Stranger in Moscow

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"Stranger in Moscow"
Single by Michael Jackson
from the album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I
Released November 4, 1996 (Worldwide)
August 28, 1997 (U.S.)
Format CD single Cassette single, 7", 12"
Recorded September 16, 1993 - October 1994
Genre Downtempo,[1] trip hop,[2] pop, R&B
Length 5:44 (Album Version)
5:24 (Album Edit)
4:05 (Radio Edit)
5:32 (Video Mix)
Label Epic
Writer(s) Michael Jackson
Producer(s) Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson singles chronology
"HIStory/Ghosts"
(1997)
"Stranger in Moscow"
(1997)
"Is It Scary"
(1997)
HIStory Continues track listing
"They Don't Care About Us"
(2)
"Stranger in Moscow"
(3)
"This Time Around"
(4)

"Stranger in Moscow" is a song by American recording artist Michael Jackson from his ninth studio album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I. The song was released worldwide in November 1996, but was not released in the United States until August 1997 by Epic Records. The track was written by Jackson in September 1993 at the height of the highly publicized child abuse accusations made against him, while on the Dangerous World Tour stop in Moscow. It was originally written as a poem by Jackson, then it was adapted into a song.

The song's music video depicts the lives of six individuals, including Jackson, who are left isolated and disconnected from the world around them. The song was performed on the HIStory World Tour in 1996-97. It was covered a few times by other artists.

Context, production and music[edit]

In the book The Many Faces of Michael Jackson, author Lee Pinkerton, like many other reviewers, noted that HIStory '​s album tracks like "Stranger in Moscow" were Jackson's response to recent events in his personal life.[3] In 1993, the relationship between Jackson and the press soured entirely when he was accused of child sexual abuse. Although never charged with a crime, Jackson was subject to intense media scrutiny while the criminal investigation took place. Complaints about the coverage and media included using sensational headlines to draw in readers and viewers when the content itself did not support the headline,[4] accepting stories of Jackson's alleged criminal activity in return for money,[5] accepting leaked material from the police investigation in return for money paid,[6] deliberately using pictures of Jackson's appearance at its worst,[7] a lack of objectivity[7] and using headlines that strongly implied Jackson's guilt.[7]

At the time, Jackson said of the media reaction, "I will say I am particularly upset by the handling of the matter by the incredible, terrible mass media. At every opportunity, the media has dissected and manipulated these allegations to reach their own conclusions".[8] The entertainer began taking painkillers, Valium, Xanax and Ativan to deal with the stress of the allegations made against him.[9] A few months after the allegations became news, Jackson had lost approximately 10 pounds (4.5 kg) in weight and had stopped eating.[10] Jackson's health had deteriorated to the extent that he canceled the remainder of his Dangerous World Tour and went into rehabilitation.[11][12] Jackson booked the whole fourth floor of the clinic, and was put on a Valium IV to wean him from painkillers.[11][12][13] The singer's spokesperson told reporters that Jackson was "barely able to function adequately on an intellectual level".[12] While in the clinic, Jackson took part in group and one-on-one therapy sessions.[11][12]

When Jackson left the US to go into rehabilitation, the media showed the singer little sympathy. The Daily Mirror held a "Spot the Jacko" contest, offering readers a trip to Walt Disney World if they could correctly predict where the entertainer would appear next.[11] A Daily Express headline read, "Drug Treatment Star Faces Life on the Run", while a News of the World headline accused Jackson of being a fugitive. These tabloids also falsely alleged that Jackson had traveled to Europe to have cosmetic surgery that would make him unrecognizable on his return.[11] Geraldo Rivera set up a mock trial, with a jury made up of audience members, even though Jackson had not been charged with a crime.[14]

"Stranger in Moscow" is an R&B ballad,[13][15] penned by Jackson in 1993 during his Dangerous World Tour stop in Moscow. The song is based upon an instrumental theme originally written by Jackson and his tour keyboardist Brad Buxer for the 1994 video game, Sonic the Hedgehog 3.[16] The lyrics for the song are based upon a poem written by Jackson. A background guitar was played by Steve Lukather while keyboards, synthesizers and bass are credited to David Paich and Steve Porcaro.[17] Originally, HIStory was planned as a greatest hits release, with a few new tracks. However, Jackson and his collaborators were so pleased with the result of "Stranger in Moscow" that they decided to give HIStory a full studio album as the second disc.[18] Jackson used elements of Russian imagery and symbolism to help promote the concept of fear and alienation in the track, in a similar fashion to Simply Red's album Love and the Russian Winter several years later.[19] It concludes with a narrative, spoken in Russian, by a KGB interrogator (Ed Wiesnieski).[20] The narrative, translated into English is, "Why have you come from the west? Confess! To steal the great achievements of the people, the accomplishments of the workers...".[21]

Music and critical reception[edit]

