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Feb 14

MICHAEL JACKSON – “Blood On The Dancefloor”

Popular80 comments • 6,774 views

#765, 3rd May 1997

blooddance “Blood On The Dancefloor” dates from the 1991 Dangerous sessions – and its rigid, peg-legged Teddy Riley production, full of choppy, cut-up synths, would fit with some of that record’s harsher contours – but it works as a coda to his Popular career, too. Surely “Earth Song” would have been a grander way to go out, fitting the heal-the-world fantasies of Jackson the philanthropist. But “Blood On The Dancefloor” is a truer epilogue – a narrow, claustrophobic song, the sound of Jackson slipping into what we know now as his twilight years. At this point, he’s still younger than I am writing this. But it’s not just hindsight that makes him sound worn out and ragged here.

In his glory days, a Jackson song would marry indelible tunes to mercurial performance, and dance across genres daring pop to keep up. Now what’s left is an instinct for how to structure a song – the hooks here are by no means his best but he knows when to drop them – an emotional palette shared by nobody else in pop, and a bag of vocal tics. “Blood On The Dancefloor” criss-crosses Jackson’s multiple voices to unnerving effect.

He’s using at least three different tones here. On the chorus – and its “to escape the world…” lead-in – he’s using his late-career anguished voice, the howl he unleashed to full effect at the end of “Earth Song”. At the start of the verses, he’s using his Bad-era tough-guy voice, but interspersing guttural, almost feral barks and grunts after the end of every line. And the verses devolve into a third voice – up close against your ear, words and sense breaking down into a tumble of muttered, consonants, with Jackson multi-tracking to talk over himself. It’s the cold sweat wordrush of “Smooth Criminal” taken to its incomprehensible endpoint. The effect is one of horrid, haunted, intimacy.

It’s a dramatization of a crack-up: “Blood On The Dancefloor” is an angry, fearful song – one of many, stretching back at least to its forebear “Billie Jean”, except here the ensnaring, vengeful woman is actually murdering Jackson. And it’s set as a tragedy – the King of Pop butchered, like Caesar, in the place of his greatest power. The meaning – an allegory for the accusations swirling around him – is transparent. Except, of course, the song predates them. Sometimes a paranoid fantasy is just a paranoid fantasy.

It’s an ugly, uneasy record, certainly a minor Jackson single, but Iike a lot of his later songs, I find it fascinating. Whichever of Jackson or Riley put the tiny vamps of keyboard at the ends of occasional lines deserves enormous credit – they keep the song moving, distract you from its nasty side enough to keep the song feeling like spectacle, not voyeurism. That momentum, the shrieked pre-chorus hook, and the delayed-gratification relief of the chords under the final chorus are why I enjoy “Blood On The Dancefloor” as much as I do. But the close-up whispering sections are effectively creepy – a clammy, Gollumish performance. Even here, the last time we’ll see him, Jackson is trying new ideas, pushing his performances, and making pop that sounds stiff and uncomfortable, but which could only be his.

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Comments

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  1. 31
    James BC on 27 Feb 2014 #

    Sorry, yes, everyone agrees that Billie Jean is the exception so I was ignoring it.

    I love the Slash guitar riff in Black Or White. I think that type of arrangement suits his voice a lot better than the heavier r’n’b ones – he’s at his best when his vocal is given space, and the r’n’b stuff, BOYD being a prime example, gets far too claustrophobic. I know that’s the intention of the track but it doesn’t play to his strengths in my view.

  2. 32
    Cumbrian on 27 Feb 2014 #

    I might be wrong but I think Slash only plays on the skit intro at the start of it. The jangly guitar riff that is in BOW proper doesn’t sound like him at all (wary of this, as guitarists can obviously play different instruments and through different effects pedals – but that riff just doesn’t sound like Slash and given Beat It, I’d have thought that if Jackson has Slash on the track he’d want him to sound like himself, like EVH does on Beat It).

    Different strokes for different folks obviously – I much prefer this sort of claustrophobic, paranoid dancefloor track to his more rock based work and I probably prefer stuff like You Rock My World to it too. Though, to be totally truthful, I think none of it really beats the disco orientated stuff from Off The Wall.

    Funny thing, having written that out, he’s tried an awful lot of stuff has Michael Jackson, a lot more than I first thought and perhaps more than he is given credit for (though I am wary of this too – I don’t spend a lot of time reading articles about him, so don’t know his critical rep that well).

  3. 33
    James BC on 27 Feb 2014 #

    Oh, OK. Interesting. My liking for the arrangement still stands, Slash or no Slash.

