The Late Movies: "Billie Jean" Twelve Ways

When I came across an amazing* acoustic cover of Michael Jackon's "Billie Jean" performed by Chris Cornell (of Soundgarden and Audioslave), I thought it would be fun to locate a dozen versions. "Billie Jean" was released as a single on January 2, 1983 -- hard to believe that it and the whole Thriller album will turn 30 next year. (Fun fact: the first cassette I ever owned was Thriller, and I got it sometime in 1983.)

The Wikipedia page on this song is well worth a read -- the video for "Billie Jean" was a major milestone for black artists on MTV, and a huge career milestone for Jackson. Read up or listen in:

Chris Cornell (acoustic, live)

Whoa. (* = "Amazing" means I don't really know how to parse this cover. Parts of it seem frankly brilliant (the quasi-Western take on the song that seems to recontextualize it), but it seems to get old about halfway through. There is some level of amazingness that this singer would attempt this song at all, and succeed at all.)

Sungja Jung (acoustic, live, instrumental)

I'd never heard of this South Korean guitarist before stumbling across this clip. Apparently he was 12 at the time of this performance. He performs a complete arrangement of the song (including lead lines and percussion) by himself, live. Utterly amazing. For a grownup guitarist's rendition, check out Adam Rafferty doing something similar.

Jeff Clark (acoustic, live)

Part of a radio contest. Quite a bit more uptempo than Cornell's version. This guy's got a nice high register.

Duwende (a capella)

Hey, it's a video song! This group has done an a capella cover album featuring Michael Jackson songs -- don't miss their version of Human Nature."

Ball in the House (a capella, live)

The audience is eating this up.

Aloe Blacc & The Grand Scheme

A sultry, slowed-down version. Beautiful.


Points for including a mandolin.

Crocz (chiptunes/8-bit)

Imagine "Billie Jean" as a Nintendo soundtrack. Okay, don't imagine, just listen.

Bruno Mars (live)

A medley/mashup of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (Nirvana), "Billie Jean," and "Seven Nation Army" (The White Stripes). Wow.

Krezip (live)

Apparently this Dutch group played this at their last concert. Jazzy.

Jose Feliciano (live)

Frenetic and fun. There are some video/audio sync issues here.

Amanda Palmer (live)

Performed on the day Michael Jackson died. You can also check out a longer version with an intro.

Got a Favorite Cover?

Post it in the comments. I'm telling you, YouTube is full of "Billie Jean" covers.

See also: The Late Movies: Michael Jackson Covers.

You Can Now Rent the Montgomery, Alabama Home of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald Through Airbnb
Chris Pruitt, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The former apartment of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, perhaps the most famous couple of the Jazz Age, is now available to rent on a nightly basis through Airbnb, The Chicago Tribune reports. While visitors are discouraged from throwing parties in the spirit of Jay Gatsby, they are invited to write, drink, and live there as the authors did.

The early 20th-century house in Montgomery, Alabama was home to the pair from 1931 to 1932. It's where Zelda worked on her only novel Save Me the Waltz and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote part of Tender Is the Night. The building was also the last home they shared with their daughter Scottie before she moved to boarding school.

In the 1980s, the house was rescued from a planned demolition and turned into a nonprofit. Today, the site is a museum and a spot on the Southern Literary Trail. While the first floor of the Fitzgerald museum, which features first-edition books, letters, original paintings, and other artifacts related to the couple, isn't available to rent, the two-bedroom apartment above it goes for $150 a night. Guests staying there will find a record player and a collection of jazz albums, pillows embroidered with Zelda Fitzgerald quotes, and a balcony with views of the property's magnolia tree. Of the four surviving homes Zelda and F. Scott lived in while traveling the world, this is the only one that's accessible to the public.

Though the Fitzgerald home is the only site on the Southern Literary Trail available to rent through Airbnb, it's just one of the trail's many historic homes. The former residences of Flannery O'Connor, Caroline Miller, and Lillian Smith are all open to the public as museums.

[h/t The Chicago Tribune]

Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]


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