Story of the Song: Man in the Mirror, MJ 1987
By Robert Webb
It was an indication of how commercially viable Michael Jackson had become by the late Eighties that out of the 11 tracks on his album Bad, ten were issued as singles in various territories.
Released on seven-inch in January 1988, "Man in the Mirror" was a lucky break for its lyricist, Siedah Garrett. Garrett had never written a song before until she was coerced into it as part of the Quincy Jones-produced five-piece, Deco. In 1986 Jones invited her along to a meeting with other songwriters at the producer's home, as Garrett explained to author Adam White. The brief was to come up with material for Jackson's next album and the appointment was for 11am: Garrett arrived an hour late. "I got lost," she said. Jones told the assembled company that he needed something extraordinary for Jackson. "He said: 'I just want hits, that's all I want'," Garrett recalled.
Garrett took the commission to her writing partner, Glen Ballard. "I sat down and started playing a figure on the keyboard and Siedah opened up her notebook," Ballard told SongTalk magazine. Garrett caught Ballard's attention with some lyrics about a man looking in the mirror, a line she had carried around for a year or so. By the end of the week they had completed a demo, with Garrett's soulful guide vocal. Garrett called Jones straight away and told him that he shouldn't wait until Monday to hear their song. Sensing the anticipation, Jones asked her over immediately. Garrett delivered the tape and waited.
Four hours later Jones was back on the phone. "He said, 'Baby, the song is great. It's really good'," recalled Garrett. At Jackson's request Garrett and Ballard obliged with a longer middle eight and some modifications to the lyrics, and Jones brought the Andraé Crouch Choir into the studio for some additional gospel padding. The Grammy-nominated song peaked at No.21 in the UK and was the first of a dozen Jacko hits to re-enter the charts following his death in 2009, landing just short of the No.1 spot.
It has been performed, mostly as a tribute to Jackson, by several artists, including Whitney Houston, Chris Brown and Garrett herself. James Morrison's 2009 dinner-party-friendly cover ditches Jones's original abrasive, synth-heavy production in favour of a more raw, rootsy delivery.