Friday, August 5, 2011

Paul McCartney/Michael Jackson - "Girlfriend"

In the 80's, seeing Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney side by side was standard fare. Until MJ bought out all of Macca's beloved Beatles' rights, the two were fast collaborators, working on a number of hit singles, and also spending time together in their social lives. To many, it seemed that Paul had found an ideal songwriting partner, and that Michael had found a pop balance to the soulful influence of producer Quincy Jones. However, the pairing of this dynamic duo actually started much earlier, with the single "Girlfriend".

McCartney had written the song in the mid-70's, and (apparently) at a Hollywood party, even suggested to Jackson that he record the song. For whatever reason, the recording never happened, and Paul made the decision to include his version on the 1978 Wings record London Town. In that version, it's incredibly evident the degree to which McCartney had intended the song for Jackson: the vocals are an incredibly high falsetto, and the piece has a minimalist bass groove that tips its hat to the disco era. Still, as with most things McCartney, it works on many levels, and is a song well worth its weight.

Fast forward to the late 1978 recording sessions for Jackson's debut record Off The Wall: as Jackson worked with Quincy Jones in the studio, Jones (unaware of original intentions) suggested McCartney's "Girlfriend" as a track for the debut Jackson solo project. Jackson agreed, and the two laid down what is arguably the perfect version of the song. Anchored by a fat bass and drum groove, and synths that undoubtedly inspired the Talking Heads' "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)", Jackson's version of "Girlfriend" is a sweet R&B testament to McCartney's original version of the song. Topped off with the singer's bulletproof early-career vocals, the song is all at once fun, danceable, and endearingly poppy.