Saturday, April 12, 2014

Xscape... L.A. Listening Party

We were a party of eleven global MJ fans... ranging in age from early twenties to over sixty... all hardcore MJ fans... for some it was a journey of 20 hours with overlays... for others less time in flight from their homes on the other side of the globe or across the states... for me it was a familiar hour drive in L.A. traffic. For all of us it is a journey to the unknown... filled with MJ Butterflies. I’m feeling very nervous and anxious... filled with so many thoughts and feelings. I end up blathering on like a magpie... not ever sure what I’m talking about but so happy to be meeting new MJ fans who share my heart. Some I know by name only on Face Book and others I’ve never met. I love that moment when the Face Book name registers with the face and hugs ensue.

Although very anxious for a long awaited new MJ CD... always in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “A new album from Michael Jackson... how good could it possibly be without the man himself here to give it the final nod?” I personally felt some deep trepidation since the invite arrived. We weren’t told what the invite was for... everything was top secret... however deducing there had been listening parties in Paris, London and N.Y... my guess was L.A. had to be next. What if I didn’t really like this album? As an MJ fan I resigned myself to being very grateful there are original untouched demos on the deluxe version. No one can screw those up... Michael at his bare bones finest. Any true MJ fan has been listening to leaked versions of songs for years now... sorry but it’s true. We all drink in Michael’s voice in any version... grateful to hear his genius. I had decided one way or another... although grateful for the invite I would be honest about what I thought and felt. I may never be invited back to such an event but... I have to be loyal to my truth! I mean really without Michael’s personal touch, work ethic, excellence of product, his quiet, tender, kind, humble and respectful way of accepting only the best of himself and others, the masterful way in which he drove all who worked for him and studied under him to strive for depths of excellence they never knew existed... without him here... how good could it really be? Soooo many questions had been running through my mind and heart.

Heartbreakingly over the last five long years the world has had to deal with the devastating fact... Michael is gone... the King is gone... leaving a huge void in our hearts and the music industry. There is not a day that goes by for me that I do not play, watch and hear Michael Jackson sing. There just aren’t any other artists, although very talented, that consistently touch my heart the way Michael continues to with his timeless music.

Around the world it is agreed upon by music critics and fans alike Michael’s unfinished demos are masters of high quality better than most finished product out there today. The music stars of today although many are amazingly talented only attempt to rise to MJ's artistic level. Only MJ can fill his shoes and this is a fact which will forever remain concrete!  

So then what does happen when Michael’s beautifully layered vocals which he anointed with his genius are touched by producers who once worked with the KOP one on one... those highly respected in the business who STILL deeply love and respect Michael... who listened diligently and learned from Michael’s example and tutelage one on one when he still walked this earth? 

The answer...
Michael reaches out from the universe, from his heavenly home and works his magic from the biospheres!
The King is back! Just as he wished... his music... his art LIVES on! 

That special perfect voice... no one can touch or duplicate... the depth of emotion in vocal story telling... the growl in his voice... the vocals layered over and over one another.... the ecstatic Hee Hees... blissfulness... escapism... Xscape!!

 I felt the same chills while listening to this new album as I felt years ago when I used to watch each new MTV MJ short film or listen to each new MJ album. Yes it's all there!!

Spirits run high when we all realize we are being taken to the Henson Studios, home of the Muppets, formerly A&M Studios which holds within its walls great Michael history. This is a place on my Michaeling bucket list which has been untouchable... a closed, secure, working studio. So for me it’s a mission complete and an amazingly wonderful surprise! We are escorted into a very special place... Studio A. Directed to sit in chairs in the middle of the room where giant multi-level speakers focus on us. We take a seat and as I look around realize this is a very familiar place... a very MICHAEL place. A place where music history was made in the '80s.

In my nervousness I am talking up a storm... sorry everyone... that is what I do when I am nervous... suddenly it all registers and I see Michael before me... and blurt out... “This is the studio where Michael recorded ‘We Are The World’!" Yes along with so many 80’s music stars... directed by Q to ‘Leave your egos at the door.’ I feel myself hoping that many on this new MJ album followed suite with Q's directive as well. 

