Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Remembering "Smelly" Jelly
In discribing the making of the fantastic highest selling album of all time "Thiller", revealed in the pages of Quincy Jone's 2001 autobiography, it was amusing to find his explanation of the nickname that he and Steven Spielburg used for Michael.
The making of Thriller in a little more than two months was like riding a rocket. Everything about it was done at hyperspeed. Rod Temperton, who also co-wrote several of the album’s songs, and I listened to nearly 600 songs before picking out a dozen we liked. Rod would then submit to me about thirty-three of his own songs on totally complete demos with bass lines, counter lines, and all, recorded on the Temperton high-tech system of bouncing the sound of two cassette recordings between ghetto blasters, and ten to twenty-five alternate titles for each song, with the beginnings of lyric schemes. He was absolutely the best to work with—always totally prepared, not one drop of b.s. We have always kept it very real with each other, exchanging strong opinions and comments without ever “throwing a wobbly”—British slang for “losing it.” He’s the kind of warrior you want at your side on the battlefield.
Michael was also writing music like a machine. He could really crank it up. In the time I worked with him he wrote three of the songs on Off the Wall, four on Thriller, and six on Bad. At this point on Thriller I’d been bugging him for months to write a Michael Jackson version of “My Sharona.” One day I went to his house and said, “Smelly, give it up. The train is leaving the station.” He said, “Quincy, I got this thing I want you to hear, but it’s not finished yet. I don’t have any vocals on it.”
I called Michael “Smelly” because when he liked a piece of music or a certain beat, instead of calling it funky, he’d call it “smelly jelly.” When it was really good, he’d say, “That’s some smelly jelly.” I said, “Smelly, it’s getting late. Let’s do it.”
I took him to the studio inside his house. He called his engineer and we stacked the vocals on then and there. Michael sang his heart out. The song was “Beat It.”
We knew the music was hot. On “Beat It” the level was literally so hot that at one point in the studio Bruce Swedien called us over and the right speaker burst into flames. We’d never seen anything like that in forty years in the business.
Who could have ever imagined that one of the most sought after voices, talents, and faces of genius in the world, could and would be discribed, eventhough it be affectionatley as "Smelly"? Michael Jackson has been discribed with a plethora of descriptive words in his lifetime, but "Smelly"? Would we have loved to have the chance to call him that?