    It’s funny, I never put Black Or White in the same preachy category as Heal the World or Man In The Mirror. Obviously the lyric does have that anti-racist message, but it’s worn very lightly; the song as a whole is too silly to sound overly moralising.

  4. 34
    AMZ1981 on 27 Feb 2014 #

    It’s a fanbase number one, in and out of the top forty in four weeks (1-8-21-36). His previous single, Stranger In Moscow (number 4 in November 1996) managed one more than that despite having an 18 month old parent album available. A glance at the sales figures on Wikipedia suggests that had it come out a week earlier R Kelly would have held him at bay by 2,000 copies.

    I was hoping I’d be the first to mention that this record’s week at the top was the same as that of Blair’s landslide; although viewing it as the last record of the Tory era seems more apt. At the risk of bunnying – when Blair finally left office ten years on the top spot was occupied by an RnB star – only 9 years old at the time – whose music was as thrilling and untouchable as Jackson’s was at his peak.

  5. 35
    Tom on 27 Feb 2014 #

    It would be more apt if the two songs were swapped – hugely popular and inclusive hit to begin with, knives-out paranoia at the end.

  6. 36
    Tom on 27 Feb 2014 #

    Songs about Blair (especially the early Blair era) are pretty thin on the ground. Saint Etienne’s “Heart Failed” mentions the 97 election, Pet Shop Boys “I Get Around” is Blair/Mandelson fanfic, Pulp’s “Cocaine Socialism” will be relevant in a few entries time….

  7. 37
    Andrew Farrell on 27 Feb 2014 #

    #9: I’ve never heard of that track before, but I’d definitely be interested in buying it, particularly to give him one last #1 – which is an interesting urge to have, as the article on the last entry make me certain to buy another R. Kelly song as long as I live (not that I was that likely in fairness – though I may have to think about things when Gaga puts out a hits collection).

    #32: His critical rep is as I understand it that he invented modern pop – how far this gets him with any given critic varies of course.

    #34: I think you mean that they were 9 when this track came out – also I think you may be dangerously insane, but we’ll get to that in 2007.

  8. 38
    Andrew Farrell on 27 Feb 2014 #

    Chumbawamba’s Amnesia, the next single after Tubthumping, was very angry about New Labour – though as is usually the case with them it’s all very pointed after the liner notes have clued you in. It sank without much of a trace, which was possibly a good thing for them – it was probably their best chance to have a hit on purpose, and continuing doing whatever they wanted served them afterwards. It was also completely great:)

  9. 39
    Chelovek na lune on 27 Feb 2014 #

    I left the (Scottish) Labour Party immediately after Tony Blair was elected as the (British) Party’s leader – I saw right away that No Good was going to come of that, and I still maintain I was right. As it happens where I was in May 1997 (geographically and socially, as well as mentally, intellectually and emotionally) was more or less immune to both the appeal of New Labour (they came fourth in the constituency where I lived, with 10% of the vote) and (cue dodgy segue) this record. I actually have no recollection of hearing it then at all. Although discovering that it had been recorded several years earlier makes a great deal of sense – the sound does fit in much more with some of the (better) “Dangerous” tracks than it does with what MJ did slightly later.

    But…but…but…while some of the comments here make me think that I should go back and pay some more attention to this song, my sense is that it really is rather less than the sum of its parts: there are a LOT of classic, characteristic, MJ touches – both musically and vocally – quite a few elements from his 80s (and especially Bad) box of tricks are thrown in here. (I did think…is it a kind of remake/homage to “Smooth Criminal” in places, with a Susie taking the place of an Annie…?).But…the song isn’t strong enough to stick in the mind, or (it seems to me) to make a lasting impression. I just find a bit dull, in. Certainly not atrocious or shameful or embarrassing- but I can why it essentially was a fanbase purchase. A 5 or so.

  10. 40
    AMZ1981 on 28 Feb 2014 #

    #37 as by the time 2007 rolls around on Popular this thread will be forgotten I’ll reply now. Firstly I did mean 9 years old in 1997.

    I’m not sure of my insanity is down to the MJ comparison which might have been a little bit of an overstatement (although few could deny they were the biggest stars of their respective eras and both crossed genre boundaries) or the `thrilling and untouchable` – let’s just say that I’m a classic rock fan who long ago lost interest in the charts but I’ve downloaded a lot of the Bunny’s songs after hearing them in clubs and thinking, `this is a good song`.

