboard chart history: Michael Jackson‘s Bad.
Released as the follow-up to his world-conquering blockbuster Thriller, the similarly ambitious Bad not only debuted atop the Billboard 200 albums chart and stayed there for six weeks, it also spun off five separate No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. The five No. 1s was a then-chart record for any LP, only matched once — by Katy Perry‘s Teenage Dream in 2011 — in the years since. (Read more about how Bad accomplished its unprecedented chart achievement here.)
Though the singles’ chart peaks will keep Bad in the Billboard history books for all time, it’s the songs themselves — in chronological order, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” “Bad,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Man in the Mirror” and “Dirty Diana” — that make the set still worth celebrating three decades later. To honor both the album and its place in Billboard lore, we talked to many of the albums’ collaborators — from producer Quincy Jones and engineer Bruce Swedien to the album’s extensive roster of session musicians, songwriters, and music video directors and co-stars — to get the stories behind those five classic chart-toppers.
Read on below, as some of the biggest names in the King of Pop’s late-’80s musical universe answer the call to tell you once again who the baddest of them all was.
“I JUST CAN’T STOP LOVING YOU”
The lead single off Bad was the relatively straightforward pop ballad “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” Though the song was initially plotted to be a duet with a fellow megastar — like the Paul McCarntey-assisted lead single off Thriller, “The Girl Is Mine” — Siedah Garrett, a mostly unknown songwriter from Quincy Jones’ stable, was ultimately chosen as its female lead. Despite the song’s relatively traditional arrangement and less-than-expected star power, it became the set’s first Hot 100 No. 1 in September 1987.
Bruce Swedien (Engineer): Michael had a big cork board, with places for cards, and he had written on the top in his own handwriting, “Only number one singles.” And that’s basically what he wanted.
Nathan East (Bass): When I first heard we were going to record “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” I thought it was going to be Ray Charles’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You” [Laughs.]
Ndugu Chancler (Drums): They wanted it to be a duet, we knew that. But we weren’t sure who the other singer was going to be. There had been a buzz going around that it was going to be Barbra Streisand, but none of that was confirmed, so it was just us with Michael in the studio… I don’t know if they were waiting on a call, or if that was just the rumors. But Siedah [Garrett] ended up being it.
Quincy Jones (Producer): Michael wanted Streisand or Whitney to sing that song with him. While he was doing that, I just pushed Siedah on the song, and she loved it. He loved her.
Siedah Garrett (Singer): Quincy called me in, and I thought we were going to finish something on “Man In The Mirror,” and this other song was playing. And I’m in the back of the studio knitting. So of course, he just casually called over his shoulder, “Hey Sid, you like this song?” And I kind of said, “Yeah, I like it.” He said, “Well, can you sing it?”
So I get up to go into the vocal booth to record this song, and as I’m going out of the studio door I hear Quincy say, “Michael, go on in there.” And so Michael is following me to this vocal booth, and I’m going to myself, “Oh my god.” It wasn’t until I walked into the vocal area and there were two music stands, two microphones, two lyric sheets… The music stands were facing each other, and the microphones were facing each other, and the lyrics sheet said, “’I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’: First verse, Michael, second verse Siedah.” And it was in that moment that I realized, “Oh my god. I’m singing a duet with the King of Pop, the biggest recording artist on the planet!”
Dann Huff (Guitar): it was pretty loose, and more loose than I would have thought. I would have thought it would have been more dictated in exactly what they knew they wanted, and you were just going to kind of be the person who provided that. They wanted to know what the musicians thought.
East: What I love about Quincy is that he’s such an orchestrater and arranger and his knowledge is so vast that he’s able to come out and say, “Hey Nath, right before you go into the second verse, just do this little pick up.” He’d give me something that I would have never really thought of. What a genius! Of course, when you’re tracking, every note you play is going to be heard by a billion people around the world. It’s no pressure, though. [Laughs.]
Garrett: [Michael] said, “Guess what? This is going to be the first single to be released on the new record.” I’m like, “What?” And then I said, “If you put somebody like Brooke Shields or somebody in the video singing my part, I will kill you.” He said, “Oh, don’t worry, I don’t release a video for my first single, ever.”
Larry Stessel (Epic Records exec): He didn’t have a video [of “The Girl Is Mine”] with Paul McCartney either, which is the lead single from Thriller… I think part of it was the pattern. I think that everything was about, “Let’s just do everything the Thriller way.”
Chancler: For the norm of what people put out as first singles during that time, this was a little against that. Most of the time, they want to be a simple dance, y’know, electronic influence, kind of thing. This was a straight-up pop ballad from Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, who had given us the moonwalk and all of that prior to that.
