This week, in honor of the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, WHAP is overloading on “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” — the first and funkiest track from that monumental CD. Right now there are a couple of great ways to appreciate the song, but none better than the original. Commence the countdown:
3. Akon’s 2008 remix of “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”
So there are a few problems with this “remix.” First, it takes away all of the original’s horns and inventive percussion. Second, Akon added a sappy first verse, turning a delusion about the trappings of fame into a sappy love song. And third, umm, it’s Akon. That said, the other guests on Jackson’s 25-anniversary version of Thriller include Fergie and will.i.am, so Akon comes out looking like a shining star. But why did he have to take one of MJ’s most seminal anthems and turn it into flimsy karaoke? Akon and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’?” Nobody wanna see that together.
2. Rihanna, “Don’t Stop the Music”
Fast forward to this song’s bridge and you’ll hear faint “woo-hoos” that are lifted straight from MJ’s original version of “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” Continue to the chorus and you get Mama-se, mama-sa, ma-ma-koo-sa on repeat. This isn’t the first time Rihanna has recycled an ’80s smash for a hit of her own; 2006’s “S.O.S.” borrowed heavily from Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.” But MJ is no stranger to sampling — he more or less paid Weird Al’s bills back in the day by providing the framework for parodies like “Eat It” (from “Beat It”) and “Fat” (from “Bad”).
1. The original: Michael Jackson, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”Jackson originally wrote “Wanna Be” for his first album, so it carries over the disco-funk feel of 1979’s Off the Wall. But after reworking the lyrics, he came up with some brilliantly neurotic lines:
If you can’t have a baby, then don’t have a baby,
And don’t think maybe, if you can’t feed your baby
You’ll be always tryin’, to stop that child from cryin’,
Hustlin’, squealin’, lyin’, now baby’s slowly dyin.’
Sure, he peppered the song with light-hearted hee-haws and Mama-ses to hide its true meaning, but a quarter-century later the song still carries its original paranoia — a sensation buried deep in the soul of a performer who was thrust into the spotlight as a preteen and has yet to leave. The title track to Thriller may be the song that fans most associate with horror, but “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” is Jackson’s true ode to fear and loathing.