Excerpt of the single "Stranger in Moscow". The first segment presents an instrumental solo followed by the repetitive chorus that brought critical acclaim.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Stranger in Moscow has a tempo of 66 beats per minute, making it one of Jackson's slowest songs.[22] The song was critically acclaimed by critics and music producers. James Hunter of Rolling Stone commented "[Jackson is] angry, miserable, tortured, inflammatory, furious about what he calls, in 'Stranger in Moscow', a 'swift and sudden fall from grace'...HIStory feels like the work of someone with a bad case of Thriller nostalgia. Occasionally this backward focus works to Jackson's advantage: On 'Stranger in Moscow' he remembers the synth-pop '80s while constructing wracked claims of danger and loneliness that rival any Seattle rocker's pain."[23]

Jon Pareles of The New York Times stated, "The ballads are lavishly melodic. 'Stranger In Moscow', with odd lyrics like 'Stalin's tomb won't let me be,' has a gorgeous chorus for the repeated question "How does it feel?".[13] Fred Shuster of the Daily News of Los Angeles described it as, "a lush, gorgeous minor-key ballad with one of the album's catchiest choruses"[24]

Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic noted of HIStory, "Jackson produces some well-crafted pop that ranks with his best material...'Stranger in Moscow' is one of his most haunting ballads.[25] Longtime collaborator Bruce Swedien, has described "Stranger in Moscow" as one of the best songs Jackson had ever done.[18] Patrick Macdonald of The Seattle Times described "Stranger in Moscow" as "a pretty ballad interspersed with sounds of rain."[26] Further praise came in 2005 when it was felt that the song had successfully portrayed "eerie loneliness" and was characterized as beautiful by Josephine Zohny of PopMatters.[27] Tom Molley of the Associated Press described it as "[a] ethereal and stirring description of a man wounded by a 'swift and sudden fall from grace' walking in the shadow of the Kremlin".[28]

Chris Willman of Los Angeles Times stated "'Stranger in Moscow', is a step removed from the focused paranoia of much of the rest of the album, more akin to the deeper, fuzzier dread of a past perennial like 'Billie Jean'. Jackson imagines himself alone and adrift in a psychic Russia, pre-glasnost, hunted by an unseen KGB: 'Here abandoned in my fame / Armageddon of the brain', he sings in the somber, constricted verses, before a sweeping coda kicks up four minutes in and the stalkee suddenly breaks his cool to wail about a desolate, inconsolable loneliness. Here, in this song, is the real genius—and probably real personhood—of Michael Jackson".[29]

Rod Temperton, one of Jackson's songwriters from his earlier career, believes that this is his best song.[30]

Music video plot and influence[edit]

Michael Jackson walking the streets of the city in the music video

The song's music video, directed by Nick Brandt, and shot in Los Angeles, is focused around six unrelated people living in a cityscape while the rest of the world moves around them in slow motion. The first half of the video introduces these figures. They are a man looking down at the city from his bedroom window, a woman sitting alone in a coffee shop, a homeless man lying on the damp street, a lone figure feeding pigeons, a boy ostracized from a game of baseball, and Jackson himself is the sixth figure, seen walking the city streets while he sings. Special effects are used to show birds and wasps flying, glass breaking and coffee spilling, all in slow motion.

In the second half of the scenario, heavy rain descends on the city and the citizens try to flee, all again seen in slow motion. From the safety of shelter, the six "strangers" watch everyone's futile attempts to avoid the sudden change in weather. Eventually they decide to go outside, where they look up at the sky and allow the rain to soak them. The video ends with Michael whipping his hair. During this scene, you hear a voicing softly in Russian, a reference to Moscow.

The music video also appears on Jackson's video albums HIStory on Film, Volume II and Michael Jackson's Vision.

Jackson's biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli, has stated that the video is based on Jackson's real life. He used to walk alone at night looking for new friends, even at the peak of his musical popularity. The 1980s saw him become deeply unhappy; Jackson explained, "Even at home, I'm lonely. I sit in my room sometimes and cry. It's so hard to make friends ...I sometimes walk around the neighborhood at night, just hoping to find someone to talk to. But I just end up coming home".[28][31]

Live performances[edit]

Jackson first performed the song during the HIStory World Tour, which also turned out to be the last live performance of the song. Jackson always performed the song wearing golden jacket and pants. The song was always lipsynced, instead focusing on Jackson's robotic and gliding dance moves. Along with Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground), Billie Jean and Smooth Criminal, it was one of the few songs where Jackson did the moonwalk. The song was also due to be performed for the This Is It concert series, but the shows were cancelled due to his untimely death.

Cover versions[edit]

Charts[edit]

Chart (1996) Peak
position
Australian Singles Chart[32] 14
Austrian Singles Chart[32] 7
Belgium (Vl)[32] 25
Belgium (Wa)[32] 21
Dutch Singles Chart[32] 4
Finnish Singles Chart[32] 14
French Singles Chart[32] 18
New Zealand Singles Chart[32] 6
Italian Singles Chart[32] 1
Spanish Singles Chart[32] 1
Swedish Singles Chart[32] 21
Swiss Singles Chart[33] 5
UK Singles Chart[34] 4
US Billboard Hot 100[35] 91
Spanish Singles Chart[36] 1
Chart (2009) Peak
position
Swiss Singles Chart[33] 75
UK Singles Chart[37] 91

Track listing[edit]

