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Michael Jackson Vs. Prince: An Oral History (Pg. 2)

BATTLE FOR SUPREMACY (1983-1993)

ALAN LEEDS: Prince went to a James Brown gig [in 1983] with Bobby Z, his drummer at the time, Big Chick, who was his security guard, and I think Jill Jones, who was one of his protégés. By now, everybody knows what happened at that gig. I don’t think Prince realized that Michael was going to be there. James looked a little puzzled in that video when Michael whispered in his ear, “Hey, bring Prince up.” And of course Prince didn’t really know what to do either. He went to the guitar first but he fumbles with that because it was left-handed. He played a few licks, did some dancing and knocked over a prop by accident. Now I always wondered if Michael intentionally brought Prince up to put him in that position just to say, “Hey, you think you’re on my ass? Well follow this, motherfucker [laughs].” Bobby Z called me and said, “Oh boy…he made an ass of himself tonight.” He said Prince didn’t say a word the whole way to the hotel. 

TITO JACKSON (founding member and guitarist of the Jackson 5 and the Jacksons): Sure, my brothers and I listened to Prince…“1999,” “Little Red Corvette,” “When Doves Cry.” Thriller and Purple Rain were part of our times. That was a great era, wasn’t it? You had two great artists both doing incredible music at the same time. And then you had the fact that they both were exceptional live performers. Some people feel as though Prince is the greatest thing since sliced bread and some people feel like my brother is the greatest. To me, that’s what made that era so special.

ALAN LEEDS: Before we set out on the Purple Rain tour, it was a case of Prince wanting to see what Michael and the Jacksons were doing in terms of production, lighting, staging and everything with the Victory tour. We charted a jet with a couple of his bodyguards and Jerome Benton from the Time and Leroy Bennett, who was Prince’s lighting and production designer for his tours. We flew to Dallas to the old stadium where the Cowboys played. There was a feeling in our camp that while what they were doing was a very solid stadium production, there was nothing really cutting edge about the technology. The Varilites, which was a brand name for a type of computerized lighting, was the gold standard in the industry at that time. And we made sure we had all that shit. But the Jackson’s production didn’t. Prince had a lot of respect for Michael, but he was mildly impressed with the show.

QUESTLOVE: Michael attended many of the Purple Rain concerts. I have the four Purple Rain shows that were in Los Angeles in ’84. And now that I realize that Mike was in the audience, I often watch it to see if I can spot him [laughs]. But it makes you think. Why was Mike there four nights in a row? You have already created Thriller, you’ve done the Moonwalk, you’ve done the groundbreaking videos and you’ve sold a million a week. You are officially in the Guinness Book of World Records. For all intents and purposes, Purple Rain sold 15 million units, but it was hardly the 33 million that Thriller went on to sell. So why are you this curious to who is behind you?  Then I realized that you can’t be that successful without being competitive. Michael knew Prince was a serious threat.

ALAN LEEDS: Quincy Jones organized a lunch that brought Michael and Prince together. At one point, they asked him to be a part of We All The World, but Prince respectfully declined and offered to give them a song [“4 The Tears In Your Eyes”]. All I remember Prince talking about afterwards is that he thought Michael was a little bit weird. And this is coming from a guy who wore high heels and pajamas to nightclubs [laughs].

QUESTLOVE: There’s the now-infamous story about a ping-pong match between Mike and Prince in 1986 while Prince was overdubbing Under The Cherry Moon and Mike was working on Captain Eo. And they were both vying for the attentions of Prince’s girl Sherilyn Fenn, who back then was the hot shit. It was a ping-pong game gone bonkers. He said that MJ played like Helen Keller. [Editors note: Prince’s drummer Bobby Z has gone on record about MJ’s and Prince’s good-natured showdowns in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “They'd shoot hoops at [Prince’s] Paisley Park," Bobby Z said of the unlikely pair. “Prince had a deep-seeded competitive nature, so it's easy to see where he would measure himself against Jackson's success.”]

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