The True Story of Billie Jean




September 07 - 2006

Recording and Mixing "Billie Jean"....

The year is 1982. The song is "Billie Jean". The sonic image of Michael Jacksons' "Billie Jean" is a perfect example of what happened, when I sat around dreaming awhile, about combining different recording techniques to produce a unique musical canvas with a tremendous 'sonic personality'. Of course I was comfortably ensconsed in Westlake Audio’s beautiful new Studio ‘A’ on Beverly Boulevard, with my good friends Quincy Jones, Micheal Jackson and Rod Temperton. We were doing our favorite thing... We were making music!!! We had just started recording Michael Jackson’s album “Thriller”...

We were recording Michael’s song “Billie Jean”.....

I recorded the drums,(played by the fantastic drummer, N'Dugu) with as tight, and powerful a drum sound as I could come up with. Of course I put N'Dugus' drum set on my plywood drum platform. Also at this time, I had a special kick drum cover made that covers the whole front of the kick drum. There's a slot with a zipper in it that the mike fits through. When the kick drum mike is in place, in the slot in my drum cover, I zip the opening tightly shut around the mike.

I brought in my old pal George Massenburgs' spectacular sounding, portable, 12 channel recording console and used it to record the rhythm section. With it I recorded the bass, drums and guitars on my analogue 16 track, with no noise reduction equipment in the way of that fantastic sound!

In my estimation, the the result of the song “Billie Jean”, is a perfect example of what I call “Sonic Personality”. I don’t think there are many recordings, where all you need to hear is the first few drums beats, and you instantly know what song it is.

Great albums always start with great songs....

"Billie Jean" is just such a superb song! Of course, Michael wrote "Billie Jean"..

Quincy says that the lyric that Michael wrote is highly personal. I’m sure that’s true. Michael told us... it was about a girl, that climbed over the wall at Michael’s house, and was lounging out there, by the swimming pool.... she was laying out there, near the pool , lounging... hangin’ out... with shades on, her bathing suit on. One morning she just showed up! Kind of like a stalker, almost. She had accused Michael of being the father of ONE of her twins... Is that possible? I don’t think so....

When it came time for me to mix "Billie Jean", it was business as usual... When I am working with Michael, Quincy, Rod, Jennifer, Sergio and so on..... I am allowed total ceative freedom with the sonics of the music... In other words, I am always left to myself when it is time to mix. My mixes can take hours, days or even weeks.... I firmly believe that a mix is not finished, until it is on a Record for sale at Tower....

So I had been mixing "Billie Jean" for a day or two. I’d do a mix. ..... Say I was up to mix number 2.... (At that time I was mixing onto 1/2” analogue.) I thought it was killer!!!

I called MJ, Quincy and Rod into the control room and played mix 2 for them. They loved it!!! They were all dancing and carrying on like crazy!!! Smiles all around! Then Michael slipped out of the control room, turned around and motioned to me to follow him... Then he whispered to me, “Please Bruce, it’s perfect, but turn the Bass up just a tiny bit, and do one more mix, please....” I said to him...”OK Smelly, no problem”...

(When we were recording “Off The Wall”, Quincy gave Michael the nickname of “Smelly” because when Michael liked a groove, he’d call it “Smelly Jelly.” Also Michael doesn’t curse, and when MJ wants to say a bad word he’ll simply call it “Smelly”... The name has stuck...)

Then I went back into the control room to add Michael’s tiny bit of bass to my mix... Quincy pulled me over into the corner and said “Please Svensk... “(Svensk is Quincy’s nickname for me. It means “Swedish Man” in Swedish... When you have a genuine Quincy Jones nickname like ‘Svensk” - You are truly honored....) Q said to me.... “Add a little garlic salt to the snare and the kick. Just a squirt!!!”) so I went back into the control room and added a little garlic salt to the snare and the kick. Just a squirt!!! Now I was up to mix 20 on "Billie Jean".

Well, this went on for about a week. Soon I was up to mix 91!!! I had a stack of 1/2 inch tapes almost to the ceiling!!! I would do a few mixes, we’d listen... Then do a few more. We had it PERFECT!!! We thought we had a really ‘HOT’ mix on “Billie Jean”. I played Mix 91 for the boys... Everybody smiled... but Quincy had one of his funny looks on his face...

I thought.... Hmmmm.... Oh, Oh....

Quincy said “You know Svensk, just for the fun of it, can we listen to one of your earlier mixes???” My heart jumped because I knew that my earlier mixes were dynamite!!! Then Quincy said, “Let’s hear mix number 2!!!” Oh WOW!!!! Hallelujah!!! I love mix 2!!!!

We listened to mix 2... IT WAS SLAMMIN’!!! EVERYONE IN THE STUDIO WAS GROOVIN’ AND DANCIN’ and HAPPY, and actin’ IGNORANT!!!!

Well, here’s the deal. When “Thriller” was released to the Whole World by Epic Records, on Tuesday, November 30, 1982, it went to Tower Records with MIX 2 OF "Billie Jean" on it!!! AND, when the single of "Billie Jean" came out it was MIX 2!!!

The REAL Story of "Billie Jean"...

Bruce Swedien





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