Did Michael Jackson sing live on the History Tour?

Today we are going to look at Michael Jackson singing live and specifically whether “Michael Jackson sang live on the History Tour”. Michael’s History World Tour kicked off in Prague, Czech Republic in 1996 and finished up in South Africa in 1997. You can read more about the History Tour here. (click HERE for part 2)

Now some people call it “Lip syncing”, some people call it “Miming”, some people even call it “cheating”!

My perspective is this. Michael Jackson sang live for so long for most of his life. When he performs the way he does and dances so much, he can mime if he wants to. Sometime I prefer it, sometimes I don’t.

That said, I have no interest at all in the moral argument. My interest comes in the sonic qualities of HOW it is done. How the vocals (lead and backing) are performed and how they SOUND are most important to me. Do they fit the setting? Are they convincing? Does it look stupid? Is it too obvious?

The question “Did Michael Jackson sing live on the History Tour?”, is not really the right question though. The answer is very obvious: YES!

A better question is “What songs on the History Tour did Michael Jackson sing live?”

Even so … this question doesn’t cover it. It is quite possible to sing a song and also “mime” part of it, so maybe we should ask “What EXACTLY did Michael Jackson sing live on the History Tour?

For me, it has always been a very simple thing to listen to something and to know straight away what it is or the type of recording. Especially classical music. The recording, the orchestra, the conductor – they might be playing the same piece of music but they are usually TOTALLY different.

We cannot do the same thing EXACTLY twice

This is because we are all human and we cannot do anything EXACTLY the same twice (this is because the circumstance and conditions from the original moment, will NEVER be the same again). This is the same with Michael Jackson.

He works very hard and goes to very much expense and employ’s the best sound proofing, producers and studio space to sing in the studio. Also, the original producer “produced” a certain sound with the artist … without the producer, the same one, you are going to get a different sound, no matter what.

All of the above creates a certain sound. A sound that is very distinct! That is why they are so successful! Now, how on earth can that be recreated in a massive 30 metre by 15 metre void in the middle of Bucharest or something … it ain’t gonna happen. Even with no dancing, no crowd, no nothing 🙂

Also, Michael’s song’s and his voice changed over the years. Sometime he was young, sometimes he was old, sometimes he was tired … every song has a period in time and certain sound.

How can you tell?

Does it sound EXACTLY like the original recording? If it does, it’s not live … it really is that simple.

Does Michael sing EVERY word of the ORIGINAL song as recorded?

This is a key question. Michael Jackson, when singing live is NEVER ever ever ever ever (ever) going to sing EVERY word in the exact way it was recorded. Even slow songs like “Gone too soon“, a slow song, he changed the words around … take a look at that here. He skips words, misses words, elongates words etc. It probably isn’t live if the words, articulation and sections are the same as the original. Michael always changes it up, like his dancing, when he performing live.

What else can you hear?

Can you hear Michael breathing and dancing? It’s hard to spin and dance and sing live without having an affect on the quality of the voice. It’s also hard to imagine that, for example, a microphone will pick up your singing voice but not a trace of the crazy fan hanging around your neck shouting at full blastI LOVE YOU MICHAEL!!!!!!!!!!!“, during “You are not alone” 🙂

Andrea Bocelli and Michael Jackson

Andrea Bocelli performed with Michael at the Michael Jackson and Friends concert in June 1999, in Munich, Germany. He performed “Canto della Terra” from his Sogno album … a good album.

Now, considering what we have said above … Did he sing live? Blatantly not. Was it a great performance – YES!

The two main clues are, firstly, it sounds EXACTLY like the album version. If you can perform it that well in the middle of Munich then you might as well save the million’s on all the technical people in the first place and perform it live and put that on the album.

Secondly, the key bit … Bocelli was sitting at a piano, not a keyboard or an electric piano … a piano that makes noise. I was a few metres away and did not hear a note! I have watched the video again and … can’t hear a note! Interesting since, his voice is very clear about 20 – 30 cm away from the Microphone … maybe it’s a special microphone? 🙂

Also, you have a native choir for this perfromance. You go to Munich, pick 30 beautiful girls and tell them to sing … they sound EXACTLY like the original Italian girls/choir (or wherever they were from) …again, this is impossible. Accents would change, feeling would change, sound would change. This is why it’s obviously not live or more specifically is a live performance but using the original SOURCE material.

Final point on this – Vocal layers … say on Smooth Criminal!

