Seven is considered a divine number. Perhaps that’s why it was Michael Jackson’s favorite number. It’s fitting that Jackson’s BAD album was his seventh studio album, a project which ultimately solidified his megastar power in the ’80s. This would also be the album to feature the tune “Man in the Mirror,” one of the few songs Jackson didn’t write himself. This would also be the album to feature his first ever duet, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” The warm ballad is performed with Siedah Garrett, who also penned “Man in the Mirror.”
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the album BAD and Jackson’s musical genius is being commemorated with BAD 25, a special edition reissue featuring three CDs, two collectible booklets and an authorized DVD of a concert from the BAD Tour. Spike Lee is producing and directing a BAD 25 documentary that is tentatively slated to debut in November on ABC. EBONY recently spoke with Grammy award winning singer and songwriter Garrett about making studio magic with the King of Pop.
EBONY: You were instrumental in being a part of this historic album. What kinds of thoughts are going through your mind its re-release?
SIEDAH GARRETT: Oh my God. Probably just be remembering our gang on tour. You know, me watching him do his thing on stage and then learning of his humanitarian efforts the next day in the newspaper in whatever country we were in. I’ll just be remembering my time with him and the process of recording that record. I’m sure I’ll go back and check my journal and refresh myself with my thoughts and feelings at the time.
EBONY: How soon after the album was released did the tour take place?
SIEDAH GARRETT: We toured a couple years after the album came out. I was on the Dangerous Tour. It was the tour that followed the BAD Tour. I was rehearsed for [the BAD Tour] for literally a week before I decided that I wanted to make my own record. The duet [“I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”] was out and I knew “Man in the Mirror” was forthcoming. So, I backed out of the BAD Tour and enter Sheryl Crow, who replaced me.
EBONY: “Man in the Mirror” is such a passionate and powerful song. I would have sworn that Michael wrote it himself. How did the song come about? I understand that he actually changed some lyrics and wanted some things done differently. Is this true?
SIEDAH GARRETT: Well, he did not change any lyrics. What happened was I was a songwriter on Quincy Jones’ publishing company, Qwest, for two and a half years before I gave him the song for Michael. He had a meeting with the songwriters. I think there were about six of us on the West Coast and we all had a meeting at his house where he sort of gave us an outline of what he wanted. To finish this BAD album [Jones] needed one more song to round out the album. I took notes and then I then took my notes to my writing partner Glen Ballard. It was like a Wednesday afternoon where we sat down to start writing. Glen asked me to give him details from the notes. I gave him the parameters and he said, “Let’s just see what we come up with.” He gets up. He goes over to his keyboard. He turns on the keyboard and he starts playing this chord progression for the song.
EBONY: I love the song’s title, “Man in the Mirror.” How did that come about and what was Quincy’s initial response?
SIEDAH GARRETT: Two years earlier, I’m in a songwriting session with my dear friend John Beasley. We’re writing and his phone rings. Instead of letting the machine pick it up, he answers the phone and begins this conversation. “Oh, I’m not doing nothing. I’m just hanging out, you know.” I’m flipping through my lyric book thinking to myself, “No, he didn’t say he wasn’t doing nothing. No, he didn’t say he’s just hanging out.” I’m thinking to myself that we’re writing here. Then I hear him say, “The man? What man? Oh, the ‘Man in the Mirror.’” I wrote down the phrase the man in the mirror. Two years later, I tell him what he said. He gets up and turns on the keyboard and starts playing this chord progression. I was flipping through my lyric book again. The phrase man in the mirror just popped out at me. At that point, I could not write fast enough. Like, I couldn’t get it all out quickly enough. I mean, it was just like a mad rush just trickled down the idea and literally 10 or 15 minutes we had the first verse and the first chorus of “Man in the Mirror.” Glen said, “Okay, you go finish the lyrics and I’ll finish the music.” It was Wednesday. He said, “We’ll meet on Friday and we’ll do the demo.” So, on Friday, by the time we finished the actual demo, the Qwest Publishing office was closed for the weekend. I could not wait until Monday. I mean, I’ve never done this since and I have never done it before. I called Quincy and said, “Dude, I have this song that Glen and I wrote for Michael. I think it’s a really good song. I would love if you could hear it.” He said, “Okay. Just take it to the Qwest Publishing on Monday and I’ll hear it and I’ll get back to you.” I said, “Dude, can we just — let me just drop it off.” He’s like, “I’m in a meeting. I have 12 people here in a meeting. I can’t right now.” I tell him again,“Let me just drop it off.” He said, “Alright.” Then he hung up. So, I go to Quincy’s house and I knock on the door. He comes to the door. He opens the front door and I see a view of the dining room from the front door and there are 12 suits sitting at his dining room table. They’re all looking up at me like, “This better be good because you’re interrupting some big business here. This really better be good.” So, I’m getting all their vibes, right? Quincy comes to the door and I hand him the cassette. I said, “Dude, all I ask is just let me know what you think.” He says, “Alright. Alright.”
