Michael Jackson originally wrote this song in 1983 in a session with Canadian singer-songwriter Paul Anka around the time they recorded "This Is It
Jackson's demo was leaked in 2006 and a higher quality version leaked four years later. Timbaland and his team of beatsmiths gave the song a face lift and the new version was included on Jackson's 2014 posthumous album, Xscape.
Timbaland paid tribute to Jackson's Off the Wall track "Workin' Day And Night" by sampling percussion and breaths from the song.
The single edit was also reworked as a duet with American singer-songwriter Justin Timberlake. This remix was released as a digital download on May 2, 2014, a day after Jackson's solo version was debuted on the iHeart Radio Music Awards.
Johnny Mathis recorded a version with new lyrics by Paul Anka and American songwriter Kathy Wakefield, which was released on his 1984 album, A Special Part of Me.
It was Michael Jackson who initially encouraged Justin Timberlake to go solo during his 'N Sync days. "I think it's the first idea that I ever got about doing something on my own because it was the first time I ever really felt the confidence to do it," Justin explained in an episode of Oprah's Master Class.
The song was Jackson's 33rd Top 20 Hot 100 hit and his first since "Butterflies
" reached #14 in January 2002.
So how did Justin Timberlake end up on the song's single mix? "L.A. [Reid] was torn; I wasn't as torn," Timbaland told MTV News about the singer's inclusion. "I'm like, The kids gonna flock to this one. People don't know Off The Wall like they know 'SexyBack.' So, this got more feel like if it was 'SexyBack
,' but respect to Michael Jackson, this is how we gonna do it."
It was Timberlake who chose to feature on this tune rather than any other Xscape track. "He picked the song, and that song stuck out to him," Timbaland explained. "The other songs, he was like, That's Michael, man; you can't get on nothing with Michael. It's Michael."
Timberlake directed the song's music video with Rich Lee, who's also worked with Eminem on several of his classic clips. It splices footage of some of Jackson's influential visuals with JT and a crowd of young dancers attempting some of the King of Pop's classic choreography.
When the song reached #9 on the Hot 100, Jackson became the first artist in history to score Top 10 hits in five different decades. The King of Pop reached the Top 10 for the first time in 1971 with "Got to Be There."