Another love was Brooke Shields. We were romantically serious for a while. There have been a lot of wonderful women in my life, women whose names wouldn't mean anything to the readers of this book, and it would be unfair to discuss them because they are not celebrities and are unaccustomed to having their names in print. I value my privacy and therefore I respect theirs as well.
Liza Minelli is a person whose friendship I'll always cherish. She's like my show business sister. We get together and talk about the business; it comes out of our pores. We both eat, sleep, and drink various moves and songs and dance. We have the best time together. I love her.
Right after we finished Off the Wall , I plunged into making the Triumph album with my brothers. We wanted to combine the best of both albums for our tour. "Can You Feel It?" was the first cut on the album, and it had the closest thing to a rock feel that the Jacksons had ever done. It wasn't really dance music either. We had it in mind for the video that opened our tour, kind of like our own Also Sprach Zarathrustra , the 2001 theme. Jackie and I had thought of combining the band sound with a gospel/children's choir feel. That was a nod a Gamble and Huff, in a way, because the song was a celebration of love taking over, cleansing the sins of the world. Randy's singing is so good, even if his range is not all he'd like it to be. His breathing and phrasing kept me pumped up on my toes when we sang it. There was a bright foghorn-type keyboard that I worked on for hours, going over it and over it again, until I got it the way I wanted it. We had six minutes, and I don't think it was one second too long.
"Lovely One" was an extension of "Shake Your Body Down to the Ground," with that lighter Off the Wall sound injected. I tried out a newer, more ethereal voice on Jackie's "Your Ways," with the keyboards adding a faraway quality. Paulinho brought out all the artillery: triangles, skulls, gongs. This song's about a strange girl who is the way she is and there's nothing I can do about it, other than enjoy it when I can.
"Everybody" is more playful than the Off the Wall dance tunes, with Mike McKinney propelling it like a plane turning and bearing down. The background vocals suggest "Get on the Floor's" influence, but Quincy's sound is deeper, like you're in the eye of the storm - our sound was more like going up the glass elevator to the top floor while looking down, rising effortlessly.
"Time Waits for No One" was written by Jackie and Randy with my voice and style in mind. They knew they were trying to keep up with the Off the Wall songwriters and they did a very good job. "Give It Up" gave everyone a chance to sing. Marlon in particular. We strayed from the band sound on those tracks, perhaps sinking back into that Philly trap of letting the arrangement overwhelm us. "Walk Right Now" and "Wondering Who" were closer to the Destiny sound, but for the most part they were suffering from too many cooks and not enough broth.
There was one exception: "Heartbreak Hotel." I swear that was a phrase that came out of my head and I wasn't thinking of any other song when I wrote it. The record company printed it on the cover as "This Place Hotel," because of the Elvis Presley connection. As important as he was to music, black as well as white, he just wasn't an influence on me. I guess he was too early for me. Maybe it was timing more than anything else. By the time our song had come out, people thought that if I kept living in seclusion the way I was, I might die the way he did. The parallels aren't there as far as I'm concerned and I was never much for scare tactics. Still, the way Elvis destroyed himself interests me, because I don't ever want to walk those grounds myself.
LaToya was asked to contribute the scream that opens the song - not the most auspicious start to a recording career, I'll admit, but she was just getting her feet wet in the studio. She has made some good records since and is quite accomplished. The scream was the kind that normally shatters a bad dream, but our intention was to have the dream only begin, to make the listener wonder whether it was a dream or reality. That was the effect I think we got. The three female backup singers were amused when they were doing the scary backup effects that I wanted, until they actually heard them in the mix.
"Heartbreak Hotel" was the most ambitious song I had composed. I think I worked on a number of levels: You could dance to it, sing along with it, get scared by it, and just listen. I had to tack on a slow piano and cello coda that ended on a positive note to reassure the listener; there's no point in trying to scare someone if there isn't something to bring the person back safe and sound from where you've taken them. "Heartbreak Hotel" had revenge in it and I am fascinated by the concept of revenge. It's something I can't understand. The idea of making someone "pay" for something they've done to you or that you imagine they've done to you is totally alien to me. The setup showed my own fears and for the first time being helped quell them. There were so many sharks in this business looking for blood in the water.
If this song, and later "Billie Jean," seemed to cast women in an unfavorable light, it was not meant to be taken as a personal statement. Needless to say, I love the interaction between the sexes; it is a natural part of life and I love women. I just think that when sex is used as a form of blackmail or power, it's a repugnant use of one of God's gifts.
Triumph gave us that final burst of energy we needed to put together a perfect show, with no marginal material. We began rehearsing with our touring band, which included bass player Mike McKinney. David Williams would travel with us too, but he was now a permanent member of the band.
The upcoming tour was going to be a big undertaking. We had special effects arranged for us by the great magician Doug Whining. I wanted to disappear completely in a puff of smoke right after "Don't Stop." He had to coordinate the special effects with the Showco people who controlled the whole setup. I was happy to talk with him while we walked through the routine. It seemed almost unfair for him to give me his secrets, and apart from the money I wasn't offering him anything he could make use of in return. I felt a little embarrassed about that, yet I really wanted our show to be great and I knew Henning's contribution would be spectacular. We were competing with bands like Earth, Wind, and Fire and the Commodores for the position of top band in the country, and we knew there were people who felt that the Jackson brothers had been around for ten years and were finished.
I had worked hard on the concept for the set for the upcoming tour. It had the feel of Close Encounters behind it. I was trying to make the statement that there was life and meaning beyond space and time and the peacock had burst forth ever brighter and ever prouder. I wanted our film to reflect this idea, too.
My pride in the rhythms, the technical advances, and the success of Off the Wall was offset by the jolt I got when the Grammy nominations were announced for 1979. Although Off the Wall had been one of the most popular records of the year, it received only one nomination: Best R&B Vocal Performance. I remember where I was when I got the news. I felt ignored by my peers and it hurt. People told me later that it surprised the industry too.
I was disappointed and then I got excited thinking about the album to come. I said to myself, "Wait until next time" - they won't be able to ignore the next album. I watched the ceremony on television and it was nice to win my category, but I was still upset by what I perceived as the rejection of my peers. I just kept thinking, "Next time, next time." In many ways an artist is his work. It's difficult to separate the two. I think I can be brutally objective about my work as I create it, and if something doesn't work, I can feel it, but when I turn in a finished album - or song - you can be sure that I've given it every ounce of energy and God-given talent that I have. Off the Wall was well received by my fans and I think that's why the Grammy nominations hurt. That experience lit a fire in my soul. All I could think of was the next album and what I would do with it. I wanted it to be truly great.