EBONY: What happened next?
SIEDAH GARRETT: A couple hours later, the phone rings and Quincy goes, “Siedah, this is the best song I’ve heard in 10 years.” So, I’m like grooving. The fact that Quincy’s telling me the best song in 10 years. Yes! Then he says, “But — then I hear that Charlie Brown teacher voice, “Wha, wha, wha, wha.” Because I really don’t want to know what is coming after but because I don’t really care. I’m just bubbling in the best song in 10 years. Let me just live in that for a moment. Then I hear Quincy say something like, “Michael has been in the studio with him for two and a half years. He has yet to record a song that he didn’t write. I don’t know. I don’t know if he’s going to record it.” I just had to let it go. I said, “Okay. Whatever. Just let it go. I’m going to release that.” Four or five days later I get a call from Quincy and he’s in the studio. He comes on the phone and he says, “Well, we’re in the studio recording your old piece of song.” I’m like, “Yes!” He says, “Michael wants the chorus to be twice as long. He really wants you to — then he says, “Hold on a minute.” Then I hear [him talking to Michael in the background]. Of course, he said, “He really wants you to bring home the idea of — hold on Siedah.” Then I hear [him talking to Michael in the background]. Then Quincy says, “Hold on a minute.” Quincy Jones puts Michael on the phone.
EBONY: What was it like talking to him for the first time?
SIEDAH GARRETT: Okay, my whole childhood when I was growing up, Michael was my husband. My cousins had Jackie and my sister had Jermaine. We all had the brothers, but Michael was my husband. So, to me, in my little 6-year-old or 13-year-old brain I’m talking to my husband. I don’t want to get over excited. I don’t want to sound too much like a screaming fan. I went strictly into telephone operator [mode]. I said, “Hello? How can I help you?” He says, “I love your voice. I love the song.” Then he starts telling me what he wants the next four lines of lyrics to say. So, the next day I write six different stanzas for him to choose from. What he ended up choosing was, “You got to get it right while you got the time. When you close your heart then you close your mind.” Those four, that stanza, those four lines were not in the original demo. He asked me to come up with more lines to make the chorus twice as long and I did. The rest, as they say, is history.
EBONY: That was the beginning of your work relationship with Michael?
SIEDAH GARRETT: Yeah.
EBONY: The demo they heard was actually you singing what he would ultimately record?
SIEDAH GARRETT: That’s right. When we recorded the song, my vocal range is a little higher than Michael’s range. The song demo was in a key one step higher than he was comfortable singing it. He had me re-sing the demo in the new key. Then doing that he filmed me singing this demo in the new key. I actually said, “What are you doing? Why are you filming this?” He said to me, “Because I want to sing it like you. You sound so great and I want to sing it just like you.” I said, “Oh, great, Mike, my friends are really going to believe me when I tell them that Michael Jackson wanted to sing this song just like me.” We laughed about that. Actually, Spike [Lee] found that footage and he put it in [his BAD] documentary. I haven’t seen it. I can’t wait to see it.
EBONY: When he recorded “Man in the Mirror,” were you in the studio with him?
SIEDAH GARRETT: Yeah, the whole first two-thirds of the song is just he and I. He’s singing lead and I’m doing all the harmonies and we’re both singing all the background. We’re singing all the choruses until the choir comes in. We were the first two-thirds of the song.
