Bad was crafted at Westlake Studio in Los Angeles and at Michael Jackson’s personal studio, Hayvenhurst. The formal recording process began at Westlake on Jan. 5, 1987.
Forger: After the experience of Thriller, I think that was something that really reinforced Michael’s confidence. He had written four of the songs off the Thriller album, and those songs turned into hit songs. Michael knew he was on the right track. By the time Bad came around it was just ready for him to step up and take a much larger role because it was his time. He was ready.
Branca: I remember having a conversation with him, we were in Hong Kong, and I was kind of kidding, and I said, “Michael, maybe for the next album, instead of trying to top yourself and compete with yourself, maybe you should go a little left of center and think about something a little different, like making an album of the songs that inspired you to become an artist. Songs by James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, and others.” He looked at me like I was from Mars. He was intent on topping himself and he put a lot of pressure on himself to do that.
Lee: The greatest people, the greatest artists, whatever you want to call that category, they work at their craft for years and years and years. So often we think it comes, we don’t see the hard work that goes into all that. We see the creation, we see the beauty of the hard work but we don’t see the hard work, the blood, sweat and tears.
Phillinganes: There was the pressure mostly on Michael. We just were happy to know that we’d be in the studio all together again to have more fun. It’s not like we sat around like “We’ve got to do better!” It wasn’t that cinematic, “we’ve got to do one more for the Gipper” kind of thing. Just like with Thriller it was all predicated on getting the best songs possible.
Forger: We knew we were in the studio and we were going to have fun because that was the vibe, especially working with Michael and working with Quincy [Jones, who produced the album], too. You’ve got to realize that when you devote your life to making records you do it because you love being there. You love the experience. It’s one of those things where you get in the studio and [you think], “Oh my gosh, where did the last eight hours go?”
Phillinganes: We had family pet day, where he brought down Muscles the Boa and Bubbles the Chimp and we took pictures. There’s a group picture I have a couple shots of, it’s Studio D of Westlake and we’re all standing in a long row to accommodate Muscles. How long was he?
Forger: Well, he grew. I first met Muscles on Thriller and he was probably about 10 or 12 feet long, so he must have been at least 16 feet by the time Bad rolled around. He was a very nice snake.
Phillinganes: And during some downtime in the studio—there was a technical problem so we couldn’t go on until that was sorted out—Mike was getting restless and he asked me if I felt like going across the street to do a little shopping. What was across the street was a major, major, huge shopping mall called the Beverly Center. He puts on this wig and dark sunglasses and crooked teeth and we come out of the studio, just the two of us, no security no cops nobody, on La Cienega Boulevard and I remember thinking that time as we were crossing, “I’m crossing La Cienega with Michael Jackson and nobody knows.” We went all over the place and did a bit of shopping and he had slightly puzzled looks from cashiers. He looked like Sly Stone on crack and then he gets out the credit card and they go, “No!”
Forger: When you were with Michael you always had this sense of enjoyment, of energy and whatever it is Michael wanted to do he wanted to enjoy himself when he was doing it.
Branca: Michael was very involved creatively with Off the Wall and Thriller but he was even more involved on Bad. He did write nine of the 11 songs. Michael would create demos in his studio at Hayvenhurst. That would be the model for what was on the album. He was the architect of the album in every sense of the word.
Forger: Michael said “We’re going to start some new songs.” I never knew when we were going to do a song what the song was for, but the first song I started on with Michael was Dirty Diana. We started on Dirty Diana at Westlake Studios and then his home studio was completed, which was the Hayvenhurst studio, then we went into Al Capone, which transitioned later into Smooth Criminal and the next song after that I think was Hot Fever, which became The Way You Make Me Feel.
Phillinganes: By the time we were working on Bad, Mike’s ideas became stronger and clearer. Songs like Al Capone, titles like that, even as working titles, show that Mike had a tremendous cinematic approach to the making of his music.
Forger: Michael always wanted to be a storyteller. He wanted a beginning, a middle and an end, and he wanted it to be a story and it could be translated not only into a song but a terrific—what Michael always called “film shorts,” as opposed to “music videos.”
Afrojack: The sonic professionalism on the original Bad album was just next level. Nowadays they do it a lot but back then this was the newest of the newest, like crazy stereo effects, on a technical level of engineering and music production.
Lee: When it came to work, he was a perfectionist. He had a tremendous work ethic. He’s not going to say, “I’m tired,” he’s not going to say anything. Until it’s done, he’s like, “Let’s go, let’s get it done, let’s do the best we can, let’s not cut any corners.” Whether it’s creatively or financially, he was not cutting any corners.
Afrojack: You have a lot of music coming out and if you want to be the best everything has to be the best, including the technical production and the technical aspects of music production.
Forger: It wouldn’t be uncommon that a track would be recorded several times, either the tempo or the key or the arrangement, until you absolutely got the exact right thing. When you’re working with people of this caliber and you’re adjusting these parameters and when you get the right one it just feels like that’s it. Everyone understands right away when you’ve got the right formula.