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Monday, June 13, 2011

Michael Jackson "Human Nature" Song Analysis

Reader Greg Fine asked for a song analysis of Michael Jackson's hit "Human Nature," the fifth single from his seminal Thriller album. Some feel that this song set the template for what's become known as "adult R&B." Like all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
Like most hit songs, "Human Nature" follows a stock formula but changes it up enough to make it sound different. The form looks like this:

Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Interlude, Verse, Chorus, Chorus, Outro

There's no real bridge to the song, but the end of the second chorus and the interlude are both different enough to make you think there is. The outro of the song is basically the intro with a slightly changed ending that's faded.

The Arrangement
All of Michael's Thriller-era songs seem pretty sparse and simple, but they all have a lot going on that isn't exactly noticeable. There's a synth pad throughout that can almost be missed because it's so subtle, but most of the song is carried by some clean guitars and a very full synth bass.

  * The Foundation: Drums, synth bass

  * The Pad: Low synth pad and synth strings in the verse

  * The Rhythm: Clean picked guitar and clave

  * The Lead: Michael's vocal

  * The Fills: In the chorus, the delayed vocal answers, in the interlude and intro/outro, the synth counter lines.

In numerous other analysis I've pointed out the "5 element rule," where you never wanted to have more than 5 elements playing at the same time because it gets confusing to the listener. Listen to the intro and interludes, which are very complex arrangement-wise, yet are perfect examples of having only  5 elements playing at once.

The Sound
Engineer Bruce Swedien is certainly the Godfather of audio engineering, but Thriller might've been his finest moment and "Human Nature" is a perfect example of that. There's a lot of effects layering going on (it sounds like every instrument has it's own effect), but nothing ever clashes and each instrument can be heard distinctly even with some of the big reverb washes used. I especially liked the ping pong delayed answer vocals in the chorus.

The Production
This was perhaps producer Quincy Jone's finest hour as well. You never expect anything but the best from one of his productions and this one doesn't disappoint. Q is the master is repeating a part yet making it different, like in the 2nd part of the verses where the strings come in. The first time it's a pedaled string sound, the second time the sound changes and the part is a bit more complex. The same with the choruses. Each time they're slightly different, with either a different vocal effect, another vocal part, or a slight change in the sound of an instrument. This song was state of the art in 1983, and it still is today.

Send me your song analysis suggestions.

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Gregg Fine said...

Excellent, thank you!!
~Gregg Fine, Hidden Tiger Music

David Das said...

By curious coincidence, I had been writing my own analysis of this song too and just got around to publishing it today. Feel free to check it out here:

Gregg White said...

I really enjoy your analyses'. Thanks for the great and consistent effort.


Bobby Owsinski said...

Thanks, Greg.


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