Miles Davis: You’re Under Arrest

The Songs:

  1. One Phone Call/Street Scenes
  2. Human Nature
  3. MD1/Something’s On Your Mind/MD2
  4. Ms. Morrisine
  5. Katia Prelude
  6. Katia
  7. Time After Time
  8. You’re Under Arrest
  9. Jean-Pierre/You’re Under Arrest/Then There Were None
Personnel:
  • Miles Davis – trumpet, synthesizer, Davis & Policeman voices
  • Bob Berg – soprano & tenor saxophones
  • Robert Irving III – keyboards
  • John McLaughlin, John Scofield – electric guitars
  • Daryl Jones – bass
  • Al Foster, Vincent Wilburn, Jr. – drums
  • Steve Thornton – percussion, Spanish voices
  • Sting – French police voice (Track 1)
  • Marek Olko – Polish police voice (Track 1)
  • James Prinville – “handcuff” sound effects (Track 1)

You’re Under Arrest was one of Miles Davis’ most commercially successful albums of the 1980’s. It has been both heralded and derided by music critics and fans. One of the biggest criticisms leveled towards it is the inclusion of pop tunes. The reality is that Miles had recorded the pop tunes of his day throughout his career, many of which became jazz “standards,” often largely due to his recordings, including “All The Things You Are” in the 40’s, The Surrey With The Fringe On Top,” “If I Were A Bell” and “Bye Bye Blackbird” in the 50’s, “Autumn Leaves,” “Someday My Prince Will Come” and “I Fall In Love Too Easily” in the 60’s, and even Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s “Guinnevere” in the 70’s.

The original plan for the album was to for the entire album to consist of contemporary pop hits, with arrangements by Gil Evans, Miles’ longtime collaborator in the 50’s and 60’s, who had helped shape some of the material on his 1983 album, Star People. According to guitarist John Scofield, around forty pop songs were recorded during the sessions, including Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” “This Is It” by Kenny Loggins, and Dionne Warwick’s “Déjà Vu,” as well as hits by Nik Kershaw, Toto, Chaka Khan, and Roberta Flack. Recording sessions were interrupted due to tours and various health problems Davis was having. During the mixing stage, Miles was unhappy with the rhythmic feel of many of the tracks and decided to start almost completely from scratch. The three remaining pop songs that were retained included D-Train’s “Something’s On Your Mind,” (which was re-recorded at a faster tempo), Cyndi Lauper’s smash hit, “Time After Time” and “Human Nature,” which Steve Porcaro of Toto had written for Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. The latter two would become two of Miles’ trademark songs and remained in his live set list for the rest of his life. On the album, they stick quite closely to the original recordings, but in live performance, Miles opened them up considerably for other members of the band. These two songs were also picked up in extensive radio play on radio stations featuring the new “Smooth Jazz” format. Critics claimed Miles was recording “elevator music”.

The rest of the album draws from two other influences. Miles had assembled a smoking band, including veteran saxophonist Bob Berg, guitarist John Scofield, and future Sting and Rolling Stone bassist Daryl “The Munch” Jones. John McLaughlin, who had been Miles’ guitarist during his Bitches Brew period, was visiting in New York. Miles asked him to come in and record a few tracks. He contributes some typically scorching solos to “Ms. Morrisine,” “Katia Prelude” and “Katia,” (the later two tracks named after his girlfriend at the time, Katia Labèque, a French classical pianist.)

The remaining tracks showed a clear social and political commentary that was rare among Miles’ recorded work, focusing on themes of racial injustice, threat of nuclear warfare, and environmental concerns. The opening track, “One Phone Call/Street Scenes” draws on Miles’ frequent experiences of being pulled over “just because I was a black man driving a Ferrari.”  Daryl Jones brought Sting to visit the recording sessions and Miles promptly drafted him to record the French policeman’s lines. He also utilized other friends and band members to record various voices and sound effects for the track. Musically, it borrowed on his much earlier “Theme from ‘Jack Johnson'” and “Speak” from Star People. The title track (and album cover itself) reinforce this theme.

The final track was created to portray some disturbing imagery. At the time of the recording, superpower tensions between the U.S. and Soviet Union were fairly high. A number of environmental disasters had also occurred, including the Bhopal chemical explosion in India. In the closing medley, Miles used the tune of his earlier 80’s hit, “Jean-Pierre,” along with a simple melody on the celeste to evoke images of children playing. Against this, he juxtaposed snippets of “You’re Under Arrest” and another song, “Then There Were None,” which uses a voiceover countdown with various sound effects of explosions, conjuring up images of nuclear Armageddon, similar to scenes in the movies Fail-Safe and Terminator 2.

You’re Under Arrest was to be Davis’ last studio album for Columbia Records after a 30 year partnership and was also his last album with drummer Al Foster, who had been a member of his band since the early 70’s. Miles replaced him with his nephew, Vincent Wilburn, Jr. Despite the various sources and session that the album’s tracks derived from, it had a certain cohesiveness and proved to be one of his accessible and successful albums of his final decade, selling over 100,000 units in its first few weeks. It also marked a turning point in his career. (Buy it here.)

Suggested Reading:

Paul Maher, Jr. & Michael Dorr, (eds.) Miles On Miles: Interviews And Encounters With Miles Davis.

Suggested Viewing:

Live From The 1985 Montreal Jazz Festival

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