A Michael Jackson song previously unheard, released on Wednesday, provides a glimpse into the King of Pop’s songwriting and recording process that would have fascinated fans even if he were still alive. Three years after his death, “Don’t Be Messin’ ‘Round” is even more poignant.
The Atlantic‘s Joseph Vogel explains that the track, which will finally get an audience on Wednesday — along with Sony’s re-release of the original lead single, “I Can’t Just Stop Loving You,” from the album Bad — is among dozens of unreleased pieces of music from the time Jackson was in the studio putting the finishing touches on Bad in 1987.
Don’t expect a polished Jackson hit, though. The song was selected by the team of Jackson collaborators who combed through the vaults to decide to release it because it was “developed enough to feel like a complete track,” but it’s still identifiable as a work in progress.
In the track, we can hear Jackson giving instructions, vocally dictating instrumental parts, mapping out where to accent words or add percussion, scatting and ad-libbing many of the unfinished lyrics. “One of the main intentions is to show that these are works in progress,” says Matt Forger, a sound engineer and longtime Jackson friend and collaborator. “To pull the curtain back. To actually see Michael in his natural work environment, how he directs, his sense of humor, his focus.”
The finished product, then, is intentionally unfinished and spontaneous. “You can just hear him having fun,” Forger says. “His spirit and emotion are totally there. He knew in demos he didn’t have to be totally perfect in his execution. So he’d be loose. He’d throw in ad libs and dance or sing or pop his fingers or clap his hands. You just hear him enjoying himself.”
Jackson first wrote and recorded “Don’t Be Messin'” during the Thriller sessions with engineer Brent Averill. Around this time he was working on a variety of musical ideas, including demos of “P.Y.T.” and “Billie Jean.” …
Jackson continued to work on “Don’t Be Messin'” into late 1986, at both his home studio and at Westlake. However, once Quincy Jones came on board, the serious paring began and “Don’t Be Messin'” was left on the cutting room floor. Jackson would pull out the song again during both the Dangerous sessions and HIStory sessions, updating its sound and adding new elements. Clearly, it was a song he liked. But ultimately it never found a home.
Read more at the Atlantic.