As I look around the room I realize the chairs are set up just about where Michael stood when he recorded the masters for all the stars to learn their part on the song. MJ perfectly singing every range of the song for each of them. I picture Quincy at his music stand and Frank Delio with his cigar where now sits a computer and a sound board table. I look around the room and yes there is the wall! The wall where Michael sat on the floor, leaned up against it as he worked with Lionel Richie on that ground breaking charity based anthem. As thoughts of the magic and history of 'We Are The World' flood my mind I am reminded again with Michael everything was innovative and groundbreaking. I wonder how can anyone meet that expectation with him gone? How good could this album possibly be?

We are told that LA Reid who produced with Baby Face, and now the CEO of Epic Studios will be our personal DJ. What? YES! He himself will be playing the Xscape album for us. Cool bring it on!!

Sylvia Rhone - President of Sony Music Epic Records
LA Reid - Chairman & CEO of Epic Records
Xcitement and anticipation builds... many Epic and Sony executives enter the room including Sylvia Rhone, president of Sony, a slight lady in a spring dress with a perky attitude and very warm and friendly spirit. They shake our hands... we whisper to each other asking who many of them are. Shake our heads... we have no idea. No suits... all casual in tennis shoes and jeans... some are looser than others... some clearly are uncomfortable and look like they have more important things to do... well it’s the corporate world so yeah that is to be expected... we exchange friendly hellos and handshakes with some and learn these people are very down to earth and many are MJ fans like us. Wait???? What???? These are Sony/Epic executives... right? I’m confused... this is not jelling with all I’ve heard about Sony... evil Sony... Sony Sucks... Sony is phoney! Yes... THAT Sony. The Sony of Tommy Matolla and years gone by... the Sony that Michael passionately spoke out about. I feel a big “Yeah whatever” come over me... I know the two faced corporate world.... we’ll see how this all plays out. 

Instead while we wait I focus on the fans... many are those I interact with from the other side of the world... now connecting Face Book names and emails with real life faces. Navi who eerily has Michael’s deep round brown eyes is here and happily we reunite. Hugs ensue all around... especially for, beautiful, April, my dear friend Bonnie’s daughter from Boston. Bonnie has run MJ-Upbeat website in LOVE for Michael since 2003. After Michael’s death she was the loving person the Lord provided who became my life buoy in an ocean of grief. A lovely lady from Japan, Michiko, shows me her wonderful MJ jacket and purse... they have the best MJ clothes in Japan. I’m so happy to meet Mickie Qbee, a fun loving lady who is staff on MJJ Community. I’ve been asked to support a very shy fan from Germany, Jasmina, I look for her. Shy? I chuckle as I see she is chatting away with other MJ fans totally at home with those around her. What a privilege to be apart of such a gathering of MJ fans from the UK, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and the USA. It’s so astonishing to me that we barely know one another and yet through Michael Jackson’s music we instantly bond, quickly become friends in person. Michael the heart hook, the glue which draws us together as ONE.

John Branca and Karen Langford who are committed to excellence and protecting Michael’s legacy and his children confirm now we are indeed at the L.A. Xscape listening party. John Branca speaks to us about many songs Michael worked on that were not released as intended such as ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin” was originally recorded for ‘Off The Wall’ but used three years later on ‘Thriller.’ ‘Earth Song’ and ‘They Don’t Care About Us’ were originally recorded for ‘Dangerous’, but eventually used four years later on ‘HIStory.’ He explained that the songs left over from recording for certain albums, although recorded in full, aren’t necessarily finished but nor are they necessarily songs Michael had disregarded as unreleasable. They just didn't fit on to that particular album.