  11. 41
    enitharmon on 28 Feb 2014 #

    I had my own reservations about the advent of Blair but I hung in there. Some funny people started appearing at party branch meetings and gave me a rough ride as CLP chair and in the run up to the election (I was a candidate for Bristol City Council the same day as the 1997 election). I had my own count to attend at 10 the following morning and given that I’d been enjoying some very lavish MSF hospitality during the night and only managed to snatch an hour’s sleep in an armchair at a friend’s house. I won by 73 votes. It wasn’t a happy half-a-term as a city councillor. But it was a heady night and there really was a sense of a new dawn that day, and not just amongst the party hacks. People were smiling in the street. It was a gloriously warm, sunny day. And to be fair that first term wasn’t at all bad; the rot set in after 2001 when Blair became cocksure of himself, the old party guard got pushed out and the new breed of political anoraks, hothoused in the universities and the think tanks, came into favour. But by then I’d left the party and the council in disgust.

    The song? Nothing to say about it beyond its marking a socio-political landmark. The country and indeed the world was changing fast and soon the old cultural order would be unrecognisable. In 2014 global communications are part of the fabric, even for me it’s hard to remember life without it and a whole generation has grown up since 1997 without knowing anything else, but in 1997 the internet was still mainly the preserve of IT geeks and journalists. Not many people had broadband access and it was funky to have a pager never mind a mobile phone. We were talking in another thread about seismic cultural shifts; one on the scale of 1963 is just ahead, but not quite yet.

  12. 42
    Will on 28 Feb 2014 #

    I was in Bristol on Friday 2nd May 1997 Rosie, and yes I remember it too as a gorgeous sunny day with much smiling between strangers. At that point I’d waited over two thirds of my life for the moment. Not that I ever thought Blair would right all of the wrongs of the Thatcher era, but like many I at least thought he’d be a social democrat.

  13. 43
    wichitalineman on 28 Feb 2014 #

    I woke up in Liverpool on May 2nd 1997. I’d been DJing at a club called Liquidation the night before but obviously everyone just wanted to watch the TV once the results started coming, including me, so the music finished around 12.30 (I think). It was a good city to be in for the Portillo result.

    Going to buy a pint of milk the next morning, everyone was smiling. I think everyone had their doubts as well, but it felt as close to being inside an old Ealing film as life has ever got, if only for a few hours.

    On May 1st 1998, me and my girlfriend went to the fabled Granita restaurant on Upper Street (for some reason, I thought other people might do the same thing), already pretty disillusioned.

    What an odd song to soundtrack the end of the Tory government.

  14. 44
    Kinitawowi on 28 Feb 2014 #

    Northwest Norfolk saw the departure of Henry Bellingham MP; my corner of the country briefly turned red, having been Toryland since 1974 (except for a brief two year period when the incumbent changed to SDP).

    Pretty much nothing changed.

    Four years later, he won his seat back again. Pretty much nothing changed.

    Thirteen years later, he’s still there. Pretty much nothing has changed.

    (Northwest Norfolk as a constituency is a political deadspot; it has nothing to offer the country – the agriculture is further east, the industry further north, the finance further south – so nobody cares about it.)

  15. 45
    Ed on 28 Feb 2014 #

    @36 I hadn’t spotted that reference in ‘Heart Failed’. I love the song, but never had any idea what it was about.

    Now I’m wondering if it was an early foreshadowing of this sort of thing: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/feb/26/tony-blair-new-labour-hero-political-embarrassment-murdoch

  16. 46
    Ed on 28 Feb 2014 #

    As for BOTD, I can’t really think of a more appropriate record to be the last number one of John Major’s government: the tension, the paranoia, the anxiety, the curdled sexuality. And above all, the sense of being an oppressive 80s hangover, a bleak reminder of a happier and more glorious time.

  17. 47
    tm on 28 Feb 2014 #

    In my school there were 17 year old boys with their heads in their hands who genuinely thought the country was going to go to pot now the reds were in. Wilmslow was a weird place to grow up.

  18. 48
    punctum on 28 Feb 2014 #

    It must have been, if people thought politics was snooker.

  19. 49
    Mark M on 28 Feb 2014 #

    In the spirit of historical balance, I should point out that – in London at least – the weather was perfect the day after the 1992 election. I remember vividly the contrast between my mood and the sky above…

    My memories of 1997 go slightly counter to the wider story of the time. I celebrated on election night with my family, but next day at work, very few people seemed excited. I was working at PA Listings, in sprawling open plan office of bright, ambitious twentysomethings doing a job to pay their way before their more creative other projects became financially viable – almost everyone was either also writing for magazines or had a novel or a film or a band or internet idea on the bubble. Just the kind of group of people you’d expect to be buzzing about a change of government, having had the Tories in power since they were children. But as I remember it, only a few people were saying anything, and oddly enough, I went for lunch with the office’s only avowed Tory.

