“Baby Be Mine” by Michael Jackson (1982)

There was a quote attributed to Chris Rock, in which the conversation revolved around Prince being a better musician than Michael Jackson (he is.) When comparing the albums that represented the commercial peaks for each (Mike’s Thriller and Prince’s Purple Rain), Rock’s reasoning for picking Purple Rain as the better of the two albums (it is) was that there was no filler on it. Rock specifically quoted Thriller’s “Baby Be Mine” as one of the tracks that constituted “filler”, and a lot of folks assume Mike and his record company felt similarly as, “Baby Be Mine” was one of only two songs from Thriller that never made it to single release.

I’ll get to why I think Mr. Grown-Ups 2 is wrong in a paragraph or two, but I decided to do my own side-by-side comparison of the two albums. Don’t worry, I won’t give up any spoilers for the rest of this list (except to say that there will be additional songs from Thriller plus two songs from Purple Rain on this list before I get out of the “B” titles. Everything I say is, of course, subjective.

Thriller has 9 songs. Purple Rain also has 9 songs. 7 of the 9 songs on Thriller are rated 5 stars in my iTunes library. 7 of the 9 songs on Purple Rain are also rated 5 stars in my iTunes library. Here’s where things veer off: the other 2 songs on Purple Rain are songs I’ve assigned 4-star ratings to. The two non-5 star songs on Thriller have 3-star ratings. And one of those is a negligible three, a goodwill/treasured childhood memories “3″. So, sure. Purple Rain’s a better album (in mine and Chris’s opinion), but “Baby Be Mine” has nothing to do with that.

Here are a few reasons why I love “Baby Be Mine”, starting from the beginning.

-That stutter-step drum intro is fucking killer.

-1982 was such a great year for Black music–Thriller, 1999, What Time Is It?, Vanity 6’s debut, Marvin’s Midnight Love, Lionel’s solo debut, Evelyn King’s Get Loose, “D” Train’s debut, Diana’s “Muscles”,  the new songs from Stevie’s Original Musicquarium, “Planet Rock”, “The Message”, Grace Jones’ Living My Life, Janet’s (underrated) debut, Shalamar’s Friends, Luther’s Forever For Always For Love, The Dazz Band’s “Let It Whip”. Thriller is at the head of the table, of course (or at least Mike shares it with Prince), and really, the worst thing you can say about “Baby Be Mine” is that it sounds like an R&B record from 1982. Which, looking at that list of titles above, is not a bad thing, at all.

-Quincy’s told a (probably apocryphal) story about how the vocal melody of “Baby Be Mine” was inspired by John Coltrane. We can’t verify whether that’s true or not (because Rod Temperton, who wrote the song, is deceased), but it’s true that the verse melody has a bit of a jazzy feel to it. Also, is Q the music industry king of tall tales, or what? I mean, it’s Quincy, so he has the right to spin stories however the hell he wants. But why does my man have to take every story and add bells and whistles to it?

-I’ve often wondered if MJ’s voice was occasionally sped up in the mix on certain songs (“Lovely One”, “Beat It”). “Baby Be Mine” is one of those songs that makes me wonder about that. Even if there was some studio trickery involved (small potatoes compared to the vocal manipulation that goes on these days), the fact is that Mike sung the shit out of “Baby Be Mine”. He uses his entire vocal range (minus falsetto), dipping into his lower register in the middle of each verse line (for example: “there’ll be no more mountains for us to climb” finds MJ starting in his normal register, descending furthest during the last syllable of “mountains” and then climbing up high enough that his voice sounds like it’s going to crack at “climb”.) He even gets raspy during the song’s bridge.

-The background vocals. No one does backgrounds like Mike and Janet.

-Key change during the last chorus! That’s a Quincy trademark.

-The countermelody in the last set of choruses. I’m a big fan of countermelodies.

P.S.: I’m pretty sure that “Baby Be Mine” was the song that was playing on the late winter afternoon in 1983 when I walked into my house and realized that we’d purchased a copy of Thriller. I was so excited I tripped going up the stairs. While I have tripped going up (and down) stairs a number of times since then, that is the only one of these particular pratfalls I can attribute to the magic of Michael Jackson.

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