35 years after its release Thriller remains the best-selling album of the millennium. After a lifetime of repeated listening, the record’s sixth single “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” (produced by Quincy Jones and co-written with James Ingram) has definitely emerged as my favorite track. It’s unclear why Jackson never performed the song live, but it remains a fan favorite from its immediately catchy funk/pop synthesized bassline to the fun “call-and-response” vocals between Michael and his sisters. Janet and LaToya who sing back-up on the “repeat after me and sing na na na” breakdown make it nearly impossible not to sing along every time you hear it on the radio. However, my favorite part of the song has always been the high-pitched “chipmunk vocals” that only arrive during the song’s outro. After all, who didn’t get a kick out of playing 33rpm records at 45rpm as a kid? But even when Kanye West sampled the outro, slowed it down, and looped it as the basis of his 2007 single “Good Life,” I was still left wondering after all these years, what the hell are those chipmunk vocals singing exactly?
A few years ago, Los Angeles-based music copyright specialist Drew Seventeen used a program called Audacity to pitch-shift the “P.Y.T.” vocals using “stems” (isolated pieces of a multitrack recording) that are intermittently available on the internet. Drew explained his project via e-mail:
“‘Good Life’ by Kanye West featuring T-Pain (heavily sampling that section) is actually my iPhone morning alarm song. So after hearing the voice hundreds of times in the dream-wakefulness transition, I became obsessed with knowing what the actual lyric was. I assumed the ‘tee’ and ‘see’ were chopped off in the final mix due to timing limits on early sampling technology, but the exposed stem also makes it clear that he just hits a lower note there which becomes unclear in the master recording.”
The results of Drew’s efforts can be heard here:
“I wanna love, you P.Y.T.
I wanna give, you T.L.C.”
Not only are the hidden lyrics of “P.Y.T.” revealed for the first time (clearly sung by Michael himself), but as an added bonus we can hear these lyrics are divided up by a “kiss” which gets buried in the actual studio mix of the track.
Seventeen isn’t the only music production guru who has attempted to hack into the song using new technology. In July 2014, Questlove posted a video on Instragram of himself in the studio along with Root’s guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas and keyboard player James Poyser listening to the pitched-down outro of “P.Y.T.” Questlove comments:
“The beautiful moment of music discovery. Always thought MJ was saying “I know I wan-na-do-et” on P.Y.T. Steve Mandel reminded us we can decode anything with the right technology. So we de-tuned his high pitch octave. And then Kirk Lloyd and James Poyser & I lose our minds (btw the adlibs AFTER the album fade?) Jesus, MJ was the penultimate saaanger.”
“P.Y.T.” is not the only example of Michael Jackson camouflaging his voice by pitching it up or down. The eerie laugh (which some fans describe as a “witch’s cackle”) heard during the intro to the title track from Off the Wall is, in fact, Michael Jackson’s laugh, pitched high. Surprising to even the most devoted MJ fans, the thunderous, deep vocals that utter the lyrics “State of Shock” are also those of Michael himself, pitched down. When Michael’s final studio album Invincible was released in 2001, many listeners didn’t know who was singing on “2000 Watts” (a song about Nikola Tesla’s concepts in radio technologies using high and low frequencies). Producer Teddy Riley pitched Michael’s voice down, giving him a hyper-masculine vocal performance to match his ever increasingly “street-tough and edgy” image.
Special thanks to Drew Seventeen.
Questlove’s Instagram video