AmericanPop33.com presents a 10 year snap shot of Michael Jackson’s illustrious entertainment career. In virtually every conceivable way, the artistic legend and performance exploits of the recording artist known to the world as the ‘King of Pop’ stand as historically unprecedented. The following is a thoughtful examination of the ‘Prince of Pop’ as his artistic growth and commercial success transitioned him into the heralded ‘King of Pop’. Indeed, the true gravity and pop cultural influence of Michael Jackson’s 1980s artistic dominance exists only among the most rarified of air. It was a 10 year run that perhaps no other recording artist and entertainer will ever equal, let alone endeavor to surpass.
Without question, Michael Jackson’s music and influence permeated every aspect of pop music during the 1980’s. His unique style of entertainment was the musical equivalent of the hard-driving rain which powers a once in a generation hurricane. In retrospect, it’s reasonable to imagine the futility in thinking that the future of humanity might one day provide another artistic being with the transcendent talents of Michael Joseph Jackson.
The Coronation: The ‘King of Pop’
The long, short, and whole of Michael Jackson’s musical career, specifically with regard to his commercial success and artistic achievement, is at once unprecedented, unparalleled, and frankly, unbelievable. Fact: Michael Jackson is the best-selling solo recording artist in all of human history. Between 1979 and 1989, Jackson along with his talented and dedicated production team wrote, recorded, and released 3 of the 10 best-selling albums in the history of music, in the folowing order, ‘Off the Wall’ (1979), ‘Thriller’ (1982), followed by ‘Bad’ (1987). The cultural impact of these albums is superseded only by the enormity of their commercial success.
OFF THE WALL (1979)
OFF THE WALL
Virtually, since it’s August 10th of 1979 release, ‘Off the Wall’ (Epic/CBS Records) has been widely considered a musical work of art, and the best disco album … ever. In truth, ‘Off the Wall’ was exceedingly polished lyrically, and notably more nuanced in terms of depth and complexity than most ‘disco’ albums of the era. Its crossover appeal did not take away from its consideration as the best disco genre album of them all. It was a collaboration which brought the transcendent talents of Michael Jackson, ‘midas touch’ producer Quincy Jones, and song writing contributions from the likes of Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and Rod Temperton. This was the first time that this esteemed group came together, but it was certainly not the last. The results remain awe-inspiring. Michael Jackson became the first solo artist to have Four (4) singles from one album to break the Billboard Top 10, including the Grammy winning #1 single,”Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”. This single was also Michael’s 1st earned Grammy as a solo artist. To date, ‘Off the Wall’ has sold in excess of 20 million units world-wide, in addition to being RIAA Certified 8x Platinum in the United States alone. Simply remarkable. ‘Off the Wall’ remains one of the greatest and best-selling albums of all-time.
As a remarkable matter of historical fact, ‘Thriller’ (1982) is the most commercially successful album in all of human history. It often takes a moment for one to fully grasp the largess of this reality. ‘Thriller’ was released by Epic/CBS Records on November 30th of 1982. Almost immediately the album took off running and for all intents and purposes hasn’t stopped, even today some 4 decades later. In fact, within the space of 14 months, with an astonishing 66 million units sold, ‘Thriller’ became the 3rd best-selling album of all-time, on its way to becoming the first album in the history of recorded music to earn RIAA Certified 33x Multi-Platinum (No. That is not a typo). To add to Michael Jackson’s transcendent legend, he is credited as the writer of 4 of the 9 tracks on the Quincy Jones produced album. All told, ‘Thriller’ produced an eye-watering seven (7) Top 10 singles. Including – ‘Billie Jean‘, ‘Beat It’, ‘The Girl Is Mine’, ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Something’, ‘Human Nature’, ‘Pretty Young Thing’ and the title track ‘Thriller’. Additionally, 1983 saw ‘Thriller’ receive eight (8) Grammy Awards, including ‘Album of the Year’, also unprecedented in history. Not too bad for an album that took the better part of 7 months to produce with a budget just north of $750,000.