Garrett: “I Just Can’t Stop Buying Shoes.” That’s what I would say when we did soundcheck. I’d be on my mic, [singing] “I just can’t stop buying shoes, and if I stop, then tell me what would my feet do? I just can’t stop buying shoes.”
David Paich (Synthesizers): It almost sounded like a British ‘60s song, you know what I mean? It was kind of ballad-y, but it had the timpani in it and everything. It went back to pop music in the ‘60s almost, but it was interesting and fun.
Chancler: Great song, don’t get me wrong. But it seemed like during that period people were looking for the extraordinary from Michael, versus the high-quality tradition. And this represented the high quality tradition.
East: For me, I love playing on ballads, as well. I love everything, but ballads I feel are my specialty. So it was one of those things where as soon as I heard it, and those [chord] changes — every time you’re in the room with Quincy, and the music is going down, it’s like a dream sequence. Everybody is on their game just a little more just because it’s Quincy and Michael.
Rubén Blades (Spanish language adapter): Quincy Jones called to ask me to help him with a request from Michael Jackson: He wanted to sing in Spanish for the first time in his professional career. I adapted “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” (Todo mi amor lo eres tu) into Spanish and I spent three days with Michael, Quincy, and Humberto Gatica’s sound engineer, teaching him how to pronounce the words, taking the role of coach during the recording. I think he did a spectacular job. He was extremely professional, an excellent student and thrilled to be singing in Spanish. I think in this particular song, he sounds better in Spanish than in the original English language version. It turned out to be the only song he recorded in Spanish!
Huff: I was honored, to say the least, to be invited to the party. It’s kind of a badge of honor. If you got called by that camp, in a certain sense, you could say you’d made it.
Blades: Later, [Jackson] did something unprecedented, according to his lawyers: He made me co-writer and gave me 35% of the song, something I was told he never did with anyone else. It was an honor to work for him. He was humble and had a great attitude, despite his stature in the business. I really don’t know how other people work in this scenario, but I do think Michael Jackson’s professionalism is one of the reasons behind his success and why he’s remained relevant so long. It’s something worth emulating and I hope new generations of artists understand and adopt this.
Garrett: There was a permanent grin [after recording], like a Cheshire cat, on my face. For months. Just the idea of recording with him. Whether or not it made the record or not, whatever, whatever.
The slithering, confrontational “Bad” was released as the second single, and as both the album’s opener and title track, it served as something of a mission statement for the LP. It was also accompanied by the first of the set’s several enormously popular music videos, an 18-minute short film directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese. Though like “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” “Bad” was supposed to feature a special cameo from a pop peer of Jackson’s that never ended up panning out, Michael was joined in its video by a then-unknown actor who would soon become a star in his own right.
Swedien: Michael always spelled “BAD” with capital letters. He never used lowercase.
John Robinson (Drums): “Bad” was Michael making a statement. He wanted to be perceived in a light that made him a little more sinister.
Wesley Snipes (Video actor): Oh, it’s funky. I thought the bass line was very funky. Didn’t understand what the lyrics were! I didn’t understand it when I heard it on the record. I didn’t understand it when I heard Michael sing it. Come to think of it, I still don’t know what he’s talking about! He was jammin’, though. The bass line, the rhythm? Oh man, iconic!
Robinson: “Bad,” when I first heard it, it was programmed from a demo perspective. Basically, Quincy wanted me to sit there and play the same groove over and over again for 12 minutes straight. It had an extra large wheel tape and I played it top to bottom in that exact same groove. He liked plain groove. It’s better for the dancers.
Greg Phillinganes (Synthesizers): I didn’t know I was going to solo on it until Q asked me. I was honored to know I would be the other half of a two-part solo that started with the legendary Jimmy Smith. Only Quincy would think to bridge two differences generations, genres, styles and instruments in the span of eight bars!
Swedien: “Bad,” y’know, was supposed to be a duet with Prince.
Jones: Michael wrote it for [Prince]. I wanted to do a dramatic video, with [Jackson’s manager] Frank DiLeo and [Prince’s] manager… so we invited Prince to the house, and I said “Michael, you sit on that side of the table, so he won’t feel like we’re ganging up on him.” I’ve known Prince, I used to jam with his father, who was a jazz piano player. And I could tell that he didn’t want to be involved. He said “It’s gonna be a hit anyways, so forget it.” And it was.
Snipes: No, I didn’t beat out Prince for the part. You know what’s so funny? I cracked a joke like that on one of these TV shows. And they took me serious. But if they did the math, they would [realize] that it was impossible for it to be true. Not to mention that all of us have talked about how we got involved and what we knew about “Bad” or Michael Jackson many times. Actually, somebody informed me about Michael and Prince having that conversation. I just cracked the joke about it. In my dreams, right?
