Quite a bit of expectation was weighing heavily on the shoulders of the Michael Jackson/Quincy Jones team in 1987. The impending release of Bad, their third and final album together, had the public and critics alike wondering if they could hit it out of the park once again. Thankfully, their efforts did prove to be monumentally successful, even if they couldn’t quite reach the same lofty sales heights as the juggernaut known worldwide as Thriller. When heard back-to-back, Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad each has its own identity and a healthy crop of radio singles that have all taken on lives of their own.
When it comes to #1 hits, Bad managed to top Thriller’s tally of two (“Billie Jean” and “Beat It”) by spawning four. There’s the title track “Bad,” which has so many “hoo’s” and “shamon’s,” you could have one hell of a drinking game while playing it at a party. All I can think of when I hear it now, though, is Weird Al’s “Fat” video parody. Another upbeat song on this album to go straight to the top of the chart is “The Way You Make Me Feel,” which is possibly the most whimsical, fun song that Jackson has ever recorded. It’s got a wondrous loping melody and undulating synth line as its hook. Needless to say, when I first heard the song back in freshman year of college, I was hooked. Then again, Michael Jackson has always been something of a guilty pleasure.
The pair of #1 ballads are found lumped together in the second half of Bad. The lead-off single “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” is a by-the-numbers song that both Michael and Quincy can do in their sleep. I’ve always found it to be safe, predictable and boring. The one that has more going for it is “Man In The Mirror.” Yes, it’s got that “We Are The World” vibe, but it’s also more substantial and one of those tracks I always seem to hear something new whenever I listen to it. The other #1 on this album is something of a surprise, namely “Dirty Diana.” I’ve always had a hard time figuring out what was so great about it, other than the rumor that it had something to do with Michael’s best friend Diana Ross. Something of a throwaway, “Dirty Diana” feels half-baked and not at all up to Quincy Jones’ usual high standards.
On the other hand, “Smooth Criminal” is one single that deserved a better fate on the charts than it received. The punk outfit Alien Ant Farm knew a good thing when they heard it, so they opted to cover it in 2001 with great success. Not only is “Smooth Criminal” the best song on Bad, but it is among the most inventive things Michael Jackson has ever attempted. As for the duet between Michael and Stevie Wonder, “Just Good Friends” received zero headlines or airplay, nor did their follow-up “Get It.”
Guess their collaboration just didn’t have the same magic as when Jacko teamed up with Paul McCartney. Still, for two big names to fall so flat was a huge disappointment.
The bonus tracks “Leave Me Alone” and “Streetwalker” are infinitely better than “Speed Demon” and “Liberian Girl,” which begs the question: whose decision was it to initially leave them on the cutting room floor? Oh, well, at least they’ve both been restored on the limited-edition, re-mastered version. Now that I’ve finally been able to hear the whole story, I can honestly say with conviction that Bad is anything but.