This is also a great way to determine whether something is live or not. How many layers of vocals can you hear at the same time?

Michael often sings multiple layers simultaneously! This is very evident during “Smooth Criminal”. During the verses, he like to switch from mouthing the backing, to then going back to the lead (with his backing going on at the same time). He also does this a lot during “Stranger in Moscow”.

Making of Stranger in Moscow

The above point is actually picked up by the director of Michael’s music video “Stranger in Moscow”.

Michael is lip syncing the lead and then starts doing the backing in between and then going back to lead … the director tells him that “You can’t sing both”! See the making of “Stranger in Moscow”.

Back to the History Tour!

Before we look at the specific songs, please note that there are several EXCEPTIONS! Michael didn’t always do things the same way and switched things around – we will try and look at the exceptions too so you don’t miss out! Let’s move to song one on the History tour: SCREAM!


Did Michael sing “Scream” live on the History Tour?

Great song, Michael performed this one without his sister Janet on tour and without her lead vocals. Janet’s vocals were included on the backing track and to answer the question Michael did not sing this live on the History tour! Michael used his original vocals from his studio session including lines not on the officially released version. The part usually sung by Janet;

“You keep changin’ the rules
While I keep playin’ the game
I can’t take it much longer
I think I might go insane”

Was sung by Michael … but not live … he obviously, as is expected sang the whole song, along with his sister and they picked the best parts later.

The exceptions!

Michael DID sing this song live on occasion on the History Tour though! He sang the first verse live in his concert in Brunei on New Year’s Eve 1996.

He also had the microphone on for some words on his opening concert on the tour in Prague.

Scream in Gothenburg, Sweden

This is an unusual case. Michael did not sing “Scream” live but his vocal track was turned to a very very low volume, which gave the impression that his microphone was off or not working. It certainly was off, but it seems like, in my opinion, this was done on purpose for affect. What is also interesting is that the “finger snaps” – the “clicks”, just before the first verse of “Scream” are missing from this concert – this leads me to believe that Michael did the clicks live and they are included on the original vocal track OR Some of the sound effects from the songs are also on Michael’s lead vocal layer. Probably the former. Are you keeping up with this? 🙂

2) Military dance sequence

This was always live and you can clearly hear that. Sometime Michael sang a lot more that on other occasions for this

3) They Don’t Care About Us!

Did Michael sing “They Don’t Care About Us” live on the History Tour?

Michael didn’t sing this one live on the tour. He used his original studio vocals for the whole song. The middle “History” section (or “Great Gate of Kiev by Modest Mussorgsky” section) was live. Although, i’m surprised at how many time they failed to turn Michael’s microphone on and missed the cue.

4) In the Closet!

Did Michael sing “In the closet” live on the History Tour?

This is quite obvious. Michael obviously speaks the “spoken” part live and lip syncs the rest. He sometimes sings over when his microphone is left on too long (like in Korea for example). The audience knew because at Wembley, for example, the crowd went wild at, basically hearing Michael “speak” for the first time in the show.

5) Wanna be startin somethin!

Did Michael sing “Wanna be startin somethin” live on the History Tour?

Michael Jackson sang this song LIVE on the tour. What a great song … certainly one of my favourites and one of the best of the tour.

In fact Michael Jackson NEVER “lip synced” or mimed this song on tour at all. Every part of this song was performed live. This is surprising because it could have used a few effects, I think. We will come to that at a later date – Brad Buxer – Good Job!

6) Stranger in Moscow!

Did Michael sing “Stranger in Moscow” live on the History Tour?

This is one of my favourite Michael Jackson songs. Did he sing it live on the tour? No, but it didn’t matter. We hear Michael sometimes indicate that he wanted the microphone turned up, say in Seoul Korea, where we hear him perform some additional sounds, but not singing.

We also heard Michael sing this live at the rehearsals of the opening night of the tour. Apparently, Michael rehearsed this song during “This is it” … we will see if it is ever released. A beautiful song.

7) Smooth Criminal!

Did Michael sing “Smooth Criminal” live on the History Tour?

Almost an impossible song to sing live – Michael did not sing this song live on the History tour. An amazing performance! Many vocal layers on this performance and on top of this we had the live backing singers, which were usually turned down (volume). We get a good, different, performance in Denmark, Copenhagen when the volume of the backing singers was slightly higher than usual.

The last line of the song

Michael always sang the LAST line of the song live.

We will continue this article tomorrow! (click HERE for part 2)

A really great tour.

By Anthony King (c)

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