“Thriller” Best Selling Album in Human History
As if Michael Jackson’s 1980’s cultural and commercial dominance wasn’t enough following the other-worldly successes of ‘ Off the Wall’ and ‘Thriller’, just five years following Thriller’s release, Epic/CBS Records released Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ on August 31st of 1987. Jackson, who composed 9 of the 11 tracks on this album, once again teamed up with producer Quincy Jones, who waved his magic wand. The ball just kept rolling, as this album was a runaway hit in its own right. Lyrically, this album displayed a more mature version of Jackson, who took on serious life topics, including subject matter the likes of ‘media bias’, and ‘racial profiling’. These in addition to the time-honored musical tradition of ‘love and romance’. More importantly, with the astronomical success of a 3rd consecutive album, it became clear that Michael Jackson was the legitimate ‘King of American Pop Music’, and a bona fide pop culture icon of the 1980’s.
Indeed, of the eleven (11) songs on ‘Bad’, nine (9) were released as singles, with five (5) of those hitting #1 on U.S. Billboard 100 charts, with a sixth hitting the Billboard Top 10. ‘Bad’ reached #1 ranking in thirteen (13) different countries A fact which is nothing short of amazing. Indeed, ‘Bad’ has sold in excess of 35 million units worldwide, garnering it the rare achievement of an RIAA Diamond Certification. All told, Michael Jackson’s 3rd album in 10 years was nominated for six (6) Grammy Awards, bringing two (2) of those home for the win. In addition, in 2009, ‘Bad’ was given a ranking of #43 on the 100 Greatest Albums of All Time List, and a ranking of #22 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time’. The success of ‘Bad’ marked a farewell to the Jackson – Jones production tandem.
Intention vs. Perception = A Legacy Tarnished?
Throughout history, when it comes to the proverbial entertainment superstar, more often than not, concepts of intention and perception seem locked in a perennial struggle to define an artists legacy. There is perhaps no greater example of this confusing, often dualistic and complex reality than the curious case of Michael Joseph Jackson aka the ‘King of Pop’.
The intended artistic delivery of arguably the most successful, and influential entertainer of all-time, is compelling evidence of bedrock insistence. His intention to consistently entertain at the highest levels is clear. His intention to influence his adoring fans who literally span the entire planet, and across generations is virtually sacrosanct. Also true is his intention to reach as many humans with his music as possible. The success of which is evidenced by his record-setting commercial success.
Michael Jackson’s legacy of modified physical appearance. Within the minds of folks in the African-American community in America, as well as people the world over, it would be difficult to escape the accusation and/or charge that Michael Jackson was guilty of attempting to abandon his aesthetic blackness, which by extension as a resulted in abandoning his responsibility to the struggle of black people in general.
Indeed, multiple surgeries including rhinoplasty and a litany of additional drastic changes in his appearance, such as skin bleaching (claiming the medical condition Vitiligo) and other strange procedures, have left very specific perceptions in the minds of untold millions. In many ways this is similar to golfer Tiger Wood’s conjuring an obscure racial identity called ‘Cablanasian‘. The perception is that individual wants to extricate him/herself from being African-American, and all that comes with it. Dubious aesthetic changes aside, starting in 1993, Michael Jackson was the accused subject, and criminal defendant in a series of child sexual abuse claims. His defenses spanned the range of ‘extortion’ to the ‘idiosyncratic’. Regardless, his behavior around children proved questionable in the best of cases.
The truth is what the truth is. It’s likely that only God knows exactly what that truth is, however, with perception being as powerful as truth in the realm of public opinion, Michael Jackson’s overall legacy has assuredly taken a hit.
At the end of the day, perhaps it’s good practice to separate the artist from the man, with the understanding that cultural icons are indeed human beings. All human beings are flawed by their very nature. The limit of their heights, the depths of their souls, and the truth of their hearts are truly only knowable and redeemable by their creator.