There are so many brilliant artists, musicians, songwriters and producers out there. But I guess everybody has their special favorites who inspire them more than others. And so do I. My musical heroes and inspirations are the big giants in the business, the ones who have proven for decades that they are musical geniuses. Me being a «melody man» who is always looking for the good melody in the music I listen to, it should be no surprise that all of my musical heroes are masters of melody. Here I will list my main musical favorites and why they inspire me so much.
«The ultimate collaborative artist»
Michael Jackson is my all time favorite artist and the one who got me interested in music in the first place. My first introduction to MJ was in kindergarten in 1987-1988 when I was 5-6 years old. I remember there was a girl there one year younger than me who loved his music and she brought the Bad album cassette to kindergarten and all the kids would dance around on the floor and on top of the tables to the groove of the music. But I was not one of them. I remember that at that time I did not like it, I was not used to this kind of «cool» adult music. Being only 5-6 years old I was at that time listening to children’s music so I remember sitting for myself not participating in the MJ craziness that was going on around me. Little did I know then how drastically that would change just a few years later.
Jumping fast to the year of 1992. I was 10 years old and my friends had persuaded me to join them starting with athletics. Up until then it was only football (soccer) that counted for me but I thought I could come along and try athletics as well. We were in a little sports hall at our school and our athletics coach always used to start with a warm-up consisting of some aerobics. The coach brought a portable cassette player with her and she had made a mix-tape with different music that she used during these aerobic sessions. I still remember to this day that the Michael Jackson songs «Beat it» and «Billie Jean» were on the tape but I did not make much attention to those songs then. But the coach had also some new songs on the mix-tape. I remember that the Prince song «Cream» from his 1991 album «Diamonds and pearls» was one of the songs on there. The same was MJ´s hit song «Remember the time» from his «Dangerous» album from the same year. And I am sure that «Black or white» from the same album was probably also there. But at the time all of these songs did not do anything special for me. It was not until one day, and I remember it like it was yesterday: we were in the end of our warm-up session and all of the mentioned songs had been played and the coach was just about to turn off the music when the intro to the MJ song «Heal the world» came on. I had never heard the song before so I did not know what it was but I remember that a girl named Cathrin shouted to the coach: «please don´t turn it off, we have to hear this song because it´s so beautiful»! And she was so right. When I suddenly heard Michael Jackson’s voice and that gorgeous melody together it just said SNAP! and from that moment on I was addicted – I had become a Michael Jackson fan and his music would follow me from that day.
When I had first discovered «Heal the world» I persuaded my parents to drive me to a a mall outside my hometown so I could go to a music store and buy the «Dangerous» album on cassette. I did not know the name of the song at all and I remember that in the music store I was going to listen to it before buying to be sure I got the right music. When the guy behind the counter did not know which song we meant when we said that we were looking for an MJ song he put on the lead single from «Dangerous, the super hit «Black or white». That song opens with a hard-rock guitar intro by Guns´n roses guitar player Slash and to a 10 year-old kid who was not used to that kind of hard music it was a bit too much. I fast let them know that it was not the right song and the guy changed to the song before – and the wonderful intro to Heal the world started up again and I knew I had found what I was looking for. After buying the cassette my father, who was not an MJ fan at all, put on the album as we were driving home from the mall. I remember just sitting in the car waiting for «Heal the world» to come so I could hear it again but it never came. It was not until we were home and had driven up the driveway to our house that the intro to «Heal the world» could be heard again. If we sat in the car listening to it I don´t remember, though.
