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Earth Song

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"Earth Song"
Earth Song cover.jpg
Single by Michael Jackson
from the album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I
ReleasedNovember 27, 1995
Recorded
  • June 1989–August 1990[1]
  • September 1994–March 1995
Genre
Length
  • 6:46 (album version)
  • 5:02 (radio edit)
LabelEpic
Songwriter(s)Michael Jackson
Producer(s)
Michael Jackson singles chronology
"You Are Not Alone"
(1995)
"Earth Song"
(1995)
"This Time Around"
(1995)
Music video
"Earth Song" on YouTube
Audio sample
"Earth Song"

"Earth Song" is a song by American singer Michael Jackson from his ninth studio album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I. It was released on November 27, 1995, by Epic Records as the third single from the album. It is a ballad that incorporates elements of blues, gospel and opera. Though Jackson had a long history of releasing socially conscious songs such as "We Are the World", "Man in the Mirror" and "Heal the World", "Earth Song" was his first to overtly discuss the environment and animal welfare. "Earth Song" was made for the Dangerous album but it failed to make the final cut.

Written by Jackson and produced by Jackson, David Foster and Bill Bottrell, "Earth Song" was accompanied by a lavish music video which was shot in four geographical regions, centered on the destruction and rebirth of Earth, and went on to receive a Grammy nomination in 1997.[2] The song went number one in the United Kingdom, and was the nation's number-one Christmas single in 1995. It also topped the charts in Germany, Iceland, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland while peaking at number two in France, Ireland, and the Netherlands. Jackson went on to receive recognition from various animal and environmental organizations.

In 2011, the song was paired with the poem "Planet Earth" (previously released on Michael Jackson's This Is It, in 2009) and released as a song in the remix album Immortal.

Production[edit]

Jackson wrote "Earth Song" in the Hotel Imperial in Vienna under the working title "What About Us".[3][4] Jackson wanted to create a song that was lyrically deep, with an emotional message, but was melodically simple, so the whole world, particularly non-English-speaking fans, could sing along.[5]

"Earth Song" was produced by Jackson, David Foster and Bill Bottrell.[6] Andrae Crouch's Choir and Jackson engage in a call-and-response chant in the climax.[7]

According to bassist Guy Pratt, Jackson was recovering from plastic surgery at the time of Pratt's recording and hid under a mixing desk in the studio. Jackson passed instructions for Pratt to an assistant, who pretended that Jackson was not in the room.[8]

Composition[edit]

"Earth Song" is a ballad that incorporates elements of blues, gospel[9] and opera.

Jackson describes the dire situation that mankind has caused, ranging from war to devastation to animals and earth itself. Jackson calls on people to remember the earth is their inheritance from God via their ancestor Abraham. "What about death again" reminds all to think about eternal death, asking people to check their heart for repentance, or to see if they really cared at all. Having disfellowshipped himself from Jehovah's Witnesses, Jackson simplified his faith to focus on the Biblical Jesus Christ until his death.[10][11][12][13]

Reception[edit]

"Earth Song" received mostly positive reviews from music critics. A reviewer from Contra Costa Times called it "a bit sappy and overblown", but also acknowledged that it was "epic" and destined to be a "massive smash hit".[14] James Masterton for Dotmusic described it as a "towering gospel track".[15] Ledger-Enquirer observed that it "enjoys the same kind of subtlety, building to a dramatic call-and-response finish with the Andrae Crouch Choir".[7] Pan-European magazine Music & Media declared it as an "ecological anthem", stating that "even without the delightful arrangements (tentative piano, jazzy guitar licks, nature noises), the strong composition would have been a sure thing for the top of the EHR and ACE charts."[16] Music Week rated it five out of five, picking it as Single of the Week. They added, "This will be huge. Already a favourite from HIStory, it builds from a tweeting birds/strummed harp intro into a no-excess-barred epic, but is beautiful all the same."[17] The Philadelphia Inquirer deemed it "a healing, rhythmic ballad that evokes religious imagery".[13] Michael Mehle of Rocky Mountain News said the finale is "anthemic" and a "powerful gospel opus".[12] James Hunter of Rolling Stone stated, "The slow blues-operatic 'Earth Song' for all its noble sentiments, sounds primarily like a showpiece".[11] The Sacramento Bee described Jackson's vocal performance as "cool".[18] A reviewer from San Jose Mercury News called it "flat" and "whiny", believing Jackson had already experimented with these concepts earlier in his career.[19]