  20. 50
    Cumbrian on 28 Feb 2014 #

    1992 election night, I was 11, and remember going to bed thinking “it will all be different in the morning” and the following morning was characterised by being disappointed when it wasn’t (Dad was a teacher, Mum worked in Health Care, lived in a city rather than the rural part of Cumbria – the house was pretty staunch Labour as a result).

    1997’s result was so obvious, and I knew more about the process by then anyway and was more clued up on exit polls and the like, that the following morning was more like a coronation plus schadenfreude (take that Portillo!).

  21. 51
    enitharmon on 28 Feb 2014 #

    tm @ 47: Whereas I spent the early part of the night, between the initial excitement of Sunderland and the main flow of result potting reds (but not being much of a snooker/pool player seldom getting beyond the odd red). Portillo was a big moment but for us the highlight was the scarcely believable demise of our own Willie Waldegrave. And the night was summarised for me by the flashed “LAB gain Hove”.

  22. 52
    Andrew Farrell on 28 Feb 2014 #

    #40 – I could probably deny the “biggest star of their respective era” all day, unless you added “not counting Beyonce, of course”, in there – apart from anything else, her star has been eclipsed by her story by now.

  23. 53
    Tom on 28 Feb 2014 #

    #52 – I think R. is as big or bigger than ever (there are two enormous relatively recent bunnies) and it’s certainly not clear cut that she’s less big than B. I think whether you’re more in touch with teens or 20somethings may skew the answer a bit. Who I prefer (at least recently) is a lot easier to answer but a different question!

  24. 54
    Tom on 28 Feb 2014 #

    And I don’t think – especially in ‘the social media era’ – star and story are remotely separable as ideas. (Both women are FANTASTIC at using the media of their time, in the way Jackson realised and exploited the possibilities of video very quickly.)

  25. 55
    Andrew Farrell on 28 Feb 2014 #

    …neither of which I have heard, so I will bow out.

  26. 56
    Andrew Farrell on 28 Feb 2014 #

    Although actually (crowd groans) the story eclipses the star when it escapes from them – for all R.’s social media nous, the Salient Facts about her in the larger world for a while were #2 “You remember, Ella ella ella, all that summer” and #1 “Did you see that photo?” / “She’s back with him now”.

  27. 57
    Steve Williams on 28 Feb 2014 #

    #17 The Election Night Armistice was on BBC2 on election night and I watched the whole thing, because I was a big fan of the Armistice, but to be honest it was all completely overshadowed by the proper coverage. The main stories were flashed up on screen throughout and within the first two minutes we had “LABOUR LANDSLIDE” on the screen and I was totally distracted, and later the audience laughed longer and harder at the news Portillo was out than anything the Armistice actually did. Course last time out we had C4’s Alternative Election Night, which became Ten O’Clock Live, but both of those were interesting elections and when we’d had boring elections like 2001 and 2005, we’ve not had anything like that.

    One thing about the day after the election (which I also remember as being a gloriously sunny day) is that Top of the Pops, which of course was by now on a Friday, opened with D:Ream performing Things Can Only Get Better which had been re-released for obvious reasons, which I thought seemed a bit unusual because there was an obvious political context to it and you wouldn’t generally invite on a band to perform a re-release from only a few years ago (Radio 1 certainly weren’t playing it), but presumably on 2nd May it was now considered fair game.

    As for Blood on the Dancefloor, it goes back to the idea that if you were to ask the public to name Michael Jackson’s number ones they’d get them all wrong, and this must be the least memorable. On Secret Fortune the other year the contestants were asked to rank four of his songs by chart position and put Thriller top, as I knew they would, but of course that only got to number ten, due to a combination of the video not being ready until after the release and it being the umpteenth track off the album.

    This is going wildly off the point but on a chart-stats-on-lottery-quizzes tip, the other week on Who Dares Wins they had to name as many number ones of the eighties as they could and the second they said Do They Know It’s Christmas I knew they were going to say Last Christmas because they had Christmas on the brain. And they did, and lost.

  28. 58
    Kat but logged out innit on 28 Feb 2014 #

    The momentous events of that week weren’t lost on me – after years in the wilderness, finally a ray of hope shone out and I was overwhelmed with the feeling that finally the UK was getting back on its feet again: WE FVCKING WON EUROVISION YOU GUYS

  29. 59

    BUT WITH THE WORST SONG EVAH

  30. 60
    Tommy Mack on 28 Feb 2014 #

    Enitharmon @ 51: I should clarify that I was not one of the teenage tory boys with their heads in their hands (who were anyway, exagerating their political convictions to rain on their leftie teachers’ parade). I was a surly teen and the tories were definitely the enemy. My dad (old Labour but hardly committed) woke me up, telling me that the Tories had won a surprise landslide and then laughing at my shocked and appalled reaction. It was a good day.

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