Michael was amazing.I can’t think of a studio moment that blew us away more than the first time he got in front of a microphone on “Scream.” It was really funny.First of all,when we put that track together,I had Janet come to Minneapolis.I just said, “I need you to be here for inspiration.” So Terry and I put together four or five different tracks,and for one of the tracks,Janet said, “I hope he doesn’t like this one,because I want this one for me.” And another one of the tracks,she said, “This is the one he’s going to like,I know my brother.”
So we go to the Hit Factory in New York.We played all these tracks,and when the track that ended up being “Scream” came on,he said, “Yeah I like that.” Janet said, “I told you that’s the one he was going to like! I’m so glad he didn’t like that other track.” Well,the other track ended up being “Runaway,” her single from Design of a Decade.I actually thought that track would’ve been a great duet for them,but Michael wanted to be real aggressive and real hard.He had things on his mind about how he felt he was being treated in the press.And the track for “Scream” was sonically perfect for what he wanted to do lyrically.
When he went into the studio,the idea was that he was going to sing it first and then Janet would go in and sing after him.So Janet’s sitting there,me and Terry are sitting there,and Michael goes in.Before he sings,he’s just real calm and quiet, “Can you turn my headphones up a little bit?” Then all of a sudden the music comes on and he starts dancing around the room,hitting all his signature moves.And he’s like,wearing a bracelet or something while clapping — you’re not really supposed to do that when you’re on the mic,but it didn’t even matter.When it was over,I swear to God, it was just silence in the room.He said, “How was that?” We’re like, “Yeah,that sounded really good.” And I turned and looked at Janet and she said to me, “I’ll just do my vocal in Minneapolis.” It was like, “I’m not going to do my vocal right now.” Obviously he just killed it, right? [laughs]
So we go to Minneapolis with Janet,where she does a great job on her vocal.We send it to Michael,he goes, “Wow,Janet sounds great.Where did she record that vocal?” I said it was in Minneapolis. “I’m coming to Minneapolis.” So Michael comes to Minneapolis to re-record his vocal,and it was a real glimpse into his competitive nature.It didn’t even matter that it was his sister.It was just like, “No.I have to redo it.She did hers,I have to redo mine.” It was just crazy,his competitiveness even with his own sister.But it was that drive for perfection.And the original vocal he did in New York ended up being probably 90 percent of the vocal on the final song.
It was great too,working with Prince and working with Michael,they were polar opposites in the way they worked.Prince would walk in the studio at the beginning of the day and he’d walk out with “1999,” done.Michael,we’d spend a day just on the volume of the handclaps.I mean,literally.And we’d turn them up and he’d say, “Okay, I’ll come back tomorrow and we’ll listen to it again.” We come back the next day,and he’d go, “Can we turn that up just a little more?” Yes,we turn it up. “Okay,make me a tape.” Okay. “I’ll come back tomorrow and we’ll listen again.” I mean,it was literally like that.But that was,you know,learning from people like Quincy Jones,people who were very meticulous about what they did.
Michael was married to Lisa Marie Presley at the time we were working with him. And I remember my wife asking Lisa what attracted her to Michael.She looked at my wife and just said, “He’s the kindest man I’ve ever known.” And I remember thinking the same thing after working with him.Just a nice dude.
That reminds me, we used to get into these big, long conversations. And Michael would pick my brain about stuff,always curious about everything.He said to me, “Jimmy,how do you want to be remembered?” I asked him what he meant. “When people talk about you after you’re gone,how do you want to be remembered?” And I said, “I want to be remembered as a nice guy.” Michael goes, “No,I mean,as a producer,how many number one songs,” you know,whatever,whatever.I just said, “Michael,those are statistics.I don’t want someone to say ‘Oh yeah,that Jimmy Jam,he had a bunch of number one hits.’ I just want them to say, ‘Jimmy Jam,he was a nice guy.’”
Fast forward about a year later We needed to get a sample cleared and he was the only one who could clear it.I ended up having to call him directly.I said, “Michael,how are you?” He said, “I’m good.I know you wanted to ask me something,but before that,can I just tell you something?” I said sure.He said, “Remember what you said about how you want to be remembered?” I said yes. “Well,every time someone asks me about you,I just say, ‘Jimmy Jam,he’s the nicest guy.’” And I said, “Great! You get it now,Michael?” And he said, “I totally get it.”
At the end of the day,after all the talent and all the groundbreaking stuff he did,he was just simply a nice guy.He was one of the nicest people I’ve met and worked with ever.
— Jimmy Jam