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Jackson Songwriter Remembers The King Of Pop

Singer and songwriter James Ingram wrote one of Michael Jackson's most famous and enduring songs, P-Y-T (Pretty Young Thing), for the "Thriller" album. Ingram reflects on what it was like to work with the "King of Pop" and how the experience shaped him as a musician.

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Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Switching gears now. Tomorrow, thousands are expected to gather at the Staples Center in Los Angeles to mourn the death of Michael Jackson. As part of our ongoing coverage of this final chapter in the story of the King of Pop, we've been examining his influence on music and the culture.

Today, a conversation with an artist who worked with Jackson, singer-songwriter James Ingram. He's credited, along with Quincy Jones, with writing "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)," from the "Thriller" album, and James Ingram joins us now. Welcome, thank you for joining us.

Mr. JAMES INGRAM (Songwriter): How are you doing, Michel?

MARTIN: Well, take me through the process of coming to this. I understand - now let me hear if I have this right. I understand that there was a Michael version, and then you took it up-tempo. Is that right?

Mr. INGRAM: No.

MARTIN: No, all right. Well, good, correct the record.

Mr. INGRAM: This "P.Y.T." comes from Quincy Jones, coming back with - he's married to Peggy Lipton, and her lingerie said pretty young things. So Quincy had the title "Pretty Young Thing: Tender Loving Care," and he put a lot of writers on it. And when I came up to his house, I had a track, and I had some of the lyrics, and this is what he heard.

Mr. INGRAM: (Singing) Where did you come from, baby? Oh, won't you take me there right away? Won't you, baby? (Unintelligible). I wanna love you, pretty young…

Mr. INGRAM: Quincy said, we're cutting this tomorrow, just like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well break it down, break it down.

Mr. INGRAM: Because he had the track. I had the track, and I was, you know, I was going to have all the lyrics.

(Soundbite of song, "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)")

Mr. MICHAEL JACKSON (Musician): (Singing) I want to love you, pretty young thing. You'll need some loving, tender loving care, and I will take you there. Nothing can stop this burning desire to be with you, gotta get to you, baby. Won't you come, it's emergency. Cool my fire, yearning, honey come set me free. Don't you know now is the perfect time. We can dim the lights just to make it right. In the night, hit the loving spot. I'll give you all that I've got. I want to love you, pretty young thing…

MARTIN: How's it sound. Still sound good?

Mr. INGRAM: Oh yeah.

MARTIN: All right. So what was it like? Were you there when it was recorded?

Mr. INGRAM: Yeah. Michael Jackson - I've seen a lot of people. I've played organ behind Ray Charles and a lot of other people and on records and stuff, but the thing is, Michael Jackson was in the studio singing, and he was dancing at the same time while he was singing. Now me, I may bob a little bit, but I'm holding all my breath for the microphone, and I've never seen nobody, and Michael came out of the studio sweating. He said, James, am I singing all right? I said man, you killed it. You can sing however you want to sing it.

MARTIN: He was really full-out dancing. He wasn't just, like, la-la-la.

Mr. INGRAM: No, this is - Michael Jackson is the best artist alive on the earth not unless somebody hasn't been discovered yet, but there's nobody that could do what he does.

MARTIN: What do you think made him so special?

Mr. INGRAM: Well you know, there's some things that you're born with. It's a gift. Those are gifts from God. It was already in him when he was born. When he came out of the womb, that was part of his package. That was part of his DNA.

MARTIN: So what's your favorite Michael Jackson song, other than "Pretty Young Thing"?

Mr. INGRAM: That's a hard question. I don't have like a favorite song. I just love his body of work. I can't pinpoint anything. You know, of course "P.Y.T." is my favorite because that's the one that paid me - oh my God.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Still is, I hope.

Mr. INGRAM: Yes, indeed.

MARTIN: What do you think - and I hate to ask you this, but when you think of Michael, I know it's hard to believe that he is gone, but what are you going to think about when you think about Michael Jackson?

Mr. INGRAM: Well see, I had a relationship with Michael, and so I just loved him as a human being, an entertainer and even when he was in Bahrain, he called me, and he said James, look, because of the Katrina thing, I want to do another "We Are the World" because Michael and Lionel Ritchie wrote "We Are the World."

And so I said, okay, no problem, man, whatever you need. And so we went in the studio with LaVert, Shirley Caesar, Snoop Dogg and a whole lot of people, and we did this thing. But it never came out because of the politics. I guess somebody wanted Michael to sign with them before they released - you know, all that kind of stuff. You know, so he was my brother and a friend, and he always looked up to me in terms of as his older brother.

MARTIN: Thank you for that. James Ingram is a singer and composer and songwriter. He is credited as co-author, with Quincy Jones, of "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)". It's on the King of Pop's "Thriller" album, and he was kind enough to join us from NPR West. Mr. Ingram, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. INGRAM: You're welcome.

(Soundbite of song, "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)")

Mr. JACKSON: (Singing) Where did you come from, baby, and ooh, won't you take me there, right away, won't you, baby? Tendoroni you've got to be…

MARTIN: Coming up, Republican political superstar Sarah Palin resigns as Alaska's governor. My thoughts are just ahead on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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