411 Music Hall Of Fame Class of 2010: Michael Jackson
MICHAEL JACKSON’S MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS:
In 1998, Jim Carry starred in the film Truman Show. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s about a man who was born, raised, and lived on television as he was unknowingly seen by millions of people every second of every day. Michael Jackson was very much like Truman. From early in his life until his untimely passing he lived with a camera in his face watching his every move. We’ve seen his rise, his triumphs, his failures, his love life, and his tribulations. We really never gave this man a chance at living a normal private life. At times lines were crossed, but we shouldn’t feel sorry for Michael Jackson. As is the life of a king. This is the story of the man who reached for the stars and ended up becoming the brightest one of them all.
On August 29th, 1958, Katherine and Joe Jackson welcomed their eighth child into their small Gary, Indiana home. That day this working-class mill worker and a devout Jehovah’s Witness presented the world one of the most prominent figures in music and pop culture history. I always held on to this fact. I too grew up in Gary so no matter what would happen with Michael I held some sort of “home town pride” when it came to him. My grandfather worked with Joe at the mill and my father would actually play basketball with the older brothers. Michael’s childhood was as normal as a middle class Gary family could provide until around kindergarten where little Michael tore it up at a Christmas recital. The reception was massive for the event. Joe Jackson, an R&B musician himself in a band called The Falcon, saw something and took things into his own hands. Teaming Michael up with brothers Marlon, Jackie, Tito, and Jermaine to form the The Jackson 5, the drive Joe Jackson had for his sons musical group would often result in horrible abuse. This is something Michael would open up about in later years. Not even ten years old, Michael and his brothers found themselves touring dives, strip clubs, and bars in the Midwest. At start they did a lot of Motown covers and slowly and surely started to get their name out there. In 1967, they would do some recording with local label Steeltown and would soon after hit it big by signing with Motown in ‘68. At this point, I don’t think anyone involved knew what they were getting into.
Off the bat, the Michael led group hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with their first four singles in “I Want You Back”, “ABC”, “The Love You Save”, and one of my all time favorites in “I’ll Be There”. This was not only a huge accomplishment for an African American group but a chart record. Leading up the early 70’s it became clear that Michael Jackson was someone very special. Under the Jackson 5 franchise Motown released four Michael solo albums including one of the ladder rungs of Michael’s climb to the top in the classic “Ben”. Motown wouldn’t give the group any creative control and sales declined so they would leave the label for CBS Records (later Epic) in ‘75. The group continued to put out music together until 1984, but the work at this time pales to the solo success and rise to stardom of Michael Jackson.
Many will tell you how hokey or lame the re-envisioned Wizard of Oz musical The Wiz was. But without it, who knows what would have happened. While working on the movie as the Scarecrow, Michael meets Quincy Jones. Jones, already an acclaimed music producer, and Michael mutually decided that Jones would produce Jackson’s next solo album Off The Wall. During a dance session around this time, Michael would break his nose. He would have to get rhinoplasty and many would say this was the start of a horrible spree of plastic surgery. With a new nose and Off The Wall hitting the shelves, we got one of the best dance pop albums of all time. Tracks like “Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough”, “Rock with You”, and others easily cracked the Top 10 on the charts, it won tons of awards, and eventually 20 million copies would be sold. I’d say that at this point, Michael would join others as being a “household name”. We all know how great and crucial Off The Wall was to Jackson’s career and really the music scene in general at the time. Regardless of this success, Michael wasn’t content. Yes, he was NOT CONTENT with Off The Wall. This wasn’t the huge impact Michael wanted and he would be determined to top it and pretty much blow people’s minds with his next album.
In 1982, Michael Jackson topped Off The Wall and blew everyone’s mind with Thriller. Three of the biggest songs of all time in “Billie Jean”, “Beat It”, the title track “Thriller”, along with the other hits dominated the world. The album itself is a time capsule of greatness that is reopened upon each play, but it didn’t end there. John Landis, a huge director at the time, teamed with Michael to put together arguably the best music video of all time. Even if you’re deaf, you at least know a move or two from “Thriller”. Spending thirty seven weeks at #1 on the charts upon release combined with the fact that it’s sold over 110 million copies worldwide; “Thriller” is the most successful album of all time. If you were alive during this time, the terms of life necessities were altered. Not only would one need water, food, clothing, and shelter for survival but you would need to own a copy of Thriller.
This acclaim would receive an exclamation mark as Jackson appeared on the television special “Motown 25”. 47 million people tuned in and saw Michael Jackson, wearing a sequined glove, moonwalk on stage for the very first time. This like Elvis or The Beatles on “Sullivan” would be a game changer in music history. The dancing and theatrics of Jackson would bring performance to the forefront and would pave the way for pop music and music videos as we know them today. This proved that by being the “complete package”, a musician can achieve even more success. Michael Jackson was already known and loved by millions but with this piece of pop art history Jackson raised the bar in terms of fame that have never been duplicated and most likely never will.