We all sit in Michael’s ‘We Are The World’ studio on the Henson lot anxiously anticipating Michael's voice when LA Reid enters the room and John introduces him. An amiable, warm and friendly man he talks about his deep, committed responsibility to Michael with this album. Sharing his heart he explains from the very start he let John Branca and John McClain know there is no way he would even consider touching Michael’s work unless he personally felt it was already at a stage where Michael had shown he loved the songs. He explains that as he personally listened to the demos the Estate provided him... with an open mind to say No... the songs with the layers of continued work are the ones which clearly had Michael’s nod of approval... showing him the way... that Michael loved those songs. If Michael never continued to work on something... if he only sang the chorus and he never worked on it again... that demo was out. Clearly and humbly he explained that he loves and respects Michael Jackson and has been a very long time fan and was privileged and awed to work with Michael in the later years but with Michael's passing their projects were never completed. I relate... wait... I relate to LA Reid? What? Well we all have regrets in the area of Michael... on a different level completely... I regret never attending a concert... never meeting Michael... but God had other plans for me. Here this man who regrets never finishing his work with MJ... God had other plans for him as well.

He is beaming like a kid at Christmas... clearly anxious to play the album for us... we are all on the edge of our seats... very anxious. The first song on the album “Love Never Felt So Good” begins... and Michael’s voice, an undeniable beat of Michael’s heart fills the room. The true test of a Michael song is if you feel it throughout your body... into your bones... giving you chills... if it moves you and there is just no sitting still. We are all moving to the beat in our chairs. It’s GOOD! YES it’s REALLY, REALLY GOOD!! I glance over at Navi with a knowing smile and we nod. YES! We agree... it’s true to MICHAEL... at least for this first song... THE KING IS BACK!! 

With each song... the same feeling overwhelms us... soon I can’t stay in my chair... I’m up and dancing... and I do NOT dance in public. I move to the middle of the room where the speakers focus all sound. Many of the executives are dancing and enjoying even more so than the fans. Well we are after all listening for the first time... yet it is undeniably EXCELLENT so far. Soon all the fans are smiling and up... NO one is still seated. All are moving to the beat... Michael’s voice filling our hearts and souls. All 8 songs are played for us. I simply can’t tell you which one is my favorite... I love them all! Everyone is so far superior to the majority of empty, soulless, shallow songs out there today. Sorry Bruno and JT... you are still awesome!!

Another true test of a great Michael album... each one could be a single... a hit! Yet they all cohesively work together and speak to one another. Too soon all eight songs are played and it’s over. LA Reid who has been grooving, dancing and playing virtual drums, piano and directing an invisible spherical orchestra returns to the sound table and asks,“Again?” We all nod with a resounding, “YES!” So one song at a time he plays the album for us again... After the first or second song replays he asks, “What do you think? Let it play or is that it!” I burst out with, “Let it play!” I NEED to hear these Michael songs again... I need to listen deeper. Yes the true test... if an MJ album is listened to over and over and over... will it still be current, relevant and amazing the 2nd or 1000th time? 

I have this deep heartfelt pang wishing for the millionth time that Michael was still here to be the one to finish these songs himself. Although ecstatic that they are absolutely excellent... I wonder what they would sound like with his masterful genius finishing touch.  I’ve come to accept this thought will never leave... it just won’t. Of course we all wish he was still with us... fact is he’s not. Truth is... gratefully we are so very, very blessed that he left a treasure trove and his music still lives on! 

The album finishes a full second play and LA pulls his chair from behind the sound table for a one on one Q&A. Comfortably relaxed and open to us he crosses one leg over another as he explains about his resistance at first to complete any MJ demo. He is CEO of Epic records... he no longer needs to spend endless hours in a studio mixing and adding just the right elements to a song. Yet with Michael’s demos... Michael’s music... it was a chance to bring things full circle... to find healing from the loss of Michael.... for him it was an opportunity to bring to fruition unfinished work. A chance to honor the KOP in his house Sony/Epic Music bringing Michael the honor he so sorely deserves. He let it be known that no other company than Epic should be the one to produce this album after all Epic was Michael’s home and all his albums were produced by Epic.  He shared about working with Michael and that MJ had told him, “LA it’s not about the money with me. It’s about being the best... being at the top.”

