Michael Jackson had a certain sound and style — but he was apparently willing to enjoy music outside of his wheelhouse. One of his favorite songs was pretty risque. Interestingly, the song wouldn’t exist without an Eddie Murphy standup routine.
How an Eddie Murphy joke inspired a major hit
Our story starts with one of Murphy’s most famous early films: Eddie Murphy Raw. Unlike most of Murphy’s films, Raw is a simple and straightforward recording of one of Murphy’s standup shows. In a famous bit from Raw, Murphy recounts a tale where a woman watches her boyfriend leave another woman’s house. Later, she confronts her boyfriend and tells him what she saw. He repeatedly claims “It wasn’t me” and his girlfriend believes him.
According to The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits, Raw inspired one of reggae singer Shaggy’s most famous songs: “It Wasn’t Me.” Like the aforementioned joke in Raw, “It Wasn’t Me” centers on a man whose girlfriend has reason to believe he’s unfaithful. The difference is that the girlfriend in “It Wasn’t Me” has seen her boyfriend cheat on her when she walked in on intimate moments between him and another woman. The boyfriend Murphy joked about in raw had some degree of plausible deniability whereas the man in “It Wasn’t Me” does not.
“It Wasn’t Me” was arguably a bit of an underdog on American airwaves. How many other jokey reggae songs about adultery have become hits on U.S. radio? The song was first a hit in Hawaii before it debuted around No. 80 on the Billboard Hot 100. It gradually rose on the chart before reaching No. 2 — behind Destiny’s Child’s classic R&B hit “Independent Women.” Then Shaggy beat out Destiny’s Child for chart supremacy, which is interesting considering how popular Destiny’s Child were at the time.
Michael Jackson’s surprising thoughts on ‘It Wasn’t Me’
According to Time, not only did the public seem to take to the song — Jackson did as well. “[W]e had a conversation,” Shaggy recalled, “because ‘Wasn’t Me’ was one of his favorite songs, and he says to me ‘So Shaggy, did you write that song?’ and I said ‘Yeah.’ And he said ‘That sounds like something I would write.’ And I said ‘So you be bangin’, huh?’”
It’s certainly interesting to think Jackson saw similarities between “It Wasn’t Me” and his own music. First of all, it’s a reggae song and reggae was not Jackson’s wheelhouse. Secondly, “It Wasn’t Me” has a much more jocular tone than Jackson’s hits. Above all, “It Wasn’t Me” is way more risque than a typical Jackson song.
Regardless, Shaggy performed the song at a special concert: Michael Jackson’s 30th Anniversary Celebration. The concert was a celebration of Jackson’s first thirty years in the music industry. When Shaggy started singing the song, Jackson mouthed that he loved it. Who would’ve thought Shaggy would’ve been performing for Jackson someday because of one of Murphy’s jokes?
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