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Forgotten Gem Music

Outside of Twitter and Facebook, I haven’t commented on the passing of Michael Jackson here at DWA. If I feel like it, I may posit something more deserving of the outstanding (and controversial) life this man led and his impacts on popular music and culture. I would just like to share with you one of my favorite MJ songs.

Long after he reached his commercial peak, Jackson recorded a song for his 1995 double-disc collection HIStory. The first disc was his greatest hits and the second was an album of all new material. It was a rather mish-mosh mix of R&B grooves (”2Bad”), aggressive hip-hop (”This Time Around”), gnashing hard-rock (”D.S.,” a son purportedly about the District Attorney Tom Sneddon who attempted to prosecute him in 1993 for child molestation), epic and grandiose orchestral gospel (”Earth Song”) and syrupy ballads (”Childhood” and “You Are Not Alone”).

My favorite song, though, was much more subdued. The minor-key “Stranger in Moscow” wasn’t considered good enough for release as single in America, where his record company feared it would get lost in the shuffle of a market more interested in alternative and R&B. I only really became interested in the song when Jackson’s record label dumped the video on the market in Summer 1997 (long after HIStory had peaked two years earlier). For those who remember, Comcast used to offer a music video channel called The Box, in which one could pay $.99 to “request” a video of their choice from a selection of mostly new music videos in rotation.

Because Jackson was well past his peak, MTV and VH1 virtually ignored the release of the music video for Stranger in Moscow. One could really only view it on The Box, where it was receiving a moderate amount of requests. As I was studying a bit of film in high school, I was fascinated by the video. At first, the song didn’t mean much to me. I found the slow-motion effects to be very well done. It would be several years later and I was listening to some of my MJ CDs when I, again, stumbled across this lost gem. The melody is a real slow burn. The lyrics, when investigated just a bit, give way to a man who’s clearly quite troubled and alone in the world.

My guess is “Stranger in Moscow” could be described as the most autobiographical of Jackson’s tunes as his life spiraled into a continued state of controversy, endless late-night jokes, and awful innuendo (of which I was often suspect).

“Stranger in Moscow” was not a hit. It peaked at number 91 on the Billboard Hot 100. Shame. How nice it would be to hear this lonely, melodic tune on the airwaves today.