Stranger in Moscow
|"Stranger in Moscow"|
|Single by Michael Jackson|
|from the album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I|
|B-side||"Off the Wall" (Junior Vasquez Mix)|
|Released||November 4, 1996 (Worldwide)
August 28, 1997 (US)
|Format||CD single, cassette single, 7-inch, 12-inch|
(Los Olivos, California)
The Hit Factory
(New York City, NY)
Sony Music Studios
(New York City, NY)
|Genre||Downtempo, trip hop, pop, R&B|
|Length||5:44 (album version)
5:24 (album edit)
4:05 (radio edit)
5:32 (video mix)
|Michael Jackson singles chronology|
|"Stranger In Moscow" on YouTube|
"Stranger in Moscow" is a song by American recording artist Michael Jackson from his ninth studio album HIStory. 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 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. This is Jackson's lowest charting song on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 91, though charted in the top 10 in numerous countries worldwide, including Australia, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The song was performed on the HIStory World Tour in 1996–1997. It was covered a few times by other artists.
Context, production and music
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. 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, accepting stories of Jackson's alleged criminal activity in return for money, accepting leaked material from the police investigation in return for money paid, deliberately using pictures of Jackson's appearance at its worst, a lack of objectivity and using headlines that strongly implied Jackson's guilt.
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". A few months after the allegations became news, Jackson had lost approximately 10 pounds (4.5 kg) in weight and had stopped eating. Jackson's health had deteriorated to the extent that he canceled the remainder of his Dangerous World Tour and went into rehabilitation. Jackson booked the whole fourth floor of the clinic, and was put on a Valium IV to wean him from painkillers. The singer's spokesperson told reporters that Jackson was "barely able to function adequately on an intellectual level". While in the clinic, Jackson took part in group and one-on-one therapy sessions.
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. 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. 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.
"Stranger in Moscow" is an R&B ballad, penned by Jackson in 1993 during his Dangerous World Tour stop in Moscow. The instrumental portion of the song is based on the end credits theme of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994), a video game which Jackson and his tour keyboardist Brad Buxer were brought in to compose music for. Conflicting accounts state that Jackson either dropped out of the project after scandals involving him arose around this time or because of his own personal dissatisfaction with the limitations of the Sega Genesis's sound chip. 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. 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. 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. It concludes with a narrative, spoken in Russian, by a KGB interrogator (Ed Wiesnieski). 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...".
Music and critical reception
Stranger in Moscow has a tempo of 67 beats per minute, making it one of Jackson's slowest songs.
The song received praise from music reviewers and 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.
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 beautiful chorus for the repeated question 'How does it feel?' ". Fred Shuster of the Daily News of Los Angeles described it as, "a lush, pretty minor-key ballad with one of the album's catchiest choruses".
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". Longtime collaborator Bruce Swedien, has described "Stranger in Moscow" as one of the best songs Jackson had ever done. Patrick Macdonald of The Seattle Times described "Stranger in Moscow" as "a pretty ballad interspersed with sounds of rain." 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. Tom Molley of the Associated Press described it as "[an] ethereal and stirring description of a man wounded by a 'swift and sudden fall from grace' walking in the shadow of the Kremlin".
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.
Music video plot and influence
The song's music video, directed by Nick Brandt, and shot in Los Angeles, is focused around six unrelated people living in isolation in a cityscape on a dark, cloudy day while the rest of the world moves around them in slow motion. The first half of the video introduces these figures. Five of the figures are: a bald man looking down at the city from his apartment window, a middle-aged woman sitting alone in a coffee shop, a homeless man lying on the damp street, a well-dressed man feeding pigeons, and a teenage boy ostracized from a game of baseball. The sixth figure is Jackson himself, 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, a soft Russian voice is heard, a reference to Moscow.
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 neighbourhood at night, just hoping to find someone to talk to. But I just end up coming home."
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 lip-synced, 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 songs where Jackson did the moonwalk. The song was also due to be performed for the This Is It concerts on certain nights replacing Human Nature, but the shows were cancelled due to his death.
- The German electronica group Transformer di Roboter released a cover version of "Stranger in Moscow" on their MySpace page on January 1, 2002. The bass line of the track was replicated using the iconic Apple Macintosh startup chime.
- The British act Alpines uploaded a cover version on their 'covers' MySpace page on January 1, 2010.
- British singer Leona Lewis did a live rendition at the Michael Forever – The Tribute Concert
- Kevin Parker released a cover by his Australian psychedelic rock band Tame Impala on SoundCloud on March 12, 2014.
|Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)||7|
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)||25|
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)||21|
|Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)||14|
|Germany (Official German Charts)||21|
|Netherlands (Single Top 100)||6|
|New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)||6|
|Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)||5|
|United Kingdom (Official Charts Company)||4|
|US Billboard Hot 100||91|
|US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (Billboard)||50|
|Netherlands (Single Top 100)||41|
|Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)||43|
|Netherlands (Single Top 100)||48|
|Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)||75|
|United Kingdom (Official Charts Company)||91|
|Austrian CD maxi single|
|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-inch Dance Club Mix)||8:18|
- Album version (5:44)
- Album version without intro (2006 edit) (5:21)
- Radio edit (4:04)
- Uncut version (6:12)
- Video mix (5:32)
- Basement Boys 12" Dance Club Mix (8:16)
- Basement Boys Radio Mix (4:04)
- Basement Boys Spensane Vocal Remix (R&B) (4:44)
- Basement Boys Danger Dub (5:35)
- Basement Boys Bonus Dub Beats (3:52)
- Basement Boys Lonely Dub (7:06)
- Charles Roane Full Mix (R&B) / Charles Roane Full Mix W/Mute Drop (R&B) (4:38)
- Hani's Num Club Mix (10:17)
- Hani's Num Radio (3:52)
- Hani's Num Dub (7:04)
- Hani's Extended Chill Hop Mix (R&B) (6:00)
- Hani's Chill-Hop Radio (3:51)
- Hani's Dub Hop Mix (3:50)
- Tee's In-House Club Mix (6:54)
- Tee's Radio Mix (4:21)
- Tee's Light AC Mix (4:24)
- Tee's Freeze Radio (3:45)
- Tee's Freeze Mix – Club (8:27)
- Tee's Mission Mix – Club (6:24)
- Tee's Bonus Beats Dub (4:32)
- Tee's Capella A Capella (0:51)
- TNT Frozen Sun Mix-Club (6:49)
- TNT Danger Dub (7:20)
- 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
- Sonic the Hedgehog 3, the ending theme that was the instrumental basis of the song
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... it's an oddly faithful rendition of MJ's chill trip-hop groove...
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- Campbell (1995), p. 42–45
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