Smooth Criminal (Michael Jackson)

Michael Jackson clearly had a very vivid imagination as can be clearly seen in the hit single Smooth Criminal and the story is entirely fictional, but some of the terminology is based on some real phrases which Jacko picked up whilst on a training course.

Michael has really always been a star, but after his 1979 album Off The Wall, he was catapulted to a different level and people were queueing up to work with him for what was to become the biggest-selling album of all-time – Thriller. The superstar pairing of Jacko and producer Quincy Jones continued and personnel included on Thriller were Paul McCartney, James Ingram, Janet and LaToya Jackson, David Paich, Jeff Porcaro, Rod Temperton, David Foster, Greg Phillinganes and, of course, Vincent Price. It went on to sell over 40 million copies worldwide, but in 1986 when Jacko began work on the follow-up people did wonder if he could ever emulate its success. In short, yes he did. The result was Bad.

The first single was I Just Can’t Stop Loving You, a duet with Siedah Garrett which got to number one, then came the title track which reached number three, The Way you Make Me Feel equally the peak of Bad. The record company continued to milk the album for singles, Man in the Mirror peaked at 21 but then Dirty Diana reached number four, Another Part of Me got to 15 and came Smooth Criminal which was yet another top 10 hit.

The song tells the story of a burglar coming in through the window saw the woman sitting at the table, she tried to run and he struck her leaving blood all over the carpet. As the first rescue team arrive they found she wasn’t breathing and were trying to resuscitate her. The memorable refrain throughout the song is the repetitive line ‘Annie, are you OK? Are you OK Annie?’ This would imply that the assaulted woman was called Annie, but not necessarily.

According to Spike Lee in his documentary Bad 25 Michael had attended CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) training prior to writing Smooth Criminal and it was this experience which inspired him to write the song. Annie are you OK is the phrase used as one of the first steps when assessing whether to perform CPR on an unconscious casualty. Young medical trainees are taught to use the phrase to determine if the patient is conscious and responsive. The second verse is Michael singing to an unconscious Annie saying, ‘Will you tell us that you’re ok, there’s a sign at the window that he struck you’ but Annie doesn’t seem to respond.

Michael began penning the song in 1984 and originally called it Al Capone and the demo was recorded the following year. This version eventually appeared on Bad 25 in 2012 which was the 25th anniversary of the album. The original track was re-worked with amended lyrics and became the track we know.

One of the highlights of Michael Jackson’s music was the wonderfully ground-breaking videos that accompanied them. It was at the Motown 25th Anniversary in 1983 that Michael first revealed his Moonwalk, for the Smooth Criminal video he showcased a gravity-defying forward lean often at 45 degrees which he even performed at live shows. The video, which was originally 42 minutes long, was a section of the Moonwalk film that was directed by Colin Chilvers who had created The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Superman films. Colin explained in an interview with Rolling Stone how it came about, “I showed Michael a movie that I felt would fit the theme of the piece, The Third Man. He loved the look of it, that sort of film-noir look, so we used that to get the camera man to light it in a similar way. The dance piece was a tribute to Fred Astaire and he actually wears a similar kind of costume that Fred had used in one of his movies – Band Wagon. We had the pleasure of having Fred’s choreographer, Hermes Pan, come on the set while we were doing the song and dance piece and said that Fred would have been very happy and proud of being copied by such a wonderful person.” The lean was accomplished with specially designed shoes that were able to lock into an anchor on the floor. The video was co-choreographed by Jeffrey Daniel, a one-time member of Shalamar, who himself showcased his own moonwalk. The dancer in the video was Vince Paterson who Michael used in both Thriller and Beat It.

The song opens with a dramatic stab followed by a pumping heartbeat, it’s Jacko’s own heart which had been digitally procssed through a machine known as a Synclavier.

A cover version by California rock band Alien Ant Farm made the UK top three in 2001 and was number one in Australia and New Zealand. Their video is a tribute and pays homage to Jacko and his videos. The band’s guitarist, Terry Corso explained in an MTV interview, “We want to pay homage to Michael Jackson, but on our level. Obviously we’re not that glitzy, so we just want to tastefully take the stuff that’s cool in his videos and apply it in our own dirty little backyard way.”

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