When Miles Davis Went Pop in the '80s

Miles Davis in 1986
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Peter Carrette Archive/Getty Images

When Miles Davis made a dramatic comeback to recording and performing in the early '80s, the jazz icon did something nobody expected him to do: embrace the sound of the radio.

While it seemed a bit of a stretch to hear the innovative trumpeter cover Michael Jackson or Cyndi Lauper - as was the case on his final album for Columbia, 1985's You're Under Arrest - Miles clearly saw no difference between adapting Great American Songbook and Broadway standards early in his career. In a chat with Spin in 1985, he readily copped to listening and liking records by Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Kool & The Gang ("Man, that's a helluva band they got"), Journey, Madonna ("Borderline" writer Reggie Lucas used to play in Miles' ensemble) and even Phil Collins ("Some white people can get down...‘Sussudio.’ That’s a bad number. He’s somethin’ else"). Around this time, he even reached out to Prince for a possible collaboration that wouldn't see the light of day until 2020.

But his most striking jazz-pop hybrid might have been a solid cover of "Perfect Way," the unlikely hit single by U.K. post-punk band Scritti Politti. A pulsating track that just missed the Top 10 in America, Miles was given a copy of the album Cupid & Psyche 85 by producer Tommy LiPuma during the sessions for his first album for Warner Bros. Records - and was so taken by the song that he initially planned on naming his album after the track. (He ultimately settled for Tutu.)

Frontman Green Gartside later revealed that Miles' enjoyment of "Perfect Way" led to a friendship in the last year's of Davis' life. "He liked the attention to detail [in our music] and the whole approach to vocals and melody reminded him of some Latin American music that had interested him years before," the singer told fan site The Last Miles. "That kind of non-ornamented non-vibrato. In a way that like, I guess he played very often.

"He was still very actively interested in music and very discerning and listened to a lot," Gartside also said. "Including his own stuff...he had a whole wall of recordings of himself playing live in various places and he would go very specifically to find one gig, say, that he did in Germany 18 months earlier. And that showed someone who really did know where he was at. A lot of people thought he had lost it, but not at all."

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