Let The Music Do The Talking

Remembering Michael Jackson on his 60th birthday

Let The Music Do The Talking

Michael Jackson built an outstanding career that had very few lows over a 40 year period, and when he died in 2009, left a void in Pop music impossible to fill, that is how strong his influence was in music and Pop Culture.

Michael Joseph Jackson was born in Gary,Indiana on August 29 1958. He was the 8th of 10 children that were disciplined into becoming a successful showbiz act by their father Joseph Jackson. He starts his career as a child in The Jackson 5 during the 60’s where he gets his first taste of success. Despite being the “little one” in the band, it was notorious it was also the most talented too due to his distinctive vocal tone and dance moves. Some of The Jackson 5 most memorable songs are the ones featuring Michael’s lead vocals, such as “ABC”, “I Want You Back”, “I’ll Be There” or “Never Can Say Goodbye”. During the mid 70’s, Jackson leaves the band to pursue a solo career. It starts slowly but by 1979 with the release of “Off The Wall” during the peak of Disco-Fever he becomes a superstar on his own, proving what everyone already knew, that he was the reason behind The Jackson 5 success, despite the talent it’s other members. He was unique and that was noticeable from a very young age. “Off The Wall”, his fifth solo album was produced by Quincy Jones,it featured some original Michael’s compositions and scored hits such as “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and “Rock with You”.

Thriller Revolution

In 1982, only 3 years after the Disco “Off The Wall”, he released what would become his masterpiece, and in just over a year, it  became the world’s best-selling album, with estimated sales of 66 million copies today and still counting. To talk about “Thriller” it’s to talk about a milestone and landmark in Pop music. It established Jackson as the biggest Pop star in the world and sat him on the throne from where he ruled the 80’s music industry. Quincy Jones once again was the producer, Jackson wrote alone 4 of the songs in the album, and he called on guests like Paul McCartney and Eddie Van Halen that resulted in the duet “The Girl Is Mine” and the famous guitar solo in “Beat It”. Other hit songs were “Billie Jean”, “Human Nature” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin”. But, the revolution this album made in the music industry that resulted in high sales worldwide, was more than just the music. The title song “Thriller” was made into a short film. In the early MTV days where videos weren’t still that essential to help the sales of the albums and singles, Jackson explored these new video technology, and marketing strategy, John Landis was called to produce what become the first major video production to promote a song. This strategy could had been all for nothing, knowing that MTV in the U.S at those days didn’t really included black artists on their programming, that changed with “Thriller”. The video, that on it’s own is considered a landmark and milestone as much as the whole album, it broke down racial barriers in the U.S by bringing back black music artists to the mainstream and nationwide TV. After “Thriller”, everything that Jackson touched became gold. He was literally showered with award after award, most notably the 1984 Grammy’s where the album won a record-breaking of 8 Awards including Album of The Year. During that period, he became a valuable asset for the music industry and found himself in an intensive career activity that was very far from The Jackson 5 days.

His life in pictures

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The King Of Pop

Only 5 years after “Thriller, in 1987, he released his next album, “Bad”. Another worldwide success where in 10 tracks, only one did not resulted in a hit, the Stevie Wonder duet “Just Good Friends”, and launched his most successful tour ever, where he sold out stadiums across the globe. It was during this period that he was named as “The King Of Pop”. “Bad” featured the hit songs “The Way You Make Me Feel”, “Dirty Diana”, “Smooth Criminal”, “Man In The Mirror”, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, “Speed Demon”, “Another Part Of Me”, “Liberian Girl” and the title song “Bad”. By then Jackson’s private life was getting more headlines than his music, which created a frustrated feeling on him that lead to isolating himself from public life, in “Bad” a lot of the lyrics reflect his state of mind at the time, perhaps the single “Leave Me Alone” can be the best example lyrically of the pressure he was feeling at the time. In 1988 he wrote his autobiography “Moonwalk”, soon followed by his movie “Moonwalker”, a fantasy extravaganza pilled with state of the art Special FX and a cast including John and Yoko son Sean Lennon. “Moonwalk” soundtrack featured some of the songs of “Bad” and a cover of The Beatles “Come Together”. During the mid 80’s, generating millions, Jackson invested on some assets and that included the rights to The Beatles songs catalog after Paul McCartney rejected the offer first. “Moonwalk” was the last that the 80’s saw of Michael Jackson.