Jones: I think [Prince] was afraid, you know. That Michael would upstage him. Michael’s been in the business 25 years longer than him. And he came around to the studio when we were recording Off the Wall, with his old manager, and he looked like a deer in headlights.
Snipes: I thought it was primarily going to be an acting gig, more than anything. I had no idea what to expect. It was supposed to be a week’s worth of work, and it turned out to be like a month and a half. It wasn’t delays, it was the creative process — you had three masters that were trying to create something that hadn’t been done. You had Quincy Jones, the great Michael Jackson and then Martin Scorsese, collaborating on this new form of creative expression.
There’s a part in the video where I think the music cuts out, and Michael starts going “WOOOO!” and the guys in the background, “WOOOO!” The call-and-response. That was unscripted! It was totally spontaneous. And Scorsese just said, “Let the camera roll, and let’s see what happens.” Because Michael was trying to figure out something, he was trying to find something. The first AD told the dancers and the cast, “Just follow Mike. Whatever Mike do, just follow Mike.” Two minutes in, though — everybody in the crew don’t have the stamina that Mike got! So you started to see ‘em fall off. They started with 30 voices, now it’s down to ten, you get three… now you got the other dancers looking at each other, like, “Should we say that?” Now they’re off-beat. I’m telling you, I was just over there cracking up, and Mike was in the zone. “SHAMONE!” He just kept going and going. By take three, they were exhausted.
Do I remember my lines? Wow. Nah. That’s funny. I do remember Mike giving me some advice during one of the scenes in the hallway. He says, “Hey, you’re really good, you should really pursue this. Have you thought about acting?” I was like, “Mike… well… yeah. What do you mean?” He was like, “’Coz you’re really good, you should really consider doing this. You could be good.” “Mike, what are you talking about? You know… I’m an actor!” He says, “Oh, you’ve taken an acting class before?” “No Mike! I’ve been studying this shit all my life! You thought I was a gangbanger from the neighborhood?” He’s like “I didn’t know! I thought, y’know, they found you… and I was like, ‘Boy, this guy is really good!’’” I was like “Dude, I’m not a gangbanger. I’m an actor!”
I’ve had some interesting conversations with Michael, the grandmaster Michael. Michael actually asked me if he could be in Blade II. The great Michael wanted to be in one of the Blade movies, to be a tough guy. I was like, “Mike, which one you gonna do? You wanna play one of the vampires?” He was like, “No! I wanna be like Blade’s friend — I wanna fight with you!” I said, “Oh Mike, you got jokes.” He was like, “No, I’m serious!” It’s very hard to imagine how people would have managed seeing Michael Jackson in the Blade movie. I don’t know. [Laughs.]
It was a big deal, yeah. Wasn’t big pay, but it was a big deal. And of course, your family doesn’t understand the distinction! Family assumes that if you’re in the movie with Michael Jackson, you’ve got Michael Jackson money. Not even close! But it’s all about the career moves. Getting to watch the great ones. It was about being around those who are considered to be the greatest of all time, being in that company. And just seeing it up close — even if I wasn’t getting paid, just to see it up close, see how they work, and how the masters do what they do. How much value do you put on that?
“THE WAY YOU MAKE ME FEEL”
Perhaps the purest pop song on Bad was the set’s third single, “The Way You Make Me Feel.” Riding a then-unusual shuffle tempo augmented by heavy bass, synth and horns, played by a crack team of studio musicians assembled by Jones and arranger Jerry Hey, the song quickly proved irresistible — and the single’s seductive, shadowy video became the album’s second consecutive iconic visual.
Larry Williams (Saxophone/Drum programming): I remember thinking “That groove…that’s going to be huge.”
Gary Grant (Trumpet): The groove, and the way that the 12-8 tempo works in “The Way You Make Me Feel”… It just had that thing about it. The bridges in it, the format of the song, the way it kept moving. You just learn those things as you’re in the songwriting genre.
Robinson: The very cool groove in that song is a shuffle. You don’t normally hear shuffles in pop music. That one just jumps out, even to this day.
Grant: Larry Williams did a solo on “The Way You Make Me Feel” that they just loved, and then they put about 30 synthesizer sounds on his saxophone and then Michael did some singing and they would synthesize it – so it would sound like a saxophone solo, but it was really Michael singing.
Kim Hutchcroft (Saxophone): You did have a sense that it was going to be a great weekend [at the studio], because you’re working with Quincy and Bruce, and you’re working on a Michael Jackson project with Jerry Hey horns.
