Funk Fridays: Thriller’s Underrated Gems

Funk Friday, Michael Jackson, music

Here’s introducing a new feature that I call Funk Fridays. This is where we celebrate some of the gems in that oft forgotten music genre we call Funk, and in the week that we celebrate the late, great King of Pop’s 54th birthday, I thought I’d pay tribute to some of his more forgotten musical gems.
Before the excessive skin bleaching, military jackets and Korean hair pieces, Michael Jackson was known first and foremost as a musician. After the commercial triumph of the disco-led Off the Wall album he set himself a goal to follow up with an a body of work even more breathtaking than the first. That album was Thriller.
“What’s Thriller doing in a blog-post about Funk?”, I hear you cry. But if you look closer past the (overplayed) Billie Jean, the guitar riffs of Beat It and the sickly sweet Girl is Mine (instant skip on my ipod), you get to some real underrated gems funky on the album. The first one is PYT (Pretty Young Thing)
Starting off with a few synthesisers and MJ’s mumbling intro, the drums and funky bass guitar, this tune’s smooth groove never fails to get me off my feet. Despite not ever having a video, for me, the visuals for this song will always stem from the musical interlude on the Making of Thriller video, featuring MJ larking about in a dance studio with Ola Ray, whilst wearing a pink Micky Mouse jumper. While the fashion choices were….questionable, the funk was not.
Like many of Michael’s songs, PYT has been sampled on many occasions by contemporary artists. Two of my favourites are Monica’s All Eyez On Me, which also features some unheard adlibs at the end and Kanye West’s Good Life which I think contains such an ingenious sample of the song that many people still find it hard to believe that PYT was even featured.
The second song from MJ’s Thriller album that I wanted to talk about was quite possibly even more underrated than PYT. MJ released (a quite frankly crazy and genius), 7 out of 9 songs but Baby Be Mine was cruelly overlooked (the other being Lady in My Life). There was a lot of criticism aimed at him following the release of Thriller as it was deemed to be an altogether more poppier affair than Off The Wall (which it was, but you can’t deny how good it sounded). Baby Be Mine, however, was definitely one of the more ‘funkier’ sounding songs on the album. Again featuring that synthesiser and bass guitar, this tune is an unapologetically early 80’s, slightly disco-ish banger and one of those few songs that he never performed live. A travesty, in my opinion. You would have thought with all the advisers he had, at least one of them could have said to switch up the setlist a bit and play some album tracks…. But I digress. To my humble knowledge, Baby Be Mine has not been sampled by many (read: any) of today’s artists but I think this only adds to its appeal as one of the more underrated tracks on such a global phenomenon such as Thriller.
So on this very first Funk Friday, Michael Joseph Jackson, thanks for funking up the place. RIP.