The Dangerous 90’s

By 1991, 1980’s Jackson fans had grown up and some moved away from the Pop formula taste produced during that period. In only three years, the music industry changed drastically, and the 90’s presented a new concept in many things different from the previous decade. For the first time, Michael Jackson had to do an effort to adapt to a new decade and sound, which resulted in the double album “Dangerous”, which was very different musically, from “Thriller” and “Bad”. Despite all, it was a success, most of the songs adopted the new electronic dance trend beats present in the early 90’s, as an example “In The Closet”, “Remember The Time” and “Who Is It”. The first single from the album was the successful “Black Or White”, that saw Jackson engaging once more into a video extravaganza, this time featuring young “Home Alone” star Macaulay Culkin. Keeping up with featuring at least one epic guitar solo per album since “Thriller”, Slash from Guns N’ Roses was a special guest on the song “Give In To Me”, a classic Rock song that distinguished from the rest of the album, heavily Dance/Electronic based. In 1992 Michael Jackson embarked on a new world tour, and despite the charts being then dominated by Alternative Rock, once again he sold out stadiums around the world, making the “Dangerous Tour” another triumph in his career. However, after 1993 the personal scandals, accusations and press attacks to Jackson contributed for a steadier, lower point in his career. Jackson was battling hard to keep up with the 90’s trends that were happening so fast at the same time that he was dealing with personal problems. In 1995 he released a double album that featured simultaneously a Greatest Hits compilation and a second disc of 15 new and previously unreleased tracks, “HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I” featuring songs such as “You Are Not Alone”, “They Don’t Care About Us” , “Stranger In Moscow”, Earth Song” and his duet with sister Janet “Scream” that still scored medium hits for Jackson, but at a different scale of what he was used to. As the 90’s come to an end, Jackson’s career doesn’t seems to get much better, but still he is able to keep up by releasing his Remix album “Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix” in 1997. It seemed that Jackson’s talent as songwriter was being wasted during that period in Remixes and Remaster releases, this is the part of his life that the music really stays in second plan.

The Final Curtain

In 2001, Michael returns with a new studio album, “Invincible”, but regardless of in general being critically well received and debuted on Number 1 in several countries, it is an album that lacked from little to none promotion from the label, it is also a new time for Michael to adjust, the 2000’s. Unlike some of 80’s best sellers such as Madonna, Jackson is having a hard time renewing his audience to a younger generation. “Invincible” will be the last of his studio albums and for the rest of the 2000’s Jackson’s career was nearly silent. In 2009 though, it seemed he was getting a refreshing and deserved boost, with a new studio album in sight, he got an offer to tour again. In March 2009, Jackson held a press conference at London’s O2 Arena to announce a series of comeback concerts titled “This Is It”, the plan was to play 10 concerts in London followed by Paris, New York and Mumbai, however, this was increased to 50 dates after record-breaking ticket sales of over one million sold in less than two hours. He felt he was back and those numbers could prove it. Again on the top of the game and despite feeling physically weak he accepted the challenge to dance and sing on stage for over 50 nights. Jackson stated that it would be his last tour and had plans to retire from touring after it. Shortly before the first concert of the tour, Jackson died suddenly of a cardiac arrest on June 25, 2009.

For some, his death marked the end of an era and the beginning of his “immortality” as an artist. Fair to say this was one of music’s biggest losses that we experienced, and either if you like Jackson or you don’t, there is no denial of his influence in music, movies, dance and Pop Culture, Michael is part of a restricted group of artists and figures that were meant to be remembered forever, this was his “natural evolution” to the career he had. It really doesn’t matter how he choose to live his life or most importantly, how he was allowed to live it because in the end, what matters and stays is that he offered the world the best of him, his talent as a songwriter and performer, and his untimely death leaves a void that can never be replaced, this is how he should be remembered, as talented artist. That’s the huge legacy he leaves to everyone who loves music.

Listen to Michael Jackson’s highlights of his career compiled by Pop Expresso on Spotify

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David Warren

David Warren

David Warren is co-founder, editor and author for Pop Expresso

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