One nation under a groove, indeed.
Both of these “Can You Feel It” songs are lyrically focused on bringing people together. While The Jacksons’ song is an all-encompassing call to arms similar to “Heal The World” and “We Are The World” (to name two songs MJ wrote with a similar lyrical trope), Mr. Fingers’ “Can You Feel It” aims to achieve a communal dance floor experience where it doesn’t matter what color or religion you are, as long as you lose yourself in the synthesized pulse of the song.
Both songs can rightfully be described as insistent. Michael and his brothers employ a pounding bass and drum rhythm that could’ve come from an ROTC marching band. Mr. Fingers’ song is pinned on that synthesized pulse I mentioned in the first paragraph, a pulse that stands right in the middle of sex and religion. While the music suggests a futuristic porn movie (and owes much to synthesizer legend Patrick Cowley), a sermon that strongly recalls MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech is inserted right in the middle of the song. Dance as sex as religion. I wasn’t a club-goer back in these days, but I’ve certainly lost myself on a dance floor or two and had something resembling a religious experience in a club that’s got nothing but sex and hormones and poppers lingering in the air. Pardon the pun, but Mr. Fingers’ “Can You Feel It?” nails that feeling better than almost any other song in existence.
The Jacksons’ “Can You Feel It?” was not a big hit, but it became an anthem in the ensuing years. As Michael’s star rose, the song became the concert opener during The Jacksons’ Triumph and Victory tours, and ultimately became theme music for ABC’s coverage of the 1984 Summer Olympics. It was also one of the first big-money high-concept videos, featuring the brothers sprinkling magic fairy dust over the world in what appeared to be some sci-fi vision of the future. Something that always sticks in my mind about the song is that it leads off the Triumph album, and the first words sung are by youngest brother Randy, who’d suffered a near-fatal auto accident several months before the set’s release. The common thread between these two songs (beyond the title)? Randy’s voice. Mr. Fingers lifted the title phrase via a sample from The Jacksons’ 1981 live album, in which Randy introduces the song by bellowing “can you feel iiiiiiitttttt?”