Grant: I got the call from Jerry to show up at Westlake D [studio]. Michael was floating in and out of the room – he was always very nice, very cordial. But the musical input that we were doing was Jerry and Quincy. Jerry was writing it, Quincy was saying “yeah that’s gonna work, that’s gonna be beautiful.” And boom, that’s the way we rolled. It was all Michael’s ideas, but the nuts and bolts of making it work was all Quincy. And having Jerry as his right-hand guy to help him put all that together.
Phillinganes: There’s a special bond with everyone that worked on all of Michael’s solo albums in the Quincy era, starting with Q himself.
Jones: It’s never about “I, me, mine.” It’s about “We, us and they.” And the team — there’s no such thing as one person doing all this. You have to get a whole team saying “We all involved in this thing.” And that’s the way it works.
Robinson: Being the drummer, I got the bigger room. All of a sudden, one day, Michael goes “Everybody! Everybody! Come out, I want to take a picture!” and I go alright cool, we’ll take a break to take the picture and then go back to work. That day, he didn’t specify that he wanted his boa constrictor Muscles in the picture. He had an assistant bring in Muscles and Muscles was maybe eight feet long and huge! It was also shedding! It had a big piece of skin over its eyes. I said, “Man, I’m not holding that head!” So there’s pictures of us all lined up — Larry Williams was there, Jerry Hey was there… a lot of people holding this freaking snake.
Williams: There were no slouches brought in there. I think Quincy was in control of that. To be one of those people, it just puts you in that club. I looked around and thought “Am I really worthy of this?” By 1987, I got pretty confident after working with Quincy for nine years so I knew what he wanted. I don’t remember it even as frustrating…we weren’t just settling for okay. We were going for greatness. OK wasn’t going to get it. Excellence with everything.
Grant: A lot of work that I do now, when I walk in I get respect from everybody involved – producers, engineers, fellow musicians — because I came up through all of that, and was very successful with a horns section that changed what horns did. Before these records came out, horns were just timing and stuff and not too much featured, and we became another thing as a part of the tune, and it was like a different approach for how to use horns. Here I am 30 years later, and I’m still reaping the benefits of recording with Michael.
Joe Pytka (Video director): I don’t say this maliciously, but I didn’t think “The Way You Make Me Feel” was that powerful a song. I thought it sounded like a Beach Boys song. It was kind of cute. It wasn’t like “Beat It.” When I first heard it, my first image was a bunch of kids hanging around a drug store in Kansas, with hot rods, stuff like that. It sounded very cute. It’s a very cute kind of song.
Robinson: I definitely knew that “The Way You Make Me Feel” was going to be a hit. I think when you — and it’s something that I’ve always done, since I’ve played on thousands of hit records — if you can get a little kid whistling the melody as they’re skipping down the street, that’s what you want. Everyone can sing this melody. It’s a happy-go-lucky song, it feels good, it’s still got a bit of that modern electronic thing.
Jones: “The Way You Make Me Feel” was my favorite video off the album. That was fun, man.
Pytka: I had worked with him before that on a Pepsi spot for “Bad.” That’s how we met. I actually met him on the set of the “Bad” video with Martin Scorsese. But the reason we worked on the video is he liked the way he looked on the Pepsi spot we did. We did a whole bunch of Pepsi spots promoting his tour, and then Frank DiLeo, who was his manager-agent at the time, and I became very friendly because of the problems I had resolved on the Pepsi spot. Then Michael liked the way he looked, and we started talking about a collaboration.
We first talked about “Man In The Mirror” and I worked on that for a while, but then Frank called me and told me “Man in the Mirror” was a slam dunk — the whole purpose of these videos was to make them all number ones. And Frank said that “Man In The Mirror” was a slam-dunk number one, and they didn’t need a good video. They would just do what they had to do. And then he sent me into “The Way You Make Me Feel,” which I hadn’t heard before. And I was a little confused by the song, because I didn’t know where it should go.
Then I talked to Michael, and we chatted, and basically, they wanted to take him to the next level in his growing-up period, in a way. And dealing with the girl was the most important thing. And then Michael said he wanted it to [have a female love interest]. I said, “Where do you want to shoot it? Where does it take place?” Because the song, to my ears, didn’t have a place to happen. And Michael said, Skid Row. I said, “okay.”
He picked [the girl, actress Tatiana Thumbtzen]. She wasn’t one of my favorites. But we had the casting sessions, and I hate to say this, but she was like fifth or sixth in the casting session. But when Michael came to meet all the girls, he liked her the best. But she did not look like she looked in the video. We gave her a huge makeup change, and we gave her huge hair extensions… Ironically, after the video ran, she was invited on one of the late night shows, the talk shows. I called her and said, “Do you want us to do your makeup?” And she said, “No, no, I’ll do it myself.” She appeared on the talk show with her normal hair and red lips, and nobody recognized her. She didn’t look like herself. So she kind of missed her… it kind of messed up her career.