After I had listened to only Michael Jackson’s «Dangerous» album for a long time my parents told me I could get another MJ album on cassette and I could choose which one I wanted. Not having any clue about the music at all I just chose from the look of the covers and I chose the «Bad» album as my second purchase. The cassettes to «Thriller» and «Off the wall» were given to me in that order as gifts in my Christmas calendar one year and funny enough that means that I got all my MJ albums in the opposite order from when they were released. In 1995 when MJ´s HIStory album was released I had started to buy CDs instead of cassettes so I remember only buying the HIStory album on CD and not on cassette. That turned out to be a problem after a little while because I only had a walkman to listen to music to in the car, I did not own a discman. So I had to solve that with making my own Michael Jackson HIStory mixtape where I mixed his «Best of» songs from disc 1 with the new songs on disc 2. Throughout all of the 90s I almost only listened to the 5 Michael Jackson albums «Off the wall», «Thriller», «Bad», «Dangerous» and «HIStory», almost as much so I wore up the cassette tapes. I knew the music inside-out. To every single football matches or athletics events I was going to and every car holidays driving throughout Norway I had the walkman with these MJ albums that I listened to repeatedly over and over again. In 1997 when the album « Blood on the dancefloor – HIStory in the mix» was released I certainly bought that and in 2001 when MJ´s last studio album «Invincible» was released I stood in line late at night on release day to get a copy. That album was released in 5 different colors and I was such a big fan that I had to get a copy of the album in all 5 colors and remember I had to go to different music stores to buy the different copies because I was too embarrassed to buy all 5 copies in one place.
So what makes Michael Jackson so incredible? What made him the music genius that he was? Well, Michael Jackson is a proof that you don´t need to be a multi-instrumentalist like Prince, Paul McCartney or Stevie Wonder to create your own music. He was born with a naturally God-given talent for coming up with melodies and music ideas and with the help of his unique perfect voice he could imitate the sound of all of the instruments he heard in his head and put down his first demos that way. He was also an incredible beatboxer and used that to put down the beats the way he heard it inside his head. After that, he had access to a whole team of the best musicians in the business to help him play the songs out with real instruments to get down more traditional demos. I have attended two of Brad Sundberg´s seminars called «In the studio with MJ», one in Stockholm and one in Oslo, in which he tells and explains how Michael Jackson worked in the studio creating his albums and those who think that MJ just got finished songs ready for him to sing are very wrong. Brad Sundberg is a sound engineer who worked with Michael Jackson on all his projects from «Captain EO» in 1986 through the «Bad», «Dangerous» and «HIStory» album projects and up until 1997, and he can tell about an artist who knew what he wanted on every song he worked on and could work on it over and over again until it was the way he wanted it to be. A true perfectionist so to say.
I have often wondered why I did not learn to play any instruments myself and I think it might have a lot to do with Michael Jackson. You tend to do what your idols are doing and because MJ was the kind of artist who did not sit down at a Piano playing or stand with a guitar in hand on stage I just was not inspired to do so. And considering he was all I was listening to in the 90s when I would have to learn to play that makes sense. But in retrospect I definitely wish I had done so because even if Michael Jackson and I had the same way to «receive» the music; with melodies and song ideas just popping into our heads, our abilities to do something about it was extremely different. MJ was equipped with an exceptional voice, beatboxing skills out of another world and a team of professional musicians to help him get all of his music ideas down while I had nothing of this at all. It has, however, led me to finding my own way of creating demos and showed me the importance of finding my own team to help me make my own music a reality.
In my opinion Michael Jackson was the ultimate collaborative artist. He wrote and created his own songs that he recruited a team of musicians to help him make demos for but he also co-wrote songs with other songwriters and producers and took song contributions from other external songwriters. No matter what he did he always put his own MJ touch to everything he worked on and lifted each song to another level.
Because of his extreme musical talent, creativity, extraordinary voice, melody sense, professionalism and collaborative gen, Michael Jackson is my all time favorite artist and the one who has inspired my the most when it comes to my own music.
«The ultimate individual artist»
I actually did not discover or start listening to prince until 2004-2005 when I was a student in Oslo. It´s quite strange to think about but I think that the reason is simply that because I was such a big Michael Jackson fan growing up, and these two music geniuses were so-called rivals, I chose to not listen to him and did not want to hear much about him. But I have to admit that I was very curious about him and when I heard «Kiss» on a mix CD during music quiz with friends I really liked it. But I would not admit it and I guess I was probably a «closet fan» of some Prince music back then. Fortunately, as I started studying and got a bit older and wiser, I started to understand that listening to and appreciating other kinds of music is just an advantage and that I don´t need to be less MJ fan even if I like Prince´s music, too. I believe it was hearing some songs from his 2004 «Musicology» album that got me really interested. As the follow-up album «3121» was released in 2006 I got even more interested and I started listening to more and more of his albums. Soon I even started to find his unreleased music and gained a lot of interest for a lot of it. The more I heard of Prince and the more I read about him I understood what an exceptional talent and genius he was. A man who teaches himself to play 30 different instruments is naturally different and after knowing he could sing, write, produce and arrange, was exceptionally prolific and had an own vault where he stored all of his unreleased music I was sold. There was so much mystery to this man and he produced so much fantastic music that it was impossible to not be impressed.
