Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

Something Non-Movie Related...

I'm not going to lie and say I worshiped Michael Jackson the way a lot of his fans did, but I grew up in a musical house which was dominated by three people: Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson. I've been listening to him since I was a little 90's baby. I remember being a toddler, too terrified to watch the music video to 'Thriller', and I also remember the megalomaniacal extravagance behind the 'Smooth Criminal' music video (which co-starred Joe Pesci and had Jack-O turning into some kind of transformer for some reason). He became more and more infamous in recent decades with his battles against child abuse accusations and beyond-bizarre behavior. Jackson never truly recovered his image, even if his fans stuck by him, but what was never debated was his brilliant stretch from the 70's till the early 90's, which included his days as a child star with the Jackson Five, and the single most commercially successful album ever: 'Thriller'. 'Thriller' is usually considered one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, albums of all time, and its astonishing how it lives up to its reputation--even today. So, in tribute, I will now give my personal (and quite frankly, random and subjective) list of Michael Jackson's ten greatest songs...

10. "Thriller"

The title track from that groundbreaking album. Obviously, its music video did a lot to elevate the status of the song itself, but it truly is fascinating the way Jackson stretches such a gimmicky song and turned it into an unstoppable single.

9. "The Girl Is Mine" (feat. Paul McCartney)

This song should get an asterisk, because I'll admit that most of my admiration for it stems from its connection to my favorite Beatle (McCartney). All that said, the two came together to create a poignant, and humorous song about two guys fighting for the same gal. (P.S. either way, its way better then the time Jackson collaborated w/ Eddie Murphy to produce that atrocity 'Wazupwitu?').

8. "Black and White" (feat. Slash on guitar)

This rock hit prompted Jackson to go on the MTV Video Music Awards and dubiously announce that he'd "now be known as The King of Rock". This was one of many embarrassingly misjudged public moments for Jackson later in his life, but it never detracted from his music, particularly this great track.

7. "Off The Wall"

Using funk and sharp vocals, the title track from Michael's first solo album (which many consider his FIRST masterpiece) is such a delightful combination of dance beats and easily Michael's most intensely fierce singing.

6. "The Lady of My Life"

Despite the fact that there was rarely an actual lady in Jackson's life (Lisa Marie Presley doesn't count), he always knew how to deliver love ballads. This song, which caps off 'Thriller', is probably his best of that variety, with its aching emotion and gentle delivery.

5. "Baby Be Mine"

Quite possibly, Jackson's most underrated song. Following the long-winded 'Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'' on 'Thriller', 'Baby Be Mine' comes on like a breath of fresh air. It has standard pop sensibility, but under the eye of Jackson and studio whiz Quincy Jones, this song becomes one of Michael's most pleasant songs.

4. "Human Nature"

Another song from that great second side of 'Thriller'. 'Human Nature' is a quaint, lovely ballad which is highly elevated by some inspired synthesizer playing (much thanks, once again, to Quincy Jones). The song is really an epitome of everything that made Michael so good in his hey-day: sincere singing supported by such wonderfully-produced music. Probably the greatest lyrics he ever sang.

3. "I Want You Back"

The first one; the one that brought him straight into people's homes for the first time. Along with the rest of the Jackson Five, Michael became a superstar with this huge hit in 1969--easily the best from those early years.

2. "Rock With You"

When he danced in that emphatically cheap music video, it didn't matter that he had a cheesy strobe light flashing behind him, making him look like he was performing at a strip club. Why didn't it matter? Because this song is brilliant.

1. "Billie Jean"

I don't even think this is close. The quintessential Michael Jackson song. With its mysterious lyrics and its quasi-Film Noir music video, 'Billie Jean' rose to become one of the best songs of the 80's, and of all-time. The striking bass line, which riffs consistently underneath every line and beat strikes anyone who listens to it, and the mix of funk guitar to highlight the songs infamous themes pierces all listeners. It should be the song he's remembered by.

It's a tragedy that Michael had become a sideshow for the last fifteen years. It had gotten to a point where I'd hoped I wouldn't see him on the news, because for him, there seemed to be no such thing as good press. As hard as it may seem, try not to think of him dancing on cars outside of courtrooms, or playing a ghetto scarecrow in 'The Wiz'. Instead, try to think of all the great songs (perhaps some of the ones I listed?), and remember that he was one of the biggest pop stars of all-time.

1 comment:

daniel said...

michael jackson was widly understood at first admired idoled and protrayed as a perfect icon when i was 5 years old in 1970 we used to have dances in the metro housing complex i wish to say the man touched my soul he made me believe and stand up for whats wright michael you have recieved gifts and you shared them eventhough you where troubled in the end i want to remember the good and say i am not a judge and i cant convict anyone and so i will keep his memory strong and in peace mr king of pop you will be missed .thank you.