There’s a scene right before he meets the girl, when he snaps his fingers. My brother was operating that camera, and he shot a fabulous close-up of the finger-snap. My heart jumped out of my throat. Fabulous. It’s a funny anecdote. I wondered where he got that idea, and then it turns out that Marlon Brando was one of his good friends, and this is almost identical to the moment in the movie On The Waterfront, where Brando snaps his fingers like that talking to Eva Marie Saint in a bar. Years later I watched the movie, and I said, “Oh my god, that’s where that came from.”
It’s him — everything’s him. He inspired everybody. He was fabulous to be around, great energy, just everything. I can’t compliment him anymore than to say he was the best ever.
“MAN IN THE MIRROR”
An all-stops-out pop anthem with a social conscience and one of the greatest key changes in musical history, “Man in the Mirror” became one of Michael Jackson’s signature numbers, despite being one of the few songs on Bad not to be written by the singer. Combined with another heavily rotated music video — albeit an unconventional one, even by the star’s innovative standards — and a Grammy performance for the ages, “Man in the Mirror” remains both timeless and sadly relevant decades later.
Jones: On the first record we did together, Off the Wall, [Michael] did two and a half songs. He did “Working Day and Night,” he did “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” and we asked him to finish up “Get on the Floor,” which the Brothers Johnson wrote. The second, Thriller, he did four songs — “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “Beat It,” “Billie Jean” and “The Girl Is Mine.” And then on the last one, Bad, I said, “It’s time to do all of the songs on the album. But you gotta be honest about everything.” And he did, man.
But he couldn’t make the last two, so I had to go out and get the guys that did [“Just Good Friends”] for him and Stevie Wonder, and also “Man in the Mirror.” Siedah was one of my 13 writers, y’know, and I told ‘em, I wanted a national anthem that would affect the whole world. And she was a couple hours late, but she wrote it. With Glen Ballard. And that’s one of the biggest songs on the album.
Garrett: They needed one more song to round out the album. They needed a mid-to-uptempo song, and he gave us a few specifics like that. And so I went over to Glen’s house, and before this time, Glen and I were only working together when I would sing his demos. We’d never written together before. So we sat down to write this song and he said, “Well, what does Quincy want?” And I said, “Well, I don’t know.” And he said, “Well, let’s just see what we come up with.” So he turned on the keyboard and started playing a riff, and I was flipping through my lyric book, and this phrase that I had written down two years prior sort of popped off the page, and I couldn’t write the lyric fast enough.
Ballard: We wrote it fast. It just sort of rolled out of us. It was one of those happy moments where we really had no barriers. We were just writing something that we thought would work for him. We were trying to channel him. She had this quick phrase, “Man in the mirror.” And it was like, “Oh my god, let’s chase that.”
Garrett: It was Wednesday evening. Glen said, “You go home and you finish the lyric, and I’ll finish the track, and we’ll demo the song on Friday.” We did that, I turned it in to Quincy, a couple hours after I dropped the cassette off at his house — that’s right, I said “cassette” — he called me and told me that it was one of the best songs he’d heard in 10 years. And for me, that was everything. I just wanted to relish that moment — Best song, 10 years. Best song, 10 years. Yes!
Ballard: I had the whole song programmed in my Linn 9000 [drum machine]. Then we had Greg Phillinganes, Randy Kerber and Dann Huff come in. The three of them and me played everything. I had the greatest musicians. And of course there was Andraé Crouch and the choir. It was amazing. That was the cherry on the sundae.
Hey: “Man in the Mirror” was pretty much finished when I got it, but I added some synth parts with Randy Kerber. I also wrote horn parts which weren’t used, and rightfully so. They changed the vibe of the song.
Phillinganes: One of my favorite and most memorable parts [I did on Bad] is the synth bass on “Man in the Mirror.” My inspiration for how to approach it was [Jam & Lewis writer/producer] Jimmy Jam, who I’ve since told that to.
Huff: I just remember the atmosphere. I think this is directly due to Michael, and Quincy Jones, and Bruce Swedien — it was just kind and respectful towards everybody. And they really made you live up to a level. They elevated everybody in the vicinity… They knew how to make records that were as simple and poignant as you possibly could. They were the best of the best at making pop records.