EBONY: After hearing your demo for “Man in the Mirror,” I understand that he loved your voice so much he wanted to do a duet. How did he come to ask you?
SIEDAH GARRETT: He didn’t ask while I was in the room. We had recorded the “Man in the Mirror” with this huge choir and it was just a long, long day of recording. But I wasn’t sure that we finished the song. So, Quincy called me back a couple days later. I thought we were going to finish “Man in the Mirror.” I go in the studio and there’s no choir. The song isn’t even up yet. There’s only four people in the studio. It’s me, Quincy, the fabulous engineer, Bruce Swedien, and Michael. This other song was playing. I was behind the console, behind the mixing board sitting, thinking that maybe they’re running behind. Maybe I’m late. Then Quincy yells back at me, “Siedah, you like this song?” I’m like, “Yeah. Yeah.” He said, “Well, can you sing it?” I’m like, “Yeah.” He said, “Well, go on in there and sing it. Michael, go on in there with Siedah.” So, this moment for me right now is so real. I’m walking into the studio and behind me is Michael. I get in the studio and there are two stands with music sheets on each. On the music sheet it says, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” Michael. Siedah. Each of us get a verse and a chorus. At that moment, in that instant, I realized, “Oh my God, I’m going to do a duet with the King of Pop. I can’t believe it. I’m just busy trying to do the best that I can do so that they would want to keep me on this. I’m like seriously trying to sing and watch Michael do his side of the verse. When my verse comes in, I close my eyes and step up to the mic and I start bemoaning these lyrics. I start feeling this stuff flying in my face. Michael is throwing popcorn at me while I’m trying my best to do this perfect vocal for him and Quincy. He’s cracking up because Quincy’s like, “Siedah, you’re wasting studio time. Come on. I don’t have time.” Quincy just heard that I kept messing up. He didn’t know that Michael was throwing stuff at my face. Michael was cracking up. He thought that was the funniest thing while I was getting reprimanded for something that he thought was hilarious. Quincy just thought I was messing up.
EBONY: Aside from his sister Janet, aren’t you the only female to ever perform a duet with him?
SIEDAH GARRETT: Well, darling, I was a question on a game show. [She chuckles] I think it was Jeopardy. The question was, “Who is the only person in the world, only female in the world unrelated to Michael Jackson, to ever do a duet with him?”
EBONY: Did he ever say why he never recorded a duet with anybody else?
SIEDAH GARRETT: No, I didn’t ask. I didn’t care. He was doing a duet with me and that’s all I cared about.
EBONY: Is it true that “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” was originally intended for either Barbara Streisand or Whitney Houston?
SIEDAH GARRETT: Yeah, I heard that. I did talk to Quincy and Mike about that and they told me that, but I didn’t care. It wasn’t intended for anybody, but me evidently. It makes no difference, because I’m the one on it. Even before Barbara said, “No,” even before Whitney says, “I don’t think so,” it was meant for me just like the BAD Tour was meant for Sheryl. I had to live with that. I had to get with that. Evidently that was not meant for me. The Dangerous Tour was meant for me.
EBONY: What was his work ethic like on that tour?
SIEDAH GARRETT: Michael was a constant perfectionist. He loved watching other people do what they did best and then taking that and adding his own little twist to it. He loved to pull the best from the best and make it his own. He loved studying the greats. He felt that they could only add to what he did naturally. He was absolutely right. I mean, he studied James Brown for years when he was 10 years old, because the Jackson 5 would open for James. He studied him. He studied Fred Astaire. He loved to watch Fred’s movies. We were in the studio recording some work on “Man in the Mirror” or the duet. I can’t remember which it was. We did the duet in three languages: English, French and Spanish. So, I spent like a week with him in the studio doing the three songs in different languages. It was just an awesome experience recording with him.
EBONY: Michael enjoyed playing jokes. When it came to rehearsing for a tour, was he all fun and games at times?
SIEDAH GARRETT: No. It was no joke. When it came time to rehearse, there was no popcorn throwing at that moment. He was all business.
