Mystery Voice on New Jackson Album Reported to Be Putin
(Los Angeles) - Michael Jackson’s first posthumous album, Michael, hits stores and iTunes today, but for weeks rumors have swirled around whether the vocal on “Breaking News,” a song previewed on the Michael Jackson website, was actually Jackson himself or another singer called in to beef up the track.
New light was shed on the controversy when Russian Federation Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sang “Blueberry Hill” to a roomful of Hollywood luminaries at a weekend fundraiser in St. Petersburg. A number of guests noticed the similarities between Putin’s confident vocal chops and playful crotch grab and the “Breaking News” voice purported to be Jackson’s. A Jackson family spokesman would neither confirm nor deny the connection.
Los Angeles Times pop music critic Ann Powers reported Sunday that Putin, a longtime Jackson devotee who had many times hosted the “King of Pop” at his home outside of Moscow, secretly traveled to Los Angeles in May and was seen briefly at Sony Studios, where an insider confided that the prime minister and former KGB operative was “laying down a couple of vocals” for a “special friend.”
When the latest song broke just before Thanksgiving, Jackson friends opposed to the new release immediately questioned the authenticity of the vocal. Speculation as to whose voice was used to supplement Jackson’s own has grown as the album’s release date approached.
“The clues that this is the voice on the new Jackson album had been around for months, but it took Saturday’s impromptu gig to connect the dots for me,” Powers said in a phone interview.
Putin, who bears an unsettling resemblance to British singer Phil Collins, has long been a pop culture follower, but until recently it was thought to be a mere distraction for a powerful and indignantly outspoken leader whose estrangement with Washington has been growing in recent years.
Until the singer’s death in June of 2009, Putin, Powers reports, had concealed his private obsession for all things Jackson. “He knows the whole Jackson catalog by heart,” Powers said, “and was famous for breaking into Michael’s songs and moves for close friends and trusted visitors.”
In 2005, Putin was seen on vacation sporting a tee shirt emblazoned with the words “SMOOTH APPARATCHIK.” His way around a Jackson lyric and beat, Powers says, is “remarkable.” Passionate renditions of the Jackson hits “Human Nature” and “Liberian Girl” at a pre-Olympics party in 2006 earned him the affectionate moniker “Vlad the Inhaler,” “but not to his face,” Powers said.
When Russian glamour-spy Anna Chapman was deported in July, secret recordings revealed that an alarmed Putin called her from his private phone to ask, “Anna are you OK? Are you OK Anna?” “You’d think somebody would’ve caught on right then,” Powers said.
“His favorite Michael material is from the Off the Wall and Thriller period, but he’s no slouch at the others,” Powers said. Putin, in fact, pushed his considerable political weight to replace the Russian Federation National Anthem with either “Invincible” or “They Don’t Care About Us,” but was quietly discouraged by the ruling Federation Council.
In 2004 Putin, incensed by a stubborn Chechen counterinsurgency, broke into a vodka fueled performance of “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” before he was whisked away asking "What? You'd rather hear 'Blood on the Dance Floor'? A 2009 Red Army Choir command performance of “Man in the Mirror” sent him running out of the Leningrad Opera House, sobbing.
Putin performed his version of Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill” on Saturday to a packed dining room as a second choice after he was convinced that “Bad,” would create unnecessary international tension. When his spoken word bridge to the song came, Black Eyed Peas singer and Jackson friend Will i. Am, who strenuously objected to the release of Michael, realized that it was the voice he heard in “Breaking News.” “That’s the guy,” he said. “That’s the voice. I knew it wasn’t Michael.”
Putin, who received an enthusiastic ovation from the crowd, reportedly had the backup band’s synth player imprisoned hours later for “screwing up my tempo.”
The prime minister said late Monday that he is taking meetings with Timbaland to produce a full album for a late 2011 release. He brushed off requests to comment on his contributions to the Michael album. “He wants it to stand on its own merits, and not because of his participation,” Powers said.