Patrick Mathis needs to be recognized for this exhibition of brilliance asap. Someone just give him whatever major award is coming up next this year. Oscar, Grammy, Nobel Prize, or even an Ace Award, I don't care. All I know is that the world needs to do right by Big Pat, a man not only improving music, but improving our quality of life with achievements like this. Sure, some of you might find it droll at best, but I'm here to make the argument for why Patty melts hearts and redefines the music game. (Yeah I know this video is old but it transcends time.)
First off, let's talk that street barrel organ, considered by some to be the instrument of the people. This one's got a nice finish and sound to go with it. It's big but finds the requisite support in its accompanying carriage, which comes with wheels so as to move freely when necessary. When you think about it, these things have sort of taken on mythic proportions (similar to a hobo bindle) cause we all grew up watching cartoons where some old-timey guy who looks like Super Mario breathes life through the streets with his street organ and trusted monkey wearing a hat/vest. It's something so awesome our brains won't allow us to remember that people, things, and animals like this actually exist! Except they do, and they even play music.
In this video, we see the King of Pop meet the King of Stop (see Organ Stops). Pat's version sounds amazing. Each note comes out clearly and triumphantly, allowing you to hear all the separate instrumental and vocal layers found in the original song. The balance is quite nice too. Not too much bass to drown out the upper registers and vice versa. I also really dig the simple percussion, accentuating a classic two and four on the floor beat. Kinda of sounds like a shoe box but that only adds to the ingenuity. In all these respects, I say PM's cover definitely rivals MJ's (move over Alien Ant Farm, this is Pat's world and you're just trying to find work in it).
So where does that leave us? Micheal fucking Jackson vs. Pat "the Organ Grinder Matthis," that's where. What we wanna know is in what ways does the imitator exceed the originator and do they make this humble street organ rendition better than the OG? This author says yes, yes they do.
There's a saying in sports that in order to BE the best you've got to BEAT the best. Consider this list a Pat Matis's Sportscenter highlight reel.
1. The Music
The music just sounds cooler on street organ. It sounds ways cooler than on anything else money can buy, even Diamond encrusted Faberge eggs over a Picasso. Start off by listening to that intro again. Are we hearing Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" or the National Peruvian Pipe Ensemble of Machu Picchu? It's hard to say, but that's why I love it. Patrick didn't just mash up musical styles, he mashed several distinct musical cultures spanning no less than three continents. Additionally, I love how he brings out certain instrumental lines that don't really get highlighted in the 1987 version. For example, the solo interlude, which sounds so cool cause it adds another distinct rhythmic section to the song and in turn builds up momentum, heard approximately at the 2:36 mark in Pat's rendition, comes out subtle at best in the original. You can really dance to it!
Not one to rest on his coattails, Pat also improves upon "Smooth Criminal" by appending his own material to an already strong single. At 3:15 we got some wicked fire alarm shit going on while a bit later at 3:34 absolutely shreds and possibly malfunctions, but makes it seem like it was intentional. One can argue that these interpolations actually enhance the song and add a depth of character and musical rhetoric unheard of in MJ's version. And they'd be right.
Michael danced his ass off, acted pretty decently, and sang like the star he was born to be. Understanding his limitations in these exact areas, Pat blazes his own trail by taking a more Devo meets Office Space route: wear glasses, stand at your machine, and dance from the waist up. It's effective. I mean, he gets so into it you can't help but root for him and his standard office attire. Where goes above and beyond though, is his ability to operate the street organ while enjoying himself. Firstly, his left hand must remain steady, always matting down the punch tape so that music can actually get fed into the organ. Then we have the right hand, the real MVP of the show. Observe anytime the camera cuts to his hand cranking the living hell outta that handle. Imagine what kind of torque you need to generate consistently in order to make that beast roar. I bet it's a lot like whisking egg whites by hand, which remains one of the hardest and most dedicated things one can do for a baking-centric significant other.
Look you can't argue with the entertainment value MJ's video brings. It has everything. A captivating 30's gangster storyline, hot retro fashion, dance moves only that the Gloved One could pull off, and the iconic anti-gravity lean, which although impressive, relied on wires and mirrors (that's a knock). Legendary video yes, but too Hollywood for me. Strike the glitz and the glamour and all you're left with is one of the greatest pop songs ever...sans a street organ.
Now turning to my guy Pat over here, we have something truly unique and inspiring. A man of the people with a video for the people. No studio, no high-priced production team, not even a location scout. Pat doesn't play games, he plays music damn it. Just a man, in the middle of his wood pile, beating them pipes. By the way, what says you're an egalitarian more than a random wood pile? What's it for? Is Patrick a carpenter or aspiring lumber yard owner or someone who earns his bones selling bundles of wood for camping? It doesn't matter, cause when you surround yourself with that many 2 by 4's, no one is in a position to question you're status as a common man.
4. The Dagger
3:39 is all you need to see. If you still have questions—well, you won't.
The outro to this street organ version sounds eerily similar to the end of the stage select music from Mega Man 3 (1990). Compare for yourself.
Are you convinced? I hope so. I feel very strongly about my position that it's imperative that you watch this great man play "Smooth Criminal" on his street organ in the middle of his wood pile and I believe the world will become a better place for it. Agree with me or not, at least show some love for Patrick Mathis and all his musical endeavors at http://patrickmathis.pagesperso-orange.fr/index.htm. He's French! (or he's French....) depending on what your Franco-related views are).
Daniel "Rico" Vidales is a musician and educator who has done time in Los Angeles, Seattle, and Houston. He also has a master's degree in musicology that he plans to use at some point. In addition to writing about music, Rico enjoys doing other things with music, podcasting, and arguing about sports.