Michael Jackson has been dead for 10 years already. I still remember that the news broke. I was glued to the television set.
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Musically, I have always had a love/hate relationship with Michael Jackson. A lot of his songs were exceptional, but many more were not, at all. Particularly his ballads and sickening sweet songs were oftentimes monstrous songs. I can’t listen to them. The genteel voice irritated me as well. As he proved during the press conference for his This Is It farewell shows his ‘normal’ or ‘real’ speaking voice was a lot heavier and darker than the one he generally used in public.
But when he was good, he really was good. He did release several phenomenally good songs.
Jackson has been a major influence on music. He pioneered on a lot of issues within the world of music, be it positive or negative.
Michael Jackson singlehandedly raised the bar for the video clip as a medium and made them professional. Who doesn’t remember the premiere of Thriller, in which Jackson changes into a werewolf and dances with corpses and other creeps? Highly innovative, that was largely envisioned by Jackson himself.
Because of the unprecedented Thriller phenomenon Jackson is responsible for the term ‘mega sale’. Thriller sold in numbers the world hadn’t witnessed before (or since). The total world-wide sales score is about 70 (!) million copies.
The successor to Thriller, the 1987 Bad album, has a world-wide sales number of around 35 million albums, an insanely big number, yet it was valued as a kind of failure, particularly by Jackson himself.
Michael Jackson was a phenomenal dancer, one of the best of his generation. He mixed old dance moves, like the moonwalk with contemporary ones and mixed that with his own specific style and made a big impact with his larger than life choreographies, oftentimes containing vast numbers of dancers moving simultaneously and in sync with one another.
Together with Prince, Jackson was one of the catalysts in adding black music to the roster of MTV, the music television network that more or less defined the musical landscape during the 1980’s. Initially the network refused to play black music and/or black artists, until they were faced with a potential ban by record companies. Jackson was one of the first black artists to be played on MTV.
Jackson and his team made sure his name was always mentioned in papers, magazines and tabloids around the world, living by the motto ‘any news is good news’. Even if it meant publishing untrue stories. The stories of him sleeping in an oxygen tank or him going after the remains of the original ‘elephant man’ were fabricated by Jackson and his team. Only after the press started calling him Wacko Jacko, due to the endless stream of weird stories, he wasn’t too thrilled and started to lambast his lack of privacy.
The one thing that struck me the first weeks after his death, was that I wasn’t fond of his live later performances. Too self-aggrandizing, too much playback, the medleys that were played, sang and danced too fast. The latter in particular seemed to make him out of breath at times his vocals were live. A shame really, because his voice was great, and he could sing beautifully.
I have seen Michael Jackson live once, during the HIStory World Tour. On September, 30th, 1996 he played the Amsterdam Arena. Bar a concert by Kiss on June 11th, 1997, it is the worst show I ever witnessed. Playback, melodramatics and cheap sensationalism. When he stopped a tank on stage, as reference to the uprising at the Tiananmen-square in Peking, China, I had had it. Such a disgrace.
Unfortunately Michael Jackson’s life was a tragic one. He grew up in a household, where father ruled with a belt and drilled his children into being the perfect black boy-band, and mother didn’t protect her children with the Bible in her hand. Jackson’s childhood was rough, just working all the time and experiencing things children aren’t supposed to, let alone live through, yet. All the Jackson children went through the same ordeal, but Michael, who was the youngest and most sensitive, took it the hardest.
Yet, the family was the first popular black boy-band in the US, cleverly melting pop, soul and bubblegum which turned into huge hits. Michael joined the band when he was five and at a very early age it became very obvious which one of the boys had the natural gift in the family.
Maybe the song 2300 Jackson Street is one of the reasons I don’t buy into the sentiments of the balladry of the Jackson family. In that song their childhood and family connection is the main topic. Rather remarkable lyrics, given the childhood they all had. In the video to the song, the whole family is present, except La Toyah.
Mom and Dad
They sacrificed their wants and needs
So we could reach the light
Although the times were tough for us
We knew they both worked hard
They gave us all their hearts could give
And still made room for love
We’re all united
And standing strong
And still today
We’re one big family
© 1989 Randy Jackson, Sigmund Esco Jackson, Gene Griffin, Teddy Riley, Tito Jackson, Jermaine Jackson
In the documentary Louis, Martin & Michael, broadcast on November 16th, 2003, BBC journalist Louis Theroux goes in search of Michael Jackson, but doesn’t get to speak with him. He can get an interview with Joe Jackson, Michael’s father. He comes across as a very nasty, self-centered creep, who furiously storms off when he’s asked if Michael’s seeing a girlfriend or friend (“We don’t believe in gays”). End of the interview. Later on Theroux would remark that he’s seen and spoken to many evil people in his career, but that none of them were as unpleasant as Joe Jackson.