For LA Reid, as well, it’s clearly not about the money. As we prod him with questions as to why he decided to work on this MJ album he digs deeper. Sharing his heartfelt personal thoughts about his own life. That since his appointment as CEO of Epic he has thought in his heart, “Why am I here... really here? I mean I know logistically how I got here... what circumstances happened to get me to this place... but really... why am I here?” His answer is revealed once John Branca asks him to take a look at the demos. After listening to them he now understands why he is here... why he is CEO of Epic... it’s to do this for Michael... bring him full circle at Sony... back to the top of the charts. Honored once again.

LA reveals that he did little research on the demos but went with what appealed to his heart. That was how he decided which ones to work on. He shared that it was only after he'd extensively worked on and recorded the mixes to the level of excellence he felt they deserved and played the songs at a listening party was he told by an MJ fan that the MJ fans had been listening to many of these leaked songs for years. At first he felt shocked and panicked a bit wondering what the response from fans would be... but then calmed down knowing he had done his best giving each one the justice Michael deserved.

He expressed what a privilege it was for each of the producers to finish what they started with Michael... a true labor of LOVE for each... a healing journey. LA decided early on that not just anyone would be working on this album... only those that knew what it was like to work with Michael. That they MUST approach this work with commitment to total excellence to honor MJ’s legacy.

He became very sincere as he looked at Branca and then back at us hesitating at first and then sharing, “I know this is NOT the place... really to bring up the media and all that they have spread...” as he slapped his leg and loudly exclaimed, “I just HAVE to say, MICHAEL WAS INNOCENT!!” Which brought a round of applause from the fans and others in the room as he was preaching to the choir. Then proceeded to tell us about his personal time with Michael and his children relaying one of the most beautiful memories for him with Michael was witnessing Michael’s loving fathering skills and hearing Michael and the children randomly singing a Disney song together as they interacted one night at home. As a father himself LA said there was no denying MJ’s love for his children. 

I’m very impressed with LA Reid as a person... he is humble, down to earth and very approachable with a great contagious smile. He shared about keeping an open mind while listening to the demos always keeping in mind he would not touch any demo that MJ had not brought to a level of excellence. Also how John Branca told him he’d over looked a song, ‘A Place With No Name.’ How he’d listened closely to this song again and realized John was correct. It was definitely a great song and needed to be on the album. I absolutely have to agree this song is one of my absolute favs on this album. I really thought I’d like the demos better than the mixed versions but I have to say I absolutely love everyone of these songs. Each tells a different story... each show cases Michael’s historic genius with a contemporized approach which truly compliments Michael completely. The younger of the audience, April, admitted she is hard to please with new songs and was ready to not like it. She simply beamed as she did not hesitate to share she loved everyone of the songs. I am so excited to know that there will be new generations of fans appreciating Michael Jackson's genius and music for generations to come. Another gentleman fan said he is very shy yet the music and Michael’s voice had him up out of his seat and moving to the music which he normally does not do, especially in public.

We decide to take a group picture and discuss the light and where to stand... Navi suggests the view with the sound booth in the background. LA Reid suggests farther out into the room where there is better light... and then I say, "Why don't we all stand where Michael stood?" LA turns to me and says, "Where is that?" I point, smile, saying, "Right here where he recorded, 'We Are The World'." He laughs and puts his hand on my shoulder and exclaims, "Well there is NO way I can fill Michael's shoes but let's all stand right here where Michael stood!" I respond with, "No way... No one ever will!" He gives me a knowing look, smile and nod. Then we line up on Michael's spot for our pic.

Karen shares with us a gem was found in Michael’s own notes as they discovered Michael's inspiration behind “Do You Know Where Your Children Are?” In the '60s through the '90s there was a TV campaign for child safety that would come on TV each evening asking parents everywhere this very question. Only Michael could take a TV safety campaign and turn it into genius, rhythmic music and song writing.  Soooo Michael... soooo freaking amazing! 

