Michael Jackson is forever the King of Pop. Jackson would’ve turned 58 years old today (Aug. 29).
As part of the Jackson 5, Michael was clearly the charmer who had star potential. His early Motown solo releases were hits, but as the group’s relationship with the label soured, they sought refuge elsewhere. They eventually signed with CBS/Epic, where they were given creative control. After a few lackluster releases, the quintet (now simply “The Jacksons”) found their own sound in the late 70s with their hit album Destiny.
But Jackson was itching to reignite his solo career; and he teamed up with Quincy Jones for Off The Wall, his breakthrough.
Then Thriller happened. This was where Jackson’s creative ambitions and unmatched showmanship coagulated for the near-mythic figure he became regarded as. He made listeners dance to African groove lines (“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”) and awe as he moonwalked across the bass riff of “Billie Jean.” Prince, who had similarly grand ambitions, was Jackson’s only rival. But while Prince wanted to rock you, Jackson wanted you to dance. And fans obeyed; Thriller will likely remain as the highest selling album ever.
Bad, the follow-up, didn’t reach Thriller-level success, but was still another commercial achievement. However, a shift in Jackson’s music started in the album’s closing bonus track, “Leave Me Alone.” Since that song, Jackson would continuously shake his fists at the tabloids that slandered him.
Thriller was celebratory with “Wanna Be Starting Something” being one of the only moments where Jackson bore his teeth. From Dangerous onward, the joy became more intermittent as he openly wrestled with tabloid and childhood damage on record. The damage accumulated until his shocking death from a combinations of drugs in 2009.
It’s still heartbreaking to this day, but he was the greatest.