Scandals and health
Michael Jackson fans come in all shapes and sizes, but there are quite a few who adore everything he did in his lifetime. For those people: don’t click on the link below.
Below a number of scandals and health issues Jackson was involved with, will be summarized. The sheer magnitude of these items was something the world had never seen before also, certainly not at this scale.
The reshaping of his face hadn’t made him more attractive, at all. The change in skin color was also a recurring subject. He claimed it was caused by the disease vitiligo, but it is generally assumed he also bleached his skin.
Jackson was addicted to painkillers, uppers, downers, etc., after an accident when taping a Pepsi commercial early 1984. His hair caught fire and his skull was badly burnt. Apparently, he took painkillers ever since that day.
Marriage to Lisa Marie Presley
At the time the first child abuse stories leaked, Jackson married the daughter of Elvis Presley, Lisa Marie. The kiss they exchanged during the opening ceremony of the 1994 MTV Music Awards is an image many will never forget. It was so unreal, that a tremor went through the room when Jackson said “Nobody thought this would last” and kissed Presley. Presley in particular seemed very uncomfortable and couldn’t wait to go backstage.
Michael Jackson spent money like water. During his lifetime he was forced to sell his ranch Neverland to fulfill his obligations. Sources state, that Jackson was $ 400 million in debt at the time of his passing.
And last, but certainly not least, the child abuse allegations. In 1993 a lawsuit could be prevented by paying off the boy’s family with $ 25 million. Jackson’s sister La Toyah publicly called out to the family to stop Michael from harming boys and letting him pay huge amounts of money to several families. She later retracted this.
Following the broadcast of the 2003 documentary Living with Michael Jackson, showing a Jackson who was completely out of this world and ‘creepy’, particularly in a scene where a young dazed/in love boy leans on Jackson, while Jackson utters sentences stating that there’s nothing more beautiful than opening your bed to children, official enquiries against Jackson were instigated. New allegations led to a law suit and court hearings. After a tumultuous trial, where Jackson’s camp did all they could to create ‘reasonable doubt’, he was acquitted by a jury (even though one juror’s ‘gut feeling’ was Jackson had in fact molested children).
Earlier this year the documentary Leaving Neverland was released. In the documentary Jackson is, once again, accused of sexual abuse by two former boyfriends. The shocking tale of both men is heartrending and is a real detriment to Jackson’s legacy.
Jackson has been accused of sexual abuse by 6 different boys, the oldest dating all the way back to 1979. At least 7 former employees have accused Jackson of improper behavior in the company of young boys and/or sexual abuse.
My personal view in this is irrelevant of course, but I do think (and thought so for a long, long time) that there’s way more to Jackson and young boys than just innocent sleep-overs. Star-power and being star-struck does a lot with jurors, families (as is painfully obvious in the Leaving Neverland documentary) and young boys. But, whether or not the allegations are true, Jackson did nothing to strengthen his own position in this. He publicly maneuvered himself into an extortable position with open eyes.
The controversy surrounding child abuse potentially hurts Jackson’s legacy. It can easily lead to missing out on millions of dollars. Following the recent documentary a lot of opinion pieces have been written on whether it’s ok to still listen to Jackson’s music. Some radio stations have gone so far as to actively ban his music altogether.
This Is It
In March 2009 Jackson held a press conference at the O2 Arena in London. He announced the concert series This Is It. It would be his first great tour since the HIStory World Tour of 1996/1997. The tour title and Jackson himself suggested he would retire after the shows. 10 shows in London were to be followed by shows in Paris, New York City and Mumbai. In the end, 50 (!) shows were scheduled at the O2 Arena. Within two hours all tickets (over one million) were sold. Jackson rehearsed in Los Angeles for the upcoming tour, but it seemed ever more obvious with each passing day he really wasn’t capable of doing such a long, huge and demanding operation anymore.
Public speculation on Jackson’s ill physical and mental health soared. Many were convinced he wouldn’t be able to fulfill his obligations. Less than three weeks before the tour would commence, on June 25th, 2009, news broke that Jackson was in critical condition and had been hospitalized. Soon after, it was confirmed that Jackson, just 50 years old, had died. He was pronounced dead at 2:26 PM local time (11:26 PM in The Netherlands). I followed the news watching CNN and was glued to the TV.
Even in death Jackson remained front page news. Of course, his funeral was big news, quickly followed by arguments within the Jackson family over the custody of Jackson’s children, the legacy, the way papa Jackson tried to monetize his death almost seconds after his passing and of course the trial of his personal doctor, who was accused of killing Michael Jackson.
And, once again Jackson set new standards. He was the best selling artist for years on end. The only thing lacking is new material. It seems there isn’t much music laying around. Only two albums containing new music were released after his death.