We leave the the Henson Studios on foot to walk to the Roosevelt Hotel a few city blocks away... allowing the MJ fans to experience the Hollywood walk of fame experience. They are thrilled and take many pictures of the stars on the sidewalk along the way. Once at the hotel we are escorted to a large table in the side grotto and dine on delicious and healthy appetizers, dinner and amazing gourmet desserts compliments of LA Reid and Epic Studios.

The Sony phoney stuff is still bothering me so I ask Jeff about it... he states that was all dealt with when Michael was still alive and Michael was happy to sign another contract with Sony/Epic in 2008. There is not one person remaining at Sony who was there during the Invincible debacle. I am grateful to hear this and I feel Michael would be happy to know that his focused efforts conquered the devilishness that once ran Sony. His fight not only had been won when he was here on this earth but now those at the helm of Sony have come full circle... the result? MJ is King!

We all seem overwhelming relieved and agree that this album is FANTASTIC. We are asked which song is our favorite. I find it hard to choose. There is one song that is good; however did not move me like the others. Yet as we talk and bounce around our reaction to the songs I find that many absolutely love the one I am not that moved by. Yet I know with Michael’s music I can’t wait for the chance to listen closer over and over again with the albums release on May 13th. Then I can allow Michael's music to sink into my blood... hear what maybe I was missing on that particular song and totally drink in all the others I love so much.  

This superbly mixed and engineered album for each of them especially LA Reid is a Labor of LOVE... spending endless hours, days and nights in the studio... striving for the perfection that they felt Michael was spurning them towards. Truly it shows in the end result... this album will be a huge HIT! It will be so wonderful to see Michael back up at the top of the charts where he so deservedly  belongs. 

We gather the next day and are taken by van to Sony Music studios for breakfast in a conference room. We are asked to candidly share our likes, dislikes and concerns. The Sony president, Sylvia Rhone, along with John Branca and Karen Langford and other executives from N.Y are present in person and by video conference. We bandy around our thoughts and impressions of the album... it is unanimous... we all LOVE the Xscape album and are very eager for it’s release! We are told there are more surprises tucked into the Deluxe version!

 Although we heard eight songs we are told there is still yet another song... a 9th which will be a total surprise to the entire world along with several other surprises in the Deluxe version, as well as, two videos of all the producers speaking about the heartfelt process of making this album and their journey with Michael in this process. 

The subject of Mr. Brainwash comes up and John shares that as he drives to work everyday there is a liquor store he passes. He must have driven by it literally 1,000s of times and never really noticed anything special about it but this one day he sees a painting of Marilyn Monroe in the window and thinks, “That is really different.” Each day after he continues to notice that painting... it seems to jump out at him. Then on a subsequent day he passes a billboard on the same route and there is the most interesting painting which he is very drawn to. Finally he stops at the liquor store to inquire who did the painting... he researches the billboard for the same answer and learns the same artist did them both... Mr. Brainwash. They contact Mr. Brainwash to come in for a meeting asking him to bring samples of his work. He begins to tell Mr. Branca that he is so thrilled because Michael Jackson was one of his first clients. John is totally taken aback... he asks him, “What? What do you mean Michael Jackson was one of your first customers?” Mr. Brainwash relays the story of Michael approaching him and buying many of his paintings. John shaking his head at what he has heard as he remembers and relays the story needed not to verbally complete the connection for me... as I sat there with 'Michael chills' all over my body. Clearly Michael was in charge of connecting Mr. Branca with Mr. Brainwash for the promo Xscape artwork... for me there are no coincidences. Once again Michael has reached out from the heavenly spheres to put his touch, his final nod, guidance on this... his own album. 

Epic and the MJ Estate are committed to reveal this album the way that Michael would want it done... with magic and surprise! 

So yes there will be more exciting Xscape surprises! Stay tuned!! There is more to come and I just truly feel we won't be disappointed.

