Wednesday August 29, 2012 would have been Michael Jackson’s 54th birthday. As we celebrate his life and the incredibly timeless music that he created, we can’t help but reflect during our Organ Issue on one of the great organ performances of modern pop music with Jimmy Smith’s solo in Jackson’s “Bad.” Recorded on January 5, 1987 and released later in ’87, “Bad” was written, composed, and co-produced by Jackson, and produced by Quincy Jones. The song was the second single from the album of the same name.
The storyline followed a news segment Jackson had read about in which a kid from a bad neighborhood goes off to a better school and comes back only to be killed by his former friends. Originally intended as a duet for Michael and Prince, the song transformed a few times throughout the recording process. Enter Jimmy Smith. As one of the foremost authorities of the organ, he was recruited by Quincy Jones to lay into the tune with Jackson. Recording in the brand new Studio D of Westlake Studio situated on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, Smith brought his funky swagger with him take after take as Michael reportedly paced around the studio in search for something more. That’s when he became aware of Jimmy grunting along to the music. Jackson instructed the Bruce Swedien and the other engineers to pick up on that in the recording as he needed it in there. The next take would be the one immortalized in “Bad,” with Jimmy’s funky grunts in full swing.
His solo in “Bad” has come to be a great reminder of Jimmy Smith’s versatility and authority on the organ. Furthermore, it is a testament to the brilliance of Quincy Jones, the legacy Michael has left, and the engineering prowess of the legendary Bruce Swedien. These sessions truly harbored some of the most incredible artists, producers, and personnel in the game. The recordings ensure they are forever remembered.
Words by Eric Sandler