EBONY: Michael really loved to laugh. I understand he was quite a practical joker.
SIEDAH GARRETT: He was a joker to his core. He loved a good joke especially if it’s displayed on somebody else.
EBONY: Michael wrote “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” He wrote most of his own songs.
SIEDAH GARRETT: He is an underappreciated songwriter and an underappreciated singer. I think the world only gives him the most recognition for his dancing. He was an awesome singer and an amazing songwriter.
EBONY: Did he tell you how he came to write “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You?”
SIEDAH GARRETT: No. You know, I never asked. That’s a good question. I should have asked him that question. Now we’ll never know.
EBONY: Tell me about your new single?
SIEDAH GARRETT: It’s called “Keep On Loving You.” It is an answer to our duet “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” The new song tells the story of how we met and how I felt meeting him. He really turns my life and changed my creative process as well. It really honors him and honors my relationship with him so much so that the family, the estate and Sony Music gave me permission to use footage from our time on tour together in my new video. I am just so, so honored that they sought to do that because they didn’t have to do that at all. It’s a brilliant gesture because they realized how much he meant to me. When you hear the song and watch the video, you’ll get that too.
EBONY: Did you do this song shortly after he passed or was it something you did recently because of BAD’s 25th anniversary?
SIEDAH GARRETT: It took a minute. I think I wrote this song like late last year. I have to live with the idea that he is no more. He lives in my mind and in my heart in a spiritual sense. That takes a little bit of time to get your head around it. I have to really stress out my feelings about his being gone from my life from now on. I guess that took a minute.
EBONY: Where were you when you first heard that Michael passed away?
SIEDAH GARRETT: I was in my kitchen making lunch. I happened to be talking to Don Boyette, the bass player that I toured with on the BAD Tour. It was on the news that there was an ambulance that went to Michael’s house. Then his wife called and she sounded urgent. So he hung up with me and took the call from his wife. When I hung up the phone, I turned on the radio, turned on the TV and that’s when it all kind of hit me. By the time Don called me back, I was a pile of blob on the floor. I was just a mess heaving and crying my heart out. It was so unbelievable. So unbelievable. I was a wreck for a while. It was not good.
EBONY: Do you listen to the duet anymore? Some artists say, “Oh, I never listen to my music.” Do you listen to it?
SIEDAH GARRETT: I can’t help it. I can be driving down the street minding my own business and somebody will pull up next to me and Michael is on the radio. I could be shopping until my heart’s content, rolling through a boutique, and he’s on the speaker in the store. I can be going to an appointment with my attorney or my dentist in the elevator and his music is in the elevator. He’s everywhere. I can’t not listen to what we did because it’s everywhere. I listen to it all the time whether I want to or not.
EBONY: Is it still difficult for you to listen to it?
SIEDAH GARRETT: No, no, no, no. I cherish that time we had together. It just makes me smile. It makes me happy and sad at the same time. Just sad because I’ll never repeat it, but happy that I got to experience it in the first place.
EBONY: What would people be surprised to find out about him that they might not know or wouldn’t think?
SIEDAH GARRETT: Here’s the thing. This is what you should take away. Whenever you were in his presence, I mean, he’s the King of Pop and the most recognized face on the planet second only to Muhammad Ali. I was often surprised to find out that he felt he had as much to learn from you as you did from him. So he treated you accordingly. Everyone was a teacher to him. He had something to learn from everybody. If he appreciated your creative artistry, he was that much more into you.
EBONY: So there’s the tribute song, “Keep On Loving You,” to your dear friend. What other things are you doing?
SIEDAH GARRETT: I’m just mostly focused on the re-release of this record and talking about my love for Michael and promoting my single that describes my relationship with him. There’s so many good things I have to look forward to in life and new opportunities that arise every day because of my association with him. I mean, he is the gift that keeps on giving.
NOTE: Michael Jackson’s memorial service on July 7, 2009, at the Staples Center ended with an empty, darkened platform illuminated by a spotlight beaming on a microphone placed center stage as an instrumental version of “Man in the Mirror” softly played in the background.
Margena A. Christian is Senior Writer for EBONY. Follow her on Twitter @MargenaXan