Ballard: When I sat in Studio D and Bruce [Swedien] played me the mix, it blew me out of my seat. I thought, “Holy cow, I think this is a fantastic record. I think we might make the trip.” You hear it and it sounds really good, then you think, “Can it be as good as I think it is?” And I guess it was.
Garrett: I very vividly recall the moment I heard “Man” [on the radio] I was on the freeway, and I could barely control myself. I couldn’t believe it. I was by myself just screaming in the car. And then I was thinking to myself, “Shut up, you can’t hear what’s on the radio if you’re screaming to yourself.” So I got off the freeway, pulled over, listening to the song, and then listened to what the DJ said afterward. And just cried. True tears of joy and accomplishment and pride and success and dignity and worthiness. My sense of worth just was elevated tenfold.
Stessel: “Man In the Mirror” is very special, and I think more than ever, it speaks to what [recently happened] in Charlottesville. It’s a magnificent piece of music, and lyrically it’s brilliant. It probably means more today than it did then.
Garrett: When the first few lines of “Man In The Mirror” came, it felt humanitarian to me. It felt purposeful. And at the time, I knew that was the only way I was going to get Michael’s attention. He’s the master of the dance groove. I can’t beat that. I can’t do that. So I just did what I thought would attract his mindset, at the time. I wanted him to notice me by saying something important to him, or something that I thought was important to him, that I wanted him to tell the world. Because he had the platform. I’m thinking, “what message would I send the world if I had a method? A mode in which to get this message out? What message would I want to send?” And that’s when “Man In the Mirror” came.
Don Wilson (Video director): I was kind of going through a separation before my eventual divorce at that point and I was staying at the Sunset Hyatt. I got the Bad CD, listened to it and liked the songs. But the only song I played all night, over and over, was “Man in the Mirror.” No connection whatsoever at that point. But that song hit me. And I remember sitting there that night and thinking, “That’s the only video I really would ever want to do.” And I just believe there are no coincidences.
Stessel: We’re in [Frank DiLeo’s] study and Michael says “I want you to make a video for ‘Man in the Mirror’ and I will not be in it.” He was getting ready for the tour and rehearsing. He didn’t want to make another video. They wanted to keep the costs down because Michael paid for all the studios. It wasn’t so much the money, it was more like, “You know what, we’ve made big videos, this is just… I don’t know what I want, so I want you to make the video. You do whatever you want.”
I called a friend of mine, his name is Don Wilson, who is primarily a video editor. He did some commercials and stuff and some small things. He was someone we all knew in town and trusted. He didn’t have any ego. He just did what he did and he did it well. So I tell him the story, and tell him Michael wants me to do this. So we started throwing around some ideas and he said, “How about we use all these images of things that relate to the song and we’ll edit them together and let’s see what we have?” So I said, “Great idea.”
Wilson: There was no storyline… it was about moments in history. From the John F. Kennedy funeral to me growing up in Mississippi and talking about some of the freaking water cannon atrocities. We went through a lot of heavy stuff… I’d go to a place and they’d bring a cart out stacked full of tapes of like famine, death, nuclear holocaust, just horribleness. I’d be in some town by myself. I’d look for the first bar and sit there until I was ready to go to bed. It was brutal. But at the same time it kind of had a purposeful power. So you learned to look at this with a different set of eyes and then by the time I got to editing, it was easy in a way. But it was heavy, man.
Stessel: I go away for a week, and he says, “Alright, come down to the studio. I need to show you something.” He shows me the video. My heart stopped and I thought, “This is really terrible. I don’t get it!” What he did is he took all he images and stuck them together, but it wasn’t linear. It was just pieces. I watched it two or three times. We’re in this little shithole in Burbank like in the back of a warehouse. I just kept looking at it and we were sitting around and staring at it.
And I said, “I got it. This is what we’re going to do. We’re going to take everything bad in the world that happened — the assassination of Martin Luther King and Kennedy, the Nazis… whatever. Just all the bad shit. And then we’ll have all the good stuff in the second half. When we reach the crescendo of the song, where it goes to the next level — the key change — we’ll have the atomic bomb at that point. Because really, the atomic bomb is the thing that changed the world. So when we went to the key change, that’s where we have the bomb, and [then] we have all the good stuff. We have people celebrating and stuff like that. And then we ended it with Michael.
Wilson: The nuclear bomb for me is where it all changes in the whole story. Everything changes. I had a beginning, a kind of middle and end all in my head and I just had to fill it all in. But once that bomb hits, and then it goes to world peace, in theory with Carter begging and Sadat … then it goes softer into hope. But what it really is, is man just not doing a damn thing is what the problem is.
