Say Say Say
|"Say Say Say"|
|Single by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson|
|from the album Pipes of Peace|
|B-side||"Ode to a Koala Bear"|
|Released||3 October 1983|
|Recorded||Abbey Road, May–Sep 1981|
|Paul McCartney singles chronology|
"Say Say Say" is a pop single written and performed by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson. The track was produced by George Martin for McCartney's fifth solo album, Pipes of Peace (1983). The song was recorded during production of McCartney's 1982 Tug of War album, about a year before the release of "The Girl Is Mine", the pair's first duet from Jackson's album Thriller (1982). After its release in October 1983, "Say Say Say" became Jackson's seventh top-ten hit inside a year. It was a number one hit in the United States, Canada, Norway, Sweden, and several other countries, reached number two in the United Kingdom, and peaked within the top ten in Australia, Austria, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Switzerland, and over 20 other nations.
Certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, the song was promoted with a music video directed by Bob Giraldi. The video, filmed in Santa Ynez Valley, California, features cameo appearances by Linda McCartney, La Toya Jackson and Harry Dean Stanton. The short film centers around two con artists called "Mac and Jack" (played by McCartney and Jackson), and is credited for the introduction of dialogue and storyline to music videos.
Background, recording, and composition
McCartney had already collaborated with Jackson on "The Girl Is Mine", from the latter's Thriller, and in return Jackson agreed to work on "Say Say Say" for McCartney's Pipes of Peace. McCartney biographer Ray Coleman asserted that the majority of the song's lyrics were written by Jackson, and given to McCartney the next day. "Say Say Say" was recorded at Abbey Road Studios between May and September 1981. At the time, McCartney was recording Tug of War, the former Beatle's first solo album after the disbandment of his group Wings. Jackson stayed at the home of McCartney and his wife Linda during the recording sessions, and became friends with both. While at the dining table one evening, Paul McCartney brought out a booklet that displayed all the songs to which he owned the publishing rights. "This is the way to make big money", the musician informed Jackson. "Every time someone records one of these songs, I get paid. Every time someone plays these songs on the radio, or in live performances, I get paid." McCartney's words influenced Jackson's later purchase of the Northern Songs music catalogue in 1985.
"Say Say Say" is a pop song played in a B minor key. The track has been cited as a "pleading kind of love song".
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McCartney played several instruments on "Say Say Say", including percussion, synthesiser, guitar, and bass guitar. The harmonica was played by Chris Smith and the rhythm guitar was played by David Williams. The song was engineered by Geoff Emerick. The production of "Say Say Say" was completed in February 1983, after it had been refined and overdubbed at Cherokee Studios in California. George Martin, who had worked with The Beatles, produced the song. He said of his experience with Jackson, "He actually does radiate an aura when he comes into the studio, there's no question about it. He's not a musician in the sense that Paul is ... but he does know what he wants in music and he has very firm ideas." Jackson also spoke of the experience in his autobiography, Moonwalk. The younger singer revealed that the collaboration boosted his confidence, as Quincy Jones—producer of Thriller—was not present to correct his mistakes. Jackson added that he and McCartney worked as equals, stating, "Paul never had to carry me in that studio."
"Say Say Say" is cited as a pop song on the sheet music published on Musicnotes.com by Alfred Music Publishing. The song was performed in common time, with a dance beat of 116 beats per minute. It was composed in a B♭ minor key, and sung in a vocal range from F4 to B♭5. The lyrics to "Say Say Say" reflect an attempt to "win back" a girl's affection; Deseret News considered the song to be a "pleading kind of love song".
Release and reception
Following the release of Thriller and most of its singles, "Say Say Say" was released on 3 October 1983 by Parlophone Records in the UK and Columbia Records in the US. It remained atop Billboard's Hot 100 for six weeks and became Jackson's seventh top ten hit of 1983, breaking a record that until then was held jointly by The Beatles and Elvis Presley. Also in the US, "Say Say Say" reached number two on the R&B chart and number three on the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart.
Although the song had peaked at number ten in the UK, it began to fall steadily; McCartney subsequently held an early weekday live television interview, where he discussed the song's music video. This, along with screenings of the video on Top of the Pops (which normally played only singles that were rising in the charts), The Tube and Noel Edmonds' The Late, Late Breakfast Show, helped propel the song to number two on the UK Singles Chart. The belated release of the 12" single of "Say Say Say", remixed by John "Jellybean" Benitez, also contributed to the improved UK chart performance.
"Say Say Say" reached number one in Norway and Sweden, and the single also reached the top ten in Austria, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. With wholesale shipments of at least one million units, the single was later certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
"Say Say Say" received mixed reviews from music critics. The lyrics were named the worst of 1983 by The Buffalo News's Anthony Violanti, while the Lexington Herald-Leader stated in a review of Pipes of Peace that, aside from "Say Say Say" and "The Man", "McCartney waste[d] the rest of the album on bathos and whimsy". The Los Angeles Times' Paul Grein also reviewed the McCartney album and opined that the singer had redeemed himself with the success of the "spunky" song "but plunged back into wimpdom with 'No More Lonely Nights'". Journalist Whitney Pastorek compared the song to McCartney's 1982 duet with Stevie Wonder, "Ebony and Ivory". She asserted that "Say Say Say" was a better song, and had a better "though slightly more nonsensical" music video, adding that the song had no "heavy-handed social content". Penn State's The Daily Collegian described the track as a good song, despite its ad nauseam broadcasts.
