Were I forced to pick my favorite Michael Jackson recording -- and one of the best songs about New York City -- it would be "Human Nature," the late singer's 1982 ballad of desire. Recorded for the "Thriller" album, it's the song that I never tire of hearing, and one that makes the perfect aural gift on the King of Pop's birthday.
Jackson would have been 54 years old today. He recorded "Human Nature" 30 years ago at Westlake Recording Studios in West Hollywood. In fact, in addition to being the anniversary of his birth, during this period exactly three decades back, Jackson, producer Quincy Jones, and the rest of the band and production team were busy creating "Thriller." (And "Bad" celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.)
They commenced recording "Thriller" in April of '82, and concluded in November. The last song they put to tape was "Human Nature."
Written by lyricist John Bettis (who also wrote the Carpenters' "Top of the World" and Madonna's "Crazy for You," among many others) with music by Steve Porcaro of Toto, "Human Nature" is a perfect New York snapshot. It imagines the metropolis as a seductress, with Jackson trapped somewhere within four walls while "the city winks a sleepless eye." The allure is physical: He can hear the voice of New York "shake my window," and he's powerless against it. He can describe the pull but can't explain it: "Tell them that it's human nature -- why does he do me that way?"
Jackson relents, and ends up somewhere, probably a discoteque, where "electric eyes are everywhere." But one pair captures him, and he focuses on them. "She likes the way I stare." Human nature.
Cut to the next morning, where Manhattan and two lovers awake and "the city's heart begins to beat." The singer touches her shoulder, but already he's thinking of New York outside, which holds a stronger pull than any single woman within it. "Reaching out, I touch her shoulder," he whispers before confessing -- though not apologizing -- that "I'm dreaming of the street."
Why? Why? "Tell them that it's human nature, and I like living this way."
Happy birthday, MJ.
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter @liledit