Thanks to its odd lyrics, the massive 1984 chart hit, Somebody's Watching Me, by American singer Rockwell, has been called a "paranoid pop classic". The narrator thinks people on the television can see him and he also imagines he's in the Twilight Zone!
Rockwell was only 19 years old when he was catapulted to stardom with his debut single, which was number one in France, Belgium and Spain. It topped the US R&B singles chart and made the top ten across the world, including in the UK, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and South Africa, to name but a few.
The singer's real name is Kennedy William Gordy and he's the son of legendary Motown founder and CEO Berry Gordy. He made a decision not to record under his own name to trade off his family connections, preferring to try his luck as an artist in his own right.
Now aged 54, Rockwell is no longer active as a recording artist, although he did enjoy an eight-year career in the music industry following his debut single, which achieved gold status in the United States, France and Canada.
Being the son of the Motown founder would have opened many doors for the young Rockwell, who was named Kennedy William by his father and mother, Margaret, in honour of president John F Kennedy and soul music icon William "Smokey" Robinson.
Rockwell grew up around the music industry, but his decision to record under an alias was spurred by his father's reaction to his talents as a teenager. He recalled recording a pop-funk demo on his basic four-track recorder in his bedroom at the family's Hollywood home.
Playing the track to his dad, the 18-year-old would-be recording artist was disappointed at the reaction. Gordy senior was behind hundreds of number one hit records, so when he heard his son's early effort, his reaction was reserved, to say the least.
He advised the teenager to "keep on writing and you'll come up with something one day," but added, "Don't give up your day job just yet."
Rockwell had a staff writing job at Jobete Music Co Inc, but had always harboured ambitions of being a recording artist himself.
The teenager admitted to feeling "devastated" at his father's lukewarm response, but it made him more determined to go away and write something that would be a big hit, without his father's help.
Power of prayer
The teenager continued writing songs, without asking for his famous father's input. However, he later described them as "mediocre at best" and he began to feel disheartened, angry and frustrated.
He believed in the power of prayer and asked God to grant him the creativity to write a chart-topping hit that would "tickle the taste buds of the music connoisseur", to use his own words.
He said everything became much easier after he turned to God - and one year after presenting his first effort to his father, he was writing Somebody's Watching Me, with the words and music flowing as he sat on his bedroom floor, feeling inspired.
He recalled the inspiration for the song came from events in his past, starting with his childhood, when he thought a neighbour was spying on him. Every time the young Rockwell looked out of his bedroom window, he said the neighbour appeared to be "sticking his head out the window", staring up into the Gordy family's apartment.
Further inspiration for the song came from his relationship at the time, as he moved in with his girlfriend and was always pranking her. Far from being based on paranoia, as the music critics suggested, the lyrics referred to the jokes he played on her.
He would wait until she was in the shower and then sneak into the bathroom and press his face up against the glass as she washed her hair. When she opened her eyes, he would make her jump and she would squeal. This 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.”
The other lyrics, about feeling like he was in the Twilight Zone and that people were watching him through his television set, were totally fictional.
The young Rockwell was a childhood friend of Michael Jackson (who was six years his senior) and the other Jackson siblings. As the families knew each other, he spent a lot of time at their home, and as his sister, Hazel, was married to Jermaine Jackson, this further cemented the link between the two families.
After recording a demo version of Somebody's Watching Me, Rockwell took it to the Jacksons' house to ask what they thought of it, singing live over the backing track. After having him sing it several times, Michael really liked the track and got all the family into the room to hear it.
He asked Rockwell who was going to be singing backing vocals. Rockwell didn't have anyone in mind, so he asked Michael if he would do it. The star agreed, also enlisting Jermaine to sing on the final recording.
Rockwell secured a record deal with Motown without his father's knowledge, choosing his stage name because he believed he "rocked well".
Somebody's Watching Me was released on 14th January 1984, two months before the singer's 20th birthday. As he delighted in having secured a record deal without any help from his father, he had a massive hit on his hands.
The video for Somebody’s Watching Me was a big hit on MTV, echoing the song's paranoid tone with a haunted house-type theme.
Directed by Francis Delia, some aspects of the video attracted disapproval, including an image of a baby piglet on a serving tray, as fans questioned its relevance to the lyrics. On the whole, however, it was well-received and was the biggest hit of Rockwell’s career.
Surrounded by dark imagery of ravens, graveyards, faces zooming in on him from inside his TV screen and a parody of the shower scene from the cult psychological horror film, Psycho, the singer was depicted rushing around looking anxious.
Rockwell's first album, also called Somebody's Watching Me, was released on 30th January 1984 and went gold in the United States. He wrote, arranged and co-produced almost every track. The religious singer again prayed to God for guidance during the recording.
Rockwell's father didn't even know his son was in the recording studio - and he certainly had no idea that the iconic Michael Jackson was singing backing vocals.
Legend has it that Gordy senior was amazed when he first heard Rockwell's music. He thought the backing vocals sounded "familiar" - and when he was told it was Michael Jackson, he was said to be "elated". The youngster had proved his father wrong and come up with a global hit record.
During his career, Rockwell always distanced himself from the family connection, preferring to be recognised for his own talents, rather than his Motown family link. In an interview, it was claimed he even pretended to be from Portsmouth in England!
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