The Deseret News stated that the "pleading love song" had a "masterful, catchy hook". In a Rolling Stone review, the track was described as an "amiable though vapid dance groove". The reviewer, Parke Puterbaugh, added that it was an "instantly hit-bound froth-funk that tends, after all, toward banality". Music critic Nelson George stated that "Say Say Say" would not have "deserved the airplay it received without McCartney and Jackson". Salon.com later described the song as a "sappy duet". The online magazine concluded that McCartney had become a "wimpy old fart". Billboard ranked the song third in its list of top tracks for 1984. In a 2007 article, a writer for the magazine Vibe listed "Say Say Say" as the 22nd greatest duet of all time. The writer commented that the song was "a true falsetto fantasy" and that it was "still thrilling to hear the sweet-voiced duo trade harmonies on the chorus". In 2005, Dutch musicians Hi Tack sampled "Say Say Say" on their debut single, "Say Say Say (Waiting 4 U)". The song featured Jackson's vocals from the original recording, plus McCartney's "Baby".
Production, plot, and reception
The music video (or "short film") for "Say Say Say" was directed by Bob Giraldi, who had previously directed Michael Jackson's music video for "Beat It". The McCartney/Jackson collaboration featured cameo appearances by the former's wife Linda, and the latter's older sister La Toya. To accommodate Jackson's busy schedule the video was filmed at Los Alamos near Santa Barbara, California. McCartney flew in specially for filming. The video cost $500,000 to produce.
In the short film, the duo play "Mac and Jack", a pair of conmen who sell a "miracle potion". The salesman (McCartney) offers Jackson the potion, and claims that it is "guaranteed to give you the strength of a raging bull". Jackson drinks the potion and challenges a large man to arm-wrestle. Unbeknownst to a watching crowd, the man—along with Linda—is also in on the scam. After Jackson wins the rigged contest, the crowd of people surge forward and buy the potion. Mac and Jack then donate all of the money earned from the scam to an orphanage. Later, while in a hotel, Jackson enters the bathroom as McCartney shaves. The latter playfully dabs shaving foam on Jackson's cheek, despite the fact that the younger man does not need a shave. After this scene, McCartney and Jackson star as vaudeville performers who sing and dance at a bar. On stage, the duo appear in clown makeup at one point and quickly go through a number of costume changes. Jackson's love interest, with whom he flirts, was played by his sister La Toya. The video ends with Paul, Linda, and Michael as they drive off into the sunset. La Toya, who was handed a bunch of flowers by McCartney, is left at the roadside.
Director Giraldi said of Jackson and McCartney, "Michael didn't outdance Paul, and Paul didn't outsing Michael". He added that production of the video was hard work because "the egos could fill a room". The video introduced both dialogue and storyline, an element extended upon in Michael Jackson's Thriller. In a 1984 study of music videos conducted by the National Coalition on Television Violence, the Jacksons were rated "very violent," citing Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," "Thriller", and "Say Say Say" as well as Jermaine Jackson's "Dynamite" and the Jacksons' "Torture." In a list compiled by Billboard at the end of 1984, the music video was named the fourth best of the year, and the rest of the top four were also short films by Jackson.
The Manchester Evening News later described the "Say Say Say" video as an "anarchic caper" that "plays out like an Emir Kusturica feature". PopMatters stated that the music videos of "Say Say Say" and "Goodnight Tonight" turned "a pair of otherwise forgettable songs into something worth watching". Steven Greenlee of The Boston Globe reflected that the video was both "horrifying and compelling", and stated the ridiculousness of a potion which could aid Jackson in beating somebody at arm wrestling. He added, "It's even harder to believe that the two of them didn't get the pulp beaten out of them in that bar for dressing like a pair of Chess King employees". The "Say Say Say" video was later included on the DVDs The McCartney Years and Michael Jackson's Vision.
Two authors later reviewed the short film and documented two central themes. The first is a "Child/Man" theme; the role of both a boy and an adult, which writer James M. Curtis states Jackson plays throughout the music video for "Say Say Say". Curtis writes that the bathroom scene involving the shaving foam is reminiscent of boys copying their fathers. He adds that the scene marks "the distinction between Michael's roles as a Child and as a Man". The writer also highlights the part where the singer supposedly becomes strengthened with a miracle potion, a further play on the "Child/Man" theme. Furthermore, Curtis observes that Paul and Linda McCartney seem to act as if they are Jackson's parents in the short film. The author also notes that in a scene where Jackson is handed a bouquet of flowers from a girl, it is a reversal of one from City Lights, a 1931 film starring Charlie Chaplin, whom the singer greatly adored.
The second of the two main themes in the music video is of African American history and culture, as some of the vaudeville scenes in the short film acknowledge minstrel shows and blackface. Author W. T. Lhamon writes that the video is set in the Californian Depression, and that McCartney and Jackson "convey a compactly corrupt history of blackface" as they con their way to riches with the Mac and Jack show. Lhamon was critical of the pair and of the video because he felt that the African American theme had not been made explicitly known. The author expressed his view that aspects of the short film were historically out-of-synch with interracial relations. He stated, "Nearly everything in the video is backward. Mack's white hand continually helping black Jack on board, for instance, reverses the general process I have shown of blacks providing whites with their sustaining gestures." Lhamon added, "In a just world, Jackson should be pulling McCartney onto the wagon, not the other way around."
Boston band Anal Cunt performed a novelty grindcore cover of the song on their split EP with The Raunchous Brothers, released in 2000. This version is also available on the band's 2008 compilation, Old Stuff – Part 3.
|Australian Singles Chart||4|
|Austrian Singles Chart||10|
|Canadian RPM Magazine Chart||1|
|Dutch Singles Chart||8|
|New Zealand Singles Chart||10|
|Norwegian Singles Chart||1|
|Swedish Singles Chart||1|
|Swiss Singles Chart||2|
|UK Singles Chart||2|
|US Billboard Hot 100||1|
|US R&B Singles Chart||2|
|End of decade (1980–1989)||Position|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||9|
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- Full lyrics of this song at MetroLyrics