Stessel: We play the video [for Michael], it’s over and he doesn’t say anything. I looked at DiLeo and I looked at Don and I think, “Oh shit.” Turns out he’s crying. He says, “I never want to see this again.” Then I went, “What does that mean? Why?” He says, “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, and every time I see it, it’s going to make me cry.”
Wilson: No one changed anything in the video. It was just the freakiest, magical thing. The only things we changed were legal. Like I had a great shot of a plane on fire that looked like terrorism, but it wasn’t anything but a plane on fire. Someone like a lawyer thought we were showing too much of a person’s face in a soup line. But nothing creative. It was amazing.
Stessel: So it’s over with and several months later, I get a call from [CBS president] Walter Yetnikoff and he says to me, “I want Michael to play the Grammys.” I said, “Michael already said he’s not going to play the Grammys. He’s been in all these award shows and he did the Grammys for Thriller. He’s not going to do it.” He goes, “Tell him I want him on the Grammys. Get it done.”
We talked for a while and I tell [Michael] Walter called and he wants him to play the Grammys. He says, “Oh no.” I say “Pierre [Cossette, Grammys producer] wants you on the show. You can do anything you want. You can open the show. You can close it. You can be in the middle of the show. Have five minutes, ten minutes, whatever you want, but they really want you on.” He goes, “Okay, this is what I want: I’m going to do “Man in the Mirror” with a black choir, but I want you to drop the screen from the ceiling and play the video so I can see it. Because I’ll be able to feel the song by looking at the video.”
Phillinganes: “Man In The Mirror” was extra special [for the synth players to play live] as we started the song. I’ll never forget looking out into each stadium and watching 60, 70 thousand torches light up. Not iPhones… REAL lighters! Nothing like it. And sometimes, Michael would get the Spirit and would do that spin move then drop to the floor in a way that would make us almost stop playing!
Garrett: There were some nights where us onstage, we were like, damn. We were clapping. Because he was phenomenal. And there were some nights where he was above and beyond that. How? I still don’t know how. Do you know, in his heyday, Michael could spin on his heel for eight full revolutions. Did you hear me? On his heel, when he would do that spin. Eight full revolutions! Which is like, to a dancer, you have to go, damn! How does he…? He was just beyond. He was, on so many levels.
Glen Ballard: “Man in the Mirror” is without question the biggest song I’ve ever had. It’s been a total and utter blessing — a song that’s meant so much to so many people. It’s my best song, I think.
Huff: To see the weight of that song in history, yeah, it’s really something. It’s not so much a pride thing, “Yeah, I did that.” It was just something to be validated. That song, a lot of people have asked me about that. It probably, in a lot of ways in my career, being a part of that opened many other doors, because once you get that kind of validation by that rarified air, that group of men, all of a sudden, people take you seriously. It was a real honor.
The fifth single off Bad was perhaps the set’s most surprising: A lurching rock power ballad with a sinister edge and one of the most scandalous lyrics of Jackson’s career to date — though the song’s subject was an anonymous groupie, not Diana Ross or Princess Diana, as many fans at the time theorized. Thanks in large part to the blistering fretwork of longtime Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens, and a mostly live-shot music video that captured MJ at his raw performance peak, the song became the LP’s final No. 1 hit in July 1988.
Steve Stevens (Guitar): I had just been signed to Warner Bros. and the gentleman that signed me was Ted Templeman. And I guess Quincy called Ted, and said, “okay, you know, you’ve done the Eddie Van Halen thing, who’s the new guy?” So Ted threw my name in there, and lo and behold, Quincy called me.
It was the rock track. My initial thing was I loved how dark the track was, because I thought, “Oh, yeah, this is different for Michael.” It’s kind of got a very kind of foreboding vibe about it. So I thought, great, at least it’s got its own entity, you know? I didn’t know what to expect. And of course, as most people did, I went “Oh, this must be about Diana Ross.”
I’m not a session musician. No disrespect to session guys. My whole thing is working with the artist, that’s why I picked up a guitar — I saw Elvis and Scotty Moore on TV and I went, “Oh, look, it’s a singer and a guitar player.” And that’s the way it’s always been for me. And then I got a call about another record, and the artist wasn’t there, and I was like, “Woah, really?” It was just me and the engineer, and it’s just not for me. There’s no joy in that. So of course, my question was, “Will Michael be there? Quincy kind of laughed and said, “Yeah, it’s his record.” He thought it would be an odd thing for him not to be there. I guess Michael is one of those guys that no matter what went down on the record, even if it was a miniscule little percussion part, he was there for every note. And that’s the way it should be.
