Siedah Garrett, Grammy Award winning and Oscar nominated singer-songwriter is best known for her collaboration with Michael Jackson. She is the only woman to ever record a duet with the King of Pop (except his sister Janet), and the only female that wrote a #1 Billboard hit recorded by the same artist ("Man in the Mirror"). We spoke recently about the work that made her a part of history.
LN: How did you write "Man in the Mirror"?
SG: I was working as a songwriter in Quincy Jones publishing company, and he had a meeting one afternoon like towards the end of what we now know as the Bad album, and he said: "We need one more song to finish up this album," and he gave me his parameters of what he wanted. He just gave me some notes. I put the notes and went to my writing partner Glen Ballard, and I shared those notes with him, and he said: "Okay, well - let's get started. Let's see what we come up with."
Cut to two years before that day I was on a recording session with my dear friend, jazz pianist John Disley, and we were writing, and I found we were doing pretty well when the phone rang, and John instead of letting the answer machine picked up the phone and began a very bizarre conversation. I'm searching through my lyric book like really angry, thinking myself "We are working here," and then I heard him say "The man? What man? Oh, the man in the mirror," and so something told me to write down that phrase - "Man in the Mirror."
Two years later I'm in Glen's house, I told him what Quincy said. Glen just sat at the keyboard, and was getting keyboard sounds and I'm on the floor, sitting, holding my lyrics book, and I'm turning the pages. Glen starts to play [sings the melody of the song], and the phrase "Man in the Mirror" just pop of the pages of my book and I started just instantly writing the lyrics. I couldn't keep up with myself. I was writing so fast, and then after like 10, 12 minutes we had the first verse of what we now know as "Man in the Mirror," and Glen said: "OK, you go to finish the lyrics, I'll finish the track, and we'll make the demo of this thing."
That was Wednesday. We finished at early evening, after the music publishing offices were closed. I felt like I couldn't wait until Monday to turn in the song, so I called Quincy. I said: "Glen and I have written this great song." He said: "Great! Send it the office, and I'll hear it on Monday," and I said to Quincy: "Listen Quincy! I can't wait until then. Can I just come by?". "No, you can't. I'm in the meeting. Twelve people are sitting here. I can't..." I'm like: "Quincy, please! Just let me..." He was so frustrated with me, and said: "Alright!" and he hung up the phone. I went to the house, he opened the door, and there were some looking at me like 'This better be good! Whatever you're doing with this thing -- this better be good. 'So I'm really nervous', I said to Quincy. "Just let me know what you think." He said, "Alright!" and closed the front door.
So, three or four hours later I'm home, and he called me, and he says: "Sid, this is the best song that I've heard in 10 years," and I'm like 'Yeeesss!'. I'm just in love with the fact that Quincy Jones has told me that I wrote the best song he heard in 10 years! Yes! Yes! Yes! So he just explained to me how he's been in the studio with Michael for two and a half years.
"I don't know, Sid, if we will record it on Michael's record. Don't worry; I'll record it with James Ingram on my record", Quincy said. I mean, I love James, but this is Michael Jackson! A week later, I received a call from Quincy and he said: "We are in the studio recording your song". I was hysterical. I was over the moon.
LN: When you first met Michael, what was your first impression?
SG: I just thought he was incredibly cool. I just thought he had the right to be a richest as*hole, because of all the phenomenal successes he had had up to that point, but he was just the coolest guy, and I find it so incredible.
LN: Did you knew that this song will became so iconic?
SG: I had no idea. All I wanted to do was give Michael something he would want to say to the world, and I knew it couldn't be another 'Oh baby, I love you' song. It had to be a little bit more than that. It needed to have some substance. He hadn't recorded anything like this to that point. I was just taking the risk that he might not get it, you know. First of all, I need to send it through Quincy because if Quincy didn't like it there is no way that Michael would've ever heard it. It was a huge privilege for me when Quincy decided that the song was good enough to play for Michael -- to consider recording for the Bad album.
LN: You also recorded a duet together "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" for the same album?
SG: Yes! What happened was, Quincy called me back two days later, and I thought we were gonna finish "Man in the Mirror". I went there and it was just Bruce Swedien (an engineer), Quincy, Michael and me, and I sat in the back of the studio waiting for Quincy to be ready for me to do whatever I was gonna do. I had no idea. Then the song started playing, and Quincy said to me: "Sid, do you like the song?" and I was like "Yeah." He said: "You think you can sing it?" and I'm like "Yeah, I can sing it, yeah". He said: "Michael, go there with Siedah", and so I remember walking to the room, in the recording studio and opening the doors seeing two music stands, and two microphones. On each music stand was a lyrics sheet and on the lyrics sheet it said: "Michael / Siedah / Michael /Siedah," and it was in that moment that I realized: Oh my God, I'm singing a duet with Michael Jackson -- with the King of Pop -- unreal! It was so unreal. While recording it, Michael recorded his part, but when it came to me singing my verses, he began tossing popcorn in my face in an effort to make me mess up. Quincy Jones, not seeing this, began to chastise me for flubbing the takes. Michael, on the other hand, was just cracking up!
LN: Did you knew that this song was offered to Barbara Streisand and Whitney Houston?
SG: Yes, I did know that. And I thank them for saying no [laugh]. I think that it was weird for Barbara because she was in her fifties. It was made for me -- it wasn't made for Barbara, obviously [laugh]. We spent a week together in the studio recording the duet it three languages: in English, French and Spanish. That was the time I spent with him every day. That was really, really cool. It's like hanging with Elvis or Jesus -- you don't forget the time that you spent with someone like that. He was an enigma.
Four years later, Siedah collaborated with the King of Pop again, on the song "Keep the Faith", for the Dangerous album (1991).
LN: Where did you get the idea for "Keep the Faith"?
SG: I wanted to write a follow up to "Man in the Mirror", and "Keep the Faith" seemed like the right concept for a song. Michael agreed, and he added a bridge section.
LN: That song was not a huge hit. How you feel about that?
SG: As a song, "Keep the Faith" was the closest that MJ came to recording gospel music. Very few gospel songs become huge hits. However, it did serve an important purpose on the record, especially giving Michael another vehicle to make a positive, encouraging and inspirational statement.
She also went with Michael Jackson on his Dangerous World Tour (1992-1993) as a backup singer and duet partner for the song they recorded together.
LN: Would you describe him as a perfectionist?
SG: Michael was a perfectionist, and very detail-oriented. He insisted on giving his fans exactly what they heard on the album, and more. However, for his band members, we would grow a little weary of doing the exact same thing every night. During one show, I decided to surprise Michael by appearing on-stage wearing a blond wig to sing our duet. Michael was initially taken aback, but then was amused, and couldn't stop laughing on stage.
I did tour with him for 16 months on the Dangerous World Tour. I originally began rehearsing for the earlier Bad tour, but, because of the success of "I Just Can't Stop Loving You", was convinced by my record label to pull out and focus on making a solo album.
LN: How did you feel when you heard the entire stadium singing "Man in the Mirror"?
SG: It is the dream of very songwriter to create music that will resonate inside people's hearts and have a positive impact on people's lives. I feel more than blessed and honoured to have the world's top superstar be the voice of my song, and to have had affected so many people in this way. Michael taught me everything that I know about performing.
LN: When was the last time you spoke with him?
SG: I reached out to him in 2009 when I knew he was making plans to go back on tour. I caught up with him on the phone during the Michael Jackson week on American Idol, four weeks before he died. He congratulated me on my Grammy win and Oscar nomination. I later saw him at his tour audition three weeks before he died.