Austrian CD maxi single
No. Title Length
1. "Stranger in Moscow"   5:44
2. "Stranger in Moscow" (Hani's Extended Chilli Hop Mix) 6:06
3. "Stranger in Moscow" (Hani's Num Club Mix) 10:20
4. "Stranger in Moscow" (Basement Boys Radio Mix) 4:06
5. "Stranger in Moscow" (Spensane Vocal Mix [R&B]) 4:48
6. "Stranger in Moscow" (12" Dance Club Mix) 8:18
Total length:
38:42

Personnel[edit]

  • Written, composed and produced by Michael Jackson
  • Vocal arrangement by Michael Jackson and John Barnes
  • Solo and background vocals by Michael Jackson
  • Keyboard, synthesizer and bass by David Paich
  • Keyboard and synthesizer by Steve Porcaro
  • Background guitar by Steve Lukather
  • Michael Jackson's heartbeat recording by Dr. Eric Chevlen: digitally processed in the Synclavier
  • Rhythm arrangement by Michael Jackson and John Barnes

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "A Stranger in Moscow...". TheCouchSessions. Retrieved 2013-06-15. 
  2. ^ Vozick-Levinson, Simon. "Tame Impala - "Stranger in Moscow" Single Review". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2 May 2014. ... it's an oddly faithful rendition of MJ's chill trip-hop groove... 
  3. ^ Pinkerton, Lee (1998). The Many Faces of Michael Jackson. Music Sales Distribution. p. 34. ISBN 0-7119-6783-0. 
  4. ^ Campbell (1995), p. 42–45
  5. ^ Campbell (1995), p. 77–80
  6. ^ Campbell (1995), p. 47–50
  7. ^ a b c Taraborrelli, p. 500–507
  8. ^ "Michael Jackson speaks: 'I am totally innocent of any wrongdoing.'". Jet.com. Johnson Publishing Company. 1994-01-10. Retrieved 2010-01-26. 
  9. ^ Taraborrelli, p. 518–520
  10. ^ Taraborrelli, p. 514–516
  11. ^ a b c d e Campbell (1995), p. 89–93
  12. ^ a b c d Taraborrelli, p. 524–528
  13. ^ a b c Pareles, Jon (1995-06-18). "Pop View; Michael Jackson Is Angry, Understand?". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2008-09-18. 
  14. ^ Campbell (1995), p. 104–106
  15. ^ "Stranger In Moscow". Allmusic. Retrieved 2008-11-06. [dead link]
  16. ^ Montgomery, James (2009-12-04). "Did Michael Jackson Compose 'Sonic The Hedgehog 3' Soundtrack?". MTV.com. Retrieved 2009-12-05. 
  17. ^ George, p. 12
  18. ^ a b "MJ visionary". Sony BMG. Archived from the original on April 8, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-05. 
  19. ^ Swygart, William (2008-04-08). "Top Ten Things About "Rasputin" By Boney M". Stylus magazine. Retrieved 2008-11-05. 
  20. ^ Jackson, Michael. HIStory booklet. Sony BMG. p 42
  21. ^ Jackson, Michael. Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix booklet. Sony BMG. p 9
  22. ^ The Complete Michael Jackson, International Music Publications Ltd, 1997, ISBN 1859094473, p81
  23. ^ Hunter, James (1995-08-10). "Michael Jackson HIStory". Rolling Stone (Wenner Media LLC). Archived from the original on 2008-06-22. Retrieved 2008-07-23. 
  24. ^ Fred Shuster, Jackson attempts to rewrite 'history', Daily News of Los Angeles, 1995-06-18
  25. ^ Erlewine, Stephen. "Michael Jackson HIStory Overview". Allmusic.com. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 2010-01-27. 
  26. ^ Macdonald, Patrick (1995-06-21). "`History' Lesson: Jackson's Living On Past Glories". The Seattle Times. The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2008-11-07. 
  27. ^ Zohny, Josephine (2005-02-09). "In Defense Of Michael". PopMatters. Retrieved 2008-11-05. 
  28. ^ a b Molloy, Tim (2005-05-22). "Michael Jackson seemingly gives his side of story – on decade-old album". Associated Press. Retrieved 2008-11-05. 
  29. ^ Chris Williams (1995-06-18). "Pop Music Review: Hits and Missives". The Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Retrieved 2010-01-27. 
  30. ^ http://tripatlas.com/Stranger_in_Moscow
  31. ^ Taraborrelli, p. 206
  32. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "M. Jackson - Stranger In Moscow (nummer)". Ultratop.be. Ultratop. Retrieved 2008-09-14. 
  33. ^ a b "Swiss Singles Chart Archives". Hitparade.ch. Hung Medien. Retrieved 2010-01-27. 
  34. ^ George, Nelson (2004). Michael Jackson: The Ultimate Collection booklet p, 48–50. Sony BMG.
  35. ^ "Artist Chart History - Michael Jackson". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. Retrieved 2010-01-27. 
  36. ^ http://spanishcharts.com/weekchart.asp?cat=s&year=2006&date=20060702
  37. ^ "UK Singles Chart". The Official Charts Company. Archived from the original on July 30, 2008. Retrieved 6 July 2009. 

References[edit]