69. Michael Jackson – ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin” (1982)

“If you can’t feed your baby
Then don’t have a baby
And don’t think maybe
If you can’t feed your baby
You’ll be always trying
To stop that child from crying
Hustin’, stealin’, lyin’
Now baby’s slowly dying”

Written by Michael Jackson

Produced by Quincy Jones/Michael Jackson

Taken from the album Thriller

Also released on The 12″ Mixes, HIStory: Past, Present & Future – Book 1, Greatest Hits: HIStory Vol. 1, The Ultimate Collection, The Essential Michael Jackson, Thriller 25, King Of Pop and Michael Jackson’s This Is It: Original Soundtrack

US #5, UK #8, AUS #25

Michael Jackson always knew how to make a stunning, wet-your-pants dramatic, attention-grabbing entrance (and as we found out, exit). ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin” announces itself with three huge drum hits and his funkiest groove yet, and also announces the beginning of a streak that would last around fifteen years, in which almost every single song he released would be amazing. Off The Wall is perhaps my least favourite of the adult solo albums (I know, blasphemy) despite still being really good, but for me the genius really gets going with this song.

It also announces the biggest selling album of all time, and a new, improved Michael Jackson, the one that would become his most well known public image. There was hee-heeing and hoo-hooing on Off The Wall but Michael’s vocal theatrics go into overdrive here. ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin” has this relentless feel to it, like if you tried to turn it off it’d be like in Darren Hayes’ ‘Me, Myself And (I)’ video where he can’t get off the chair to turn the music off, and then it eventually just kills him. It’s that strong. It’s a paranoid anthem, of course, like most of Michael’s music is on some level, and reaches new levels of ridiculousness when Michael starts yelling at us “YOU’RE A VEGETABLE! YOU’RE JUST A BUFFET! THEY EAT OFF OF YOU! YOU’RE A VEGETABLE!”

Just when you think this couldn’t get more awesome, with all the joy in the world in his voice, Michael sings the following verse.

“Lift your head up high
And scream out to the world
I know I am someone
And let the truth unfurl
No one can hurt you now
Because you know it’s true
Yes, I believe in me
So you believe in you”

And then the song breaks into Swahili chanting. The endless repetition of “Mama se mama sa mama coo-sa” is brilliant and out of place and the song wouldn’t be the song without it. Just another stroke of genius.

For a song so weird, ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin” has emerged as one of the most popular songs from Thriller, thanks to being a phenomenal live staple for Michael. In 2008 it was part of two big hits: Rihanna’s ‘Don’t Stop The Music’ sampled the chanting liberally to make her song twice as amazing, and then of course Akon’s reimagination of the song with Michael’s additional vocals. ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ 2008′ was great, but it wasn’t as good as the original, of course. I can only really think of 68 songs that are better than the original.


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