*** THANK YOU to the MJ Online team Jeff, Alicia and Lindsey for all your hard work and your kindness and patience. Thank you to John Branca, John McClain and Karen Langford for your steadfast commitment to excellence in all you do for Michael’s legacy, memory and Estate. Thank you so much for caring what the MJ fans think, appreciating and listening to us and allowing us to have a say and input into Michael’s legacy.

An interview by Matt Blank from MJWN (an MJ fan who attended the L.A. Xscape listening party)  with the creator and artist of the Xscape album cover Mat Maitland:

Other reviews from fans who attended the Xscape L.A. Listening Party:

MJWN(Michael Jackson World Net) - Matt Blank

LMJ (Legendary Michael Jackson) - Sjoerd Roijenga

MALIBU (Michael Jackson & Family Fan Club) - Jasmina - April Lamrock

MJJCommunity - Mickie Qbee



  1. Wow..Superb Article MJBliss ..Thank You So much For Explaining it in brief :) :) Hope You Enjoyed the session so well with fellow MJ fans around the world :)

    MJ Lives Forever :)

  2. ♥ Thanks for sharing this Betty! :)

    I just CAN'T WAIT for May 13th to come!

  3. OMG I have goosebumps reading this, thank you so much Betty, and thank you for telling us that Michael was happy to sign again with Sony in 2008, this is information that needs to be out three for the fans who still have a thing against Sony. Blessings and love to you and once again thank you for all you do for us and for Michael

  4. Wonderful! Can't wait to get my downloads, CDs and vinyl versions of Xscape. Sooooooo excited. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience.

  5. Thank You So Much for This Excellent Article ....You Always Have a Way to Make Us feel we are right there experiencing the Magic.......

  6. Thank you Betty. This is so beautifully written. You have a heart of Gold. 2 thumbs up and a great big hug to you my friend. -Love, Bonnie (MJ-Upbeat)

  7. Thank u Betty for sharing this all with us.Its amazing and u have deserved it.
    This is an incredible story wich u will remember your whole life.
    Thank u for the oportunity to let is read about youre experiance and see the beautiful photo,s.
    Love u Albert de Lugt

  8. I was absolutely elated at every part of this Amazing, Unforgettable and truly Blessed event Betty. Your meticulous account of each and EVERY detail shared had us there alongside you all, captivated by the Magic and Wonderment that IS and will FOREVER be Michael. I cannot wait to receive my copy. Thank You for sharing this wonderful and privileged " Listening Party " with us. <3

  9. There were times reading this that I found tears welling up. Just to imagine the excitement of the invitation, sharing it with such devoted fans from around the world and meeting such remarkable people like LA, KL and JB (my personal favorite) PLUS hearing Michael's amazing new music for the first time! What a blessing!! I am thrilled beyond words for this new album.

  10. What a beautifully written article Betty! You put so much details into it and I believe that you have also put to rest a lot of old ghosts, so to speak. I know this is going to be a great sellout album because love built it. Val

  11. Absolutely amazing. Thank you Betty. This was really exquisite. Your writing always take me to a wonderful this case. Xscape..Reality and the love you express in every single word. Can't wait for the release. Can't wait to listen to MJ again. Can't wait to be amazed again. Can't wait to fall in love more time. He is our angel of light. And your article is a gem. Thank you. I love you. See you soon hopefully...

  12. 'A place with no name' sound similar to 'A horse with no name' from the group Amerika. However if i understand correctly there was an agreement and co-operation between the group Amerika and MJ. However i hope that the song wich will be released from 'Xscape' before may 15 will be another song. 'A place with no name' from MJ is already all over the net, also YouTube for a long time now.

  13. Thank you Betty for sharing your experience at the Listening Party. You made feel as if I was there. I am so excited for the release of Michael's new Album, already it feels magical.

  14. Betty, this is beautiful. :) I felt like I was there with you. :D I too can't wait to Xscape. ;)

    Thanks for all your hard work that you do on Michael's behalf. <3 :)

  15. Betty .. the Mr. Brainwash backstory simply blew me away -