How 'Somebody's Watching Me' Singer Rockwell Created a Paranoid Pop Classic
Son of music royalty talks shunning nepotism, calling on God and enlisting Michael Jackson for 1984 hit
Read the inside story of Rockwell, Berry Gordy's son who wrote the paranoid pop classic "Somebody's Watching Me."
By Jason Newman
2 days ago
Berry Gordy was in his Los Angeles mansion in 1982 when his son, 18-year-old Kennedy William Gordy, brought the Motown Records founder a pop-funk demo he had created on a tiny 4-track recorder in his one-bedroom Hollywood apartment. Gordy, of course, had hundreds of Number One songs to his name – either as producer, songwriter or label head – so he knew a hit when he heard one. But after listening to his son's demo, his reaction was less than exuberant.
"He said something like, 'Yeah, yeah, that's alright. That's OK,'" Kennedy Gordy tells Rolling Stone. "'Don't give up your day job, young man. Keep writing and you'll come up with something one day.' I was devastated."
Rockwell (Kennedy Gordy) berichtet davon wie der dem Song seinem Vater Berry Gordy vorstellte, er ihn aber abwies nach dem Motto er solle einer täglichen Arbeit nachgehen und weiter schreiben. Vielleicht eines Tages ist was brauchbares dabei. Später änderte Kennedy seinen Namen in Rockwell um nicht mit dem berühmten Vater in Verbindung gebracht zu werden und stellte den Song bei Motown vor, die ihn danach unterzeichnen ließen. Berry rief ihn danach an wie er es geschafft hätte bei Motown zu unterschreiben. "Vielleicht weil sie denken ich kann gute Musik machen und ihnen der Song gefiel". Wie dem auch sei Berry Gordy war keineswegs erfreut.
One year later, Kennedy Gordy would take on the name Rockwell, enlist Michael Jackson and his brother Jermaine for background vocals and turn the song, now titled "Somebody's Watching Me," into an international and enduring smash hit that, more than 30 years later, remains the perennial paranoia-rock anthem and Halloween mix go-to song.
Ein Jahr später, Kennedy Gordy änderte seinen Namen in Rockwell, gewann Michale Jackson und seinen Bruder Jermaine für background-Vokale und der Song nun mit dem Titel "Somebody's Watching Me," wurde internationaler anhaltender Smash hit, mehr als 30 Jahre später bleibt er an Paranoia-rock-Hymne und ein Halloween- Dauerbrenner.
Becoming a songwriter when you're the son of one of the music industry's most influential record execs is both an audacious endeavor and, ostensibly, the easiest thing in the world. But when he submitted his demo to Motown Records, the then-unknown musician took a different route, opting against using his real name to avoid charges of nepotism.
"When he found out I was signed to Motown, he called me up one day and said, 'How did you get signed? How does that happen? What happened?'" Rockwell recalls. "I said, 'I don't know. I guess they liked my music.' He seemed like he was upset about it. I still, to this day, don't know what his reservations were for me to be signed."
Looking back on it now, Rockwell says he never considered using the Gordy name despite the doors it would open. "I never thought of it that way," he says. "But I wanted it to be a family affair because Motown has always been a family. My father tried to teach us the love that the artists even had amongst themselves and his interactions with them. He was so busy with them that a lot of times he was not available for us as kids."
Rockwell with Diana Ross and father Berry Gordy. Courtesy of Rockwell Rockwell had written tracks before, but they were, as he put it, "mediocre at best." He was frustrated. Angry. He dropped to his knees and decided, on a whim, to pray. "I asked God to give me it," he says. "The prayer was, 'God grant me the creativity to write a song that'll go to the top of the charts and tickle the taste buds of the music connoisseur.' Everything came to me so easily after that prayer." Over the next two days, Rockwell sat down on his bedroom floor and began writing "Somebody's Watching Me," with most of the studio version recorded during the first take.
Inspiration came from both the past and the present. He'd think back to his days as a kid looking out of his bedroom window and "seeing his neighbor sticking his head out the window trying to look up in our apartment." While writing the song, he lived with a girl who was the recipient of many pranks. "When she would take a shower, I would go up to the glass, wait until she was washing her hair and then press my face against the glass," he says. "She would open her eyes, see my face and go, 'Ahhhh!!!!'" (The prank inspired the lyrics "When I'm in the shower/I'm afraid to wash my hair/'Cause I might open my eyes/And find someone standing there.")
Enlisting Jackson to sing the hook sounds like classic label maneuvering, a way to help out the unknown artist with a heavyweight co-sign. But the truth is more organic: Jackson was six years older than Rockwell, with the latter often spending his childhood days at the Jacksons' home. The fledgling songwriter went to the Jackson residence to show the family what he'd been recording. After bringing in a boombox with a demo cassette of the song, the nervous singer performed over the music.
Jackson zu gewinnen um die hook-sounds zu gewinnen klingt nach einem Manöver des Labels um einem unbekannten Artisten zu helfen indem ein Schwergewicht mit unterschreibt. Aber die Wahrheit ist organischer. Jackson war 6 Jahre älter als Rockwell und verbrachte oft Kindheitstage in Jacksons zu Hause. Der kommende Songwriter ging zur Residenz von Jackson um der Familie die Aufnahme zu zeigen. Nachdem er eine Box mit der Demo braucht performte der nervöse Sänger über die Musik.
"I performed it about eight or nine times," he recalls. "Michael says, 'Hey Rebbie! Hey Janet! You gotta hear this song Kennedy did.' Every time we stopped the song, Michael called three more people down. Afterwards, Michael pulled me to the side and says, 'Kennedy, I gotta talk to you for a second. Who are you going to get to sing background vocals?' I said, 'Why don't you do it?' It worked just like that." Jermaine Jackson would also end up contributing to the final track. (Rockwell's sister, Hazel, was married to Jermaine, further strengthening the bond between the two families.)Ich performte es 8 oder 9 mal erinnert er sich. Michael sagte "Hey Rebbie, Hey Janet Ihr müsst den Song hören, den Kennedy gemacht hat. Jedes Mal als wir den Song stoppten rief Michael 3 Leute mehr runter. Danach nahm mich Michael bei Seite und fragte. Wer wird die Background-Vocals singen? Ich sagte. Warum machst Du es nicht? So kam es dazu. Jermaine Jackson hat schließlich auch zum letztlichen Track beigetragen.( Rockwells Schwester Hazel war verheiratet mit Jermaine, und machte den Bund zwischen den Familien stärker)
Rockwell wrote, co-produced and arranged nearly every aspect of "Somebody's Watching Me." As LMFAO's Redfoo, Rockwell's half-brother, told Rolling Stone in 2011, "He was working on his album at my dad's house. My brother Terry and Rockwell were producing it, and I used to watch them play on the drum machine, and I always wanted a drum machine after seeing that." When he finished the song, Rockwell prayed again. "I said to father God, 'I will tell everyone about you,'" he says. "I will tell them how you did this for me and how it really happened.'"