Pop Heroism, Two Songs at a Time
“Heartbreak Hotel” - The Jacksons
Written by Michael Jackson
from Triumph (CBS/Epic, 1980)
“Bless His Soul” - The Jacksons
Written by Tito Jackson, Jackie Jackson, Marlon Jackson, Michael Jackson, and Randy Jackson
from Destiny (CBS/Epic, 1979)
This entry was originally written in the spring of ‘09. It has been slightly edited since Michael Jackson’s untimely passing.
The first arena concert I ever attended was the Jacksons’ concert in support of their 1980 album, Triumph. The concert began with a film/music video for their hit “Can You Feel It?” which showed the brothers, in superhuman/angelic form, spreading goodwill and brotherhood through the power of song and light. Especially to the eyes and ears of a young musician, it was a stunning opening to an unforgettable experience.
“Heartbreak Hotel” was a highlight of the Triumph tour, and like many of Michael Jackson’s songs which explore the terror of high anxiety, it is kind of like an aural horror film, with fear, paranoia, and emotional claustrophobia replacing blood and gore as the central affrighting components. The song opens with a lonely string section which ably sets the foreboding tone, then, with an eerie scream, it kicks into an archetypal Jackson groove, with wicked rhythm guitar and funky-bump marauding bass. The lyrics describe a hotel occupied by evil, vengeful women who murmur imprecations and hurl accusations at the men who visit.The second half of the first verse delves into the devilish details of the nightmarish scene Jackson wishes to show us: “As we walked into the room / There were faces staring, glaring, tearing through me / Someone said welcome to your doom / Then they smiled with eyes that looked as if they knew me / This is scaring me!”
“Heartbreak Hotel” is peppered with classic Jackson yelps, squawks, and screams, a countermelody voiced on a theremin-like instrument, and a myriad of strange and scary sound effects, all of which add to the “scary-movie” vibe. The bridge is literally out of this world, with a chugging electro-beat, an insistent high-pitched tone taking the place of the snare hit, and weird multilayered vocals. Of course, MJ being the future “King of Pop”, the chorus breaks wide open into a sky-high catchy hook after all that weirdness.