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 Audios
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 Jacksons album Thriller...
We were recording Michaels 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 dont 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.
Im sure thats true. Michael told us... it was
about a girl, that climbed over the wall at Michaels 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 dont 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.
Id do a mix. ..... Say I was up to mix number 2.... (At
that time I was mixing onto 1/2 analogue.) I thought it
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, its
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, hed call it Smelly Jelly.
Also Michael doesnt curse, and when MJ wants to say a
bad word hell simply call it Smelly... The
name has stuck...)
Then I went back into the control room to add Michaels
tiny bit of bass to my mix... Quincy pulled me over into the
corner and said Please Svensk... (Svensk is Quincys
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, wed 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
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, Lets 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
Well, heres 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"...