What’s so fascinating with Prince is that he did everything himself. Unlike Michael Jackson, who was a collaborative artist, Prince produced everything himself and even wrote and produced for other artists. Even if not every album was equally good he still had so much material in his catalogue that there was plenty to listen to. And he had something in almost every genre.
I admire Prince because of his ability to write, sing, play, produce and arrange his own music and create both extremely funky music as well as beautiful slow jams and I therefore consider him to be the ultimate individual musician.
STEVIE WONDER & PAUL MCCARTNEY:
«Amazing melody makers»
The two good friends Sir Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder are both songwriters who are masters of the good melody. If I get the question «who do you prefer, Lennon or McCartney», my answer would definitely be McCartney as I consider him to be the most melodic one. He is the initiator of many of my favorite Beatles songs, which usually are the more melody-driven and commercial songs. In addition, both his time with the Wings and in his solo career, he has managed to create amazing and melodic pop songs for decade after decade.
As for Stevie Wonder, he has so much respect from all his contemporaries for what he has produced over the years that I think it was Paul McCartney who one time said that Stevie Wonder made him want to retire. Just his masterpiece «Songs in the key of life» is enough to prove that Stevie Wonder is a genius with all of its beautiful melodies, but Wonder has so much more than that.
Because of their abilities to write and produce countless quality songs with beautiful melodies in addition to their musicianship and great vocal skills, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder are two musicians whom I admire very much.
«Genius melody composer»
The way Sir Elton John and his songwriting partner, lyricist Bernie Taupin, have been working ever since 1970 is nothing but impressive: Bernie Taupin writes some lyrics and send it over to Elton John who prints out the lyrics and sits down at his piano. Elton takes a look at the lyrics, places his fingers on the piano keys, and out comes a brand new stunning melody within a few minutes. This is the way they have been working from the start and they have never been in the same room together when working. Elton John has said that he can put a melody to anything, which he proved live in a TV show once when he was challenged to put a melody to something that one person in the audience had with them. The choice fell on a person who had a copy of Ibsen´s «Peer Gynt» and Elton sat down at the piano and created a melody to it that worked. That’s how good he is.
I admire Elton John for just this reason: his insane ability to compose amazing melodies as well as his crazy piano skills and great vocals.
PER GESSLE & MAX MARTIN:
«Swedish melody kings»
In my opinion, Per Gessle along with fellow Swede Max Martin, are the two best song creators and melody makers ever from the Nordic countries. Per Gessle, who started up writing the songs for the group «Gyllene Tider» which produced hits like «Sommartidar» and « När vi två blir en», continued writing almost all of the songs for the group Roxette as well as his own solo career. Per Gessle has an insane skill to create great melodies and catchy hooks and has done so for over 40 years.
Max Martin is the songwriter with the third most number 1 singles on the charts, behind only Paul McCartney and John Lennon. He has written and produced songs for Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift as well as numerous other artists.
Both these brilliant Swedish songwriters are masters of the good melody and that’s why I admire them.
JIMMY JAM/TERRY LEWIS & TEDDY RILEY
«R&B songwriter team & the New Jack swing founder»
Teddy Riley is the music producer who was the pioneer of the New Jack Swing genre that got very popular towards the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s. He successfully used this to produce some of the tracks on Michael Jackson’s 1991 «Dangerous» album, one of my absolute favorite albums ever.
Jam and Lewis is the incredibly successful songwriter/producer team who is most famous for being Janet Jackson’s regular collaborators. But they also collaborated with Michael Jackson as well as many other artists.
I admire Jam & Lewis and Teddy Riley because of their abilities to create quality super hits in the pop/R&B genre. They are also both pioneers who have developed their own sound.