In 2017, ShortList's Dave Fawbert listed the song as containing "one of the greatest key changes in music history".[20] Jackson received the Genesis Award: 1995 Doris Day Music Award, given each year for animal sensitivity.[21]

Commercial performance[edit]

In the United Kingdom, "Earth Song" debuted at number one on the UK Singles Chart, where it remained for six weeks throughout December 1995 — beating the U2/Brian Eno project Passengers to win the Christmas number one spot — and into early 1996.[21][22] During its stay at number one, "Earth Song" kept the first single released by the Beatles in 25 years, "Free as a Bird", off the number one position as well as other bookmaker favourites "Wonderwall" by Oasis and "It's Oh So Quiet" by Bjork. In early December, bookmakers correctly predicted that Jackson would keep the Beatles off the top position and go on to attain the Christmas number-one single.[23][24] It went on to sell 1,210,297 copies in the nation as of September 2017.[25]

The song also took the number one position in Iceland, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, peaking within the top five in almost every European state.[26] In Germany, it was Jackson's first single to reach No. 1 on the German Singles Chart and held the summit for 5 consecutive weeks.[27]

The song was only released to radio in the US, appearing on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart (for the remix version of 1996).[28] In 2006, "Earth Song" reached number 55 on the European Hot 100 Singles chart, following the Visionary: The Video Singles campaign, whereby 20 of Jackson's hit singles from the 1980s to the 1990s were reissued in several European countries.[29]

Live performances[edit]

Earth Song was first performed on November 4, 1995, on the German TV program Wetten, dass..?, along with Dangerous. The next performance of the song was at the Brit Awards on February 19, 1996. During the performance, singer Jarvis Cocker ran onto the stage while Jackson was dangling off the edge of the crane. He lifted his shirt, pretended to break wind and gave Jackson the V-sign.[30] The 1996 World Music Awards was the next performance of the song on May 8, 1996.[31]

During the ending of the song, Jackson sang the line, "Tell me what about it", which was not heard in the song. On July 16, 1996, Jackson performed Earth Song at the Brunei Royal Concert at Jerudong Park Amphitheatre in Bandar Seri Begawan.[32] Similar to the World Music Awards performance, Michael sang the line, "Tell me what about it". The song was also performed on Jackson's HIStory World Tour from September 1996 to October 1997.[33]

It was later performed at the MJ & Friends concerts in June 1999. During the Munich performance on June 27, 1999, the middle section of the bridge collapsed into the air and came falling down instead of pausing in mid-air. The fall caused severe back pain to Jackson. After the concert, Jackson was rushed to a hospital.[34]

The song was also planned for his This Is It concerts in 2009 but was canceled due to Jackson's death. This was the last song Jackson ever performed, having rehearsed it on June 24, 2009, preparing for This Is It, hours before his death.[3]

Brit Awards incident[edit]

Jackson during a performance of "Earth Song" at the HIStory Tour in 1997. He dangled from the edge of a crane in a similar manner at the Brit Awards.