The actual recording, we were just kind of getting to know each other and him getting to know my guitar thing, and of course, I do some of those crazy raygun noises [with the guitar], and he flipped for that. He’s like, “Yeah, that’s great, I love that stuff.” And once we established there was a melody, like a counter-melody, he sang it to me. He said, “The one thing I want to make sure we get is this counter-melody that happens in the choruses…” So once we got that stuff out of the way, they kind of let me have the track, and said, “Okay, do what you want. That’s why you flew across the country.”
When we shot the video is when I really kind of got to know Michael. Because you’re on the set the whole day. He was getting ready to plan his first big tour, and I guess he was trying to make sure that it was a spectacle and it was on the level of a rock tour, some of the tours that he had seen like Van Halen and Queen. So he was asking me about that, asking me about some of the technical things. What sound company we use, what monitors. And then I’ll never forget, he did this spot-on impression of David Lee Roth. If you can imagine, Michael Jackson imitating David Lee Roth. It was incredible. [Laughs.]
Pytka: The only guidance I had for “Dirty Diana” was they wanted Michael to look like a rocker. That’s why we made it look like that. That was the only charge, was to make it look like a rock n’ roll concert, rather than blues. In those days, they were still transitioning between rhythm and blues and rock n’ roll, so they wanted it to be harder than this other stuff in terms of performance.
They wanted a concert video. Actually, we built a set in the same factory that we built “The Way You Make Me Feel.” What happened was, I wanted the set to be destroyed in a storm. If you look at the video, there’s a lot of wind and everything in the video, in the background. We were going to shoot in two days. The first day, it was going to be a normal shoot, and the second day, we were going to have a rainstorm. Lightning, thunder, everything crashing. And the story was set. And what happened was, on the first day, Michael hurt himself doing his knee slides. He didn’t put kneepads on. So he was doing knee slides without knee pads, and he could barely walk. So the second day, we couldn’t shoot.
Stessel: When we were making the video and I got the first edit, it was just terrible. It was horrible! It didn’t even resemble a music video, but Joe Pytka was a brilliant commercial maker, and Michael was in Europe with Frank DiLeo. I said “Frank, I can’t let this go.” He said, “You edit it,” and I said “I can’t edit,” so he goes, “One second,” and puts Michael on the phone. He asked what’s the problem, and I said “Michael, it’s just horrible!” He goes, “Do whatever you want and I’ll call Joe.”
Pytka: I fought with Epic about the edits. We had issues with the editing. They sent a young executive to deal with me, and I forget what the issue was. I re-edited the piece. They had some comments, and they wanted to have their editor in New York edit the thing, and I just told him where to shove it, and I did the changes myself.
Stessel: I went over to Joe Pytka’s office and he asked “What do you want? What do you see?” So I played him the video for “Living On A Prayer” where Jon [Bon Jovi] flies through the air. I said, “This video is so good, I’d fuck him.” Pytka took the video, threw it on the ground and stepped on it, said “This is garbage.” I said “Well, you may think it’s garbage, but I gotta tell you something, this guy sold 12 million records, so there’s gotta be something going for it.”
He says, “Well, I’m not gonna do it.” So I said “Great,” and went into the editing room with this editor who I happen to know from working on some music videos from some Stallone movies, and we started editing it. And about a half-hour later, Pytka enters and says, “You can leave, I know what you want.” So the next day, he delivered “Dirty Diana” and it was great. It was perfect.
Pytka: Michael was brilliant in that thing. Some of the things he did, the crowd went crazy. They’re a paid audience, you know, we have a paid crowd of extras. But they go crazy, even though they’re being paid. They went nuts… Being onstage with the music, and him performing, and feeling the crowd, there’s nothing like it. You just know why these guys go crazy for performing. You just feel the energy. It’s breathtaking. I think I was so overwhelmed by that that I didn’t even turn my camera on.
Stessel: Joe did a great job. I was at the shoot and Michael stands straight, he drops to his knees, Lisa Dean rips his shirt open and he screams. That’s sexy. That’s what people want to see. Guys want to see it, girls want to see it. I said “That’s sexy shit, and you left it out of the first take. How can you do that?” It’s animalistic, it’s what people want.
Stevens: When “Dirty Diana” premiered, I believe it premiered on MTV and also Entertainment Tonight — one of those kind of evening shows like that. And I went out the next afternoon just to run some errands or something, and I’d never been stopped that much. I walked past a McDonalds or something, and people were waving. Literally, like 20 people ran out, wanted autographs and things. I was like, “What? Oh, it’s the video.” So the impact of being in a Michael Jackson video at that point was a big deal, man.
There’s Michael Jackson fan clubs all over the world. So when I travel, when I go on tour with Billy Idol, they show up and they come and have things signed and whatnot. The impact of being part, even a small part, of something on that level, it’s something I’m really proud of.