But, in the end, this article is about the music. So, without further ado, I give you my personal favorite Michael Jackson songs.
My first choice isn’t completely within the boundaries of this article, because it’s by The Jacksons. Yet, I do think it’s indispensible in the chronology towards Michael Jackson’s solo work.
Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)
A song by The Jacksons, but it has Michael Jackson written all over it. A funky, swinging song, that’s very well crafted, particularly rhythmically speaking.
Something really special was going on, including the remixes.
Michael Jackson, solo
The songs below represent the best 10 singles Jackson has released (in my opinion). All the single covers are from Dutch releases. The year between brackets references the year in which the single was released in The Netherlands.
Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough
Well, the best song by Jackson really. Everything is so well balanced: rhythm, bass, guitar, horns, vocals. An incredibly stunning song.
Jackson wrote this song by himself, which became ultimate perfection utilizing Quincy Jones’ production.
Great song, iconic clip, uniting two gangs using dance.
Contains a contribution by master guitar player Eddie Van Halen, something he received some slack for in hard rock circles. But, it is extremely good, one of the best solo’s in a song ever.
Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
Opening song to Thriller. Once again the fantastic Quincy Jones production. A 1982 version of Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough? Possibly. This one also is so original and catchy!
The Way You Make Me Feel
Coming from the disappointing Bad album, this is a fantastic song. Contrary to a lot of other songs, this one sounds less dated.
One thing though. Jackson and sex, it remains an uncomfortable situation.
Leave Me Alone
Song about stalking by the press and the lack of privacy Jackson endured because of it, fine song.
Black Or White
Good song, great lyrics coming off the great Dangerous album.
At the time the clip was controversial, because in the end Michael Jackson start smashing up things and turns into a black panther.
In the Closet
Funky, cool song. Also coming from the fine Dangerous album.
Remarkable for its erotically charged video, with a major part played by model Naomi Campbell.
Give In to Me
With the help of Guns N’ Roses guitar player Slash this song was elevated into greatness.
Heavy and good.
Michael Jackson wanted a taste of sister Janet’s success and worked with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. They proposed this typical MPLS-sound song.
The video accompanying the song was the most expensive of all time.
Stranger In Moscow
Beautiful song. He really should have recorded more of this kind of song, instead of the sentimental monstrosities he was so good at.
This songs is convincing, musically and vocally. Jackson gives a lot, if not everything in this song.
During his long run as a solo artist (37 years) Michael Jackson released just 11 albums. Starting with album number 5 he started to be taken seriously, by audiences and critics alike, but also by Jackson himself. Therefore I won’t rate Got to Be There (1972), Ben (1972), Music & Me (1973) and Forever, Michael (1975), I don’t know them well enough anyway. I own all of the albums listed below, with the exception of Invincible, which I sold.
N.B. Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix is primarily a remix album. It contains just five new songs, thus it resembles an EP, more than it does an album.
|Off The Wall||1979||The best Jackson album? Great funk, subtle disco and Jackson singing perfectly!|
|Thriller||1982||Best sold album of all time. The refined Quincy Jones production and the many acquired songs make this album good, not great. Unfortunately it does contain too much filler, like The Girl Is Mine, P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) and The Lady In My Life to make it as good as its predecessor.|
|Bad||1987||An album with a dated sound. A lot of songs don’t live up to the standard Jackson made us expect. Bad, Man In The Mirror, I Just Can’t Stop Loving You and Dirty Diana are mediocre songs at best. With the new album came a new image: ‘street-wise’. He also adopted some macho-like moves, which resulted into a lot of crutch grabbing. It didn’t fit him, at all.|
|Dangerous||1991||Or is this his best? A surprisingly good album, that captures the times perfectly, thanks to the production team with Teddy Riley. It does contain the monstrous Heal The World.|
|HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I||1995||Variable album, that contains some truly great songs. Jackson does submit to sister Janet’s production team, who in the meantime had become more relevant following the release of her albums Control, Rhythm Nation and janet.|
Following his death the movie Michael Jackson’s This Is It was released in 2009, followed by the albums Michael (2010) and Xscape (2014), that both sold way less than was hoped for.
What do you think about Michael Jackson? Do you miss any songs, and if so, which ones? Let me know!
Michael Jackson 1958-2009 image: justamemo.com
Michael Jackson – Thriller video outtake image: okayplayer.com
Michael Jackson – Thriller – Award image: newyorker.com
Michael Jackson – Live 1987 image: nme.com
Jackson children mid 1970’s image: michaeljackson.com
Michael Jackson – Plastic surgery image: lifeandstylemag.com
Michael Jackson – Leaving Neverland – Ad image: premiere.fr
Michael Jackson with Peppi & Kokki image: pinterest.com
Michael Jackson – Albums image: bol.com/apoplife.nl
Alle Michael Jackson single images: discogs.com