On February 19, 1996, Jackson performed "Earth Song" at the Brit Awards in the United Kingdom; he was there to collect a special "Artist of a Generation" award. Jackson sang while dangling off the edge of a high-rise crane elevator, which he had used the year before while performing it on the German TV show Wetten Dass. Below, a chorus of backing performers joined in and many began to embrace Jackson upon his descent.[3]

During the performance, singer Jarvis Cocker ran onstage without permission, lifted his shirt and pretended to break wind, before giving Jackson the V-sign.[21][35][36] Cocker was there with his band Pulp, who had been nominated for three Brit awards.[37] He was questioned by police over claims he had assaulted some of the child performers. A video provided by an undentified source showed that it was one of Jackson's crew who had barged into the children, not Cocker, and the charges of assault were dropped.[38]

Cocker said that he found the performance offensive, claiming that Jackson had portrayed himself as Christ-like and could do as he pleased because of his immense wealth and power.[21][35][36] However, he clarified that his actions weren't personally against Jackson himself, just the performance. He stated that he admired Jackson as a performer, proclaiming that: "He can dance, [...] anybody who invents the moonwalk is alright by me".[39] Jackson condemned Cocker's behavior as "disgusting and cowardly".[37] The incident is referred to in the book Politics and Popular Culture by John Street, Professor of Politics at the University of East Anglia. He says:

But to read popular culture as a straight-forward – or at least typical – political text is to take a very narrow view of its meaning, and hence of its political message(s). As we have noted, the text's meaning will depend on how it is heard and read. Michael Jackson may have intended his "Earth Song" as an exercise in compassion; others – like Jarvis Cocker – saw it quite differently. One reason these alternative readings emerge is because of the way the performance of popular culture engages more than a literal text, it employs gestures and symbols, tones of voice, looks and glances, all of which might tell a different story.[40]

2010 Grammy Awards performance[edit]

The song, along with a 3-D short film that was to be featured in Jackson's series of comeback concerts This Is It was performed as a tribute to Jackson.[41] Jennifer Hudson, Carrie Underwood, Smokey Robinson, Celine Dion and Usher all sang the song together, while the video played in the background. The film was shown in its original 3-D format during the broadcast.[42]

Target provided free 3-D glasses to customers a week before the Grammy Awards. Paris and Prince Jackson, Jackson's oldest children, appeared shortly after the performance to accept Jackson's Lifetime Achievement Award, where they both gave a short speech. This was the first time the children had spoken publicly since the memorial service that was held for Jackson on July 7, 2009.[43]

Music video[edit]

Jackson walking in a burnt down forest. This section of the music video was simulated in a corn field.

The music video for "Earth Song", directed by fine art photographer Nick Brandt, was expensive and well-received; it gained the 1995 Doris Day Music Award at the Genesis Awards and a Grammy nomination for Best Music Video, Short Form in 1997. The production had an environmental theme, showing images of animal cruelty, deforestation, pollution, poaching, poverty and war. Jackson and the world's people unite in a spiritual chant—"Earth Song"—which summons a force that heals the world. Using special effects, time is reversed so that life returns, war ends and the forests regrow. The video closes with a request for donations to Jackson's Heal the World Foundation.[21][44] The clip was shown infrequently in the United States.[45]

The video was filmed in four geographic regions (Americas, Europe and Africa). The first location was the Amazon Rainforest, where a large part was destroyed a week after the video's completion. Natives of the region appeared in the video and were not actors. The second scene was a war zone in Karlovac, Croatia, with famous Serbian actor Slobodan Dimitrijević and the residents of the area. The third location was Tanzania, which incorporated scenes of illegal poaching and hunting into the video. No animals were harmed in the making of the "Earth Song", as the footage came from documentary archives. The final location was in Warwick, New York, where a safe forest fire was simulated in a corn field.[46]

The video was also included on the video albums: HIStory on Film, Volume II, Number Ones and Michael Jackson's Vision.

Track listing[edit]

The DMC Megamix is a medley of Bad, Billie Jean, Black Or White, Don't Stop Til You Get Enough, Remember The Time, Rock With You, Scream, Thriller and Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'.

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Austria (IFPI Austria)[102] Platinum 50,000*
Belgium (BEA)[103] Gold 25,000*
France (SNEP)[104] Gold 250,000*
Germany (BVMI)[105] 2× Platinum 1,000,000^
Norway (IFPI Norway)[106] Gold  
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[107] Platinum 50,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[108] 2× Platinum 1,210,297[25]
United States (RIAA)[109] Gold 500,000double-dagger

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Personnel[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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