1984 didn’t see an album release, but Michael Jackson was still on top and was not afraid to share his wealth. We know the story of how Michael’s hair caught on fire after a horrible accident on set of a Pepsi commercial, but what we don’t talk about is how the fire was put out. Michael Jackson, the master he was, spun around so fast that he danced the fire out. Literally. The footage is out there. He took the 1.5 million dollar settlement and donated to a medical center in Culver City, California. He donated every cent of the approximate 8 million dollars he made from touring that year with The Jacksons to charity. He would go on to be honored by President Ronald Reagan for his charity work in May of 1984. In ‘85 he co-wrote and sang the 30 million copies sold “We Are the World” for famine relief with a slew of other musicians and celebrities. This same year he bought a music publishing company and crazy enough was now the owner of the majority of the Beatles catalog.
At this point, the more Michael tried to keep private the more craziness came out. Michael began getting more and more surgeries and was diagnosed with vitiligo and lupus. This would cause his skin-tone to lighten and with the ever changing facial features it was hard to many to still look at him in the same beyond iconic light he was just in. So with these conditions and his massive wealth the rumors flew of him “bleaching his skin” and “sleeping in an oxygen chamber” to name two of the biggest at the time. But even those rumors wouldn’t hold a candle to Michael’s eccentric truths. He bought a chimpanzee named Bubbles and started to come off a little weird to many. It would almost have been like if the stories of Howard Hughes’ private life were out in the open.
With this on his shoulders and the expectations of Thriller hanging over him, it was time for Jackson to release his first album in five years. In 1987, Bad was released. It had lower sales than Thriller, but you can’t be mad about an album that has sold well over 30 million. On Bad there were five #1 singles in “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, “Bad”, “The Way You Make Me Feel”, “Man in the Mirror”, and “Dirty Diana”. Again, a great portion of this album provides iconic songs that are cemented into the world’s culture. A world tour followed which saw Jackson sell out everywhere. Over a half million people came to the 14 shows in Japan, over a half million people attended the seven record setting shows at Wembly Stadium, and he basically set the world on fire with 123 concerts in front of 4.4 million people. And to the man’s credit, the whole time on the road he would invite underprivileged children to watch for free and donated to many charities and causes along the way. In 1988, Jackson opened up about a lot of things in his first autobiography, “Moon Walk”. Here he talks about his abusive childhood, his plastic surgeries, and much of what was rumored about him. You’d think this kind of open book attitude would have been commended, but it really only added fuel to the publicity circus surrounding his name. He bought land in Santa Ynez, California and built the $17 million dollar Neverland Ranch. It was a virtual amusement park and would be the setting of many of Michael’s future accusations. Despite the rumors, 1989 was a good year for Michael Jackson. At the Soul Train Heritage Awards, long time friend Elizabeth Taylor would dub Jackson as the “King of Pop”. That one obviously caught on.
After renewing his contract with Sony for a $65 million dollar record breaking deal, Jackson would go on to release Dangerous. It went on to sell well over thirty million copies and was a huge upswing for Jackson’s career. I remember tuning into Fox on a Sunday night to watch the video debut of “Black or White”, the album’s first single. Along with that, “Remember the Time”, and “Heal the World”, Jackson once again proved he is much, much more than just a spotlight celebrity. The continuing trend of Michael’s life was once he achieved success or a swarm of wealth he’d share it and attempt to use it for good. This time Jackson founded the Heal the World Foundation, a foundation set up to send millions of dollars around the world to help children in need. He took all the profits from the “Dangerous World Tour” and put them into the cause. That’s cool on its own, but when you take into account this tour saw 3.5 million people over a 67 show stretch, Jackson did a great thing here. Just when you thought Dangerous was fading from the charts, MJ rocked the halftime show at Super Bowl XXVII. It was the first Super Bowl that saw the ratings actually go UP during half time.
Sadly this is where it seems to go downhill in terms of the horrible accusations, slander, and circus media attention. Michael went on “Oprah” in early ‘93 and opened up about his childhood, denied buying the Elephant Man’s bones, sleeping in the oxygen tank, bleaching his skin, and all of the same jokes and folklore told about him for years before hand. He opened up about having “vitiligo”, a disease that affected his skin tone. Later that year, the first of two child molestation claims were made. Whether you believe it or not, these situations were never charged in court. Many more people denied Jackson would do something like this, but haters will hate. After working with Paul McCartney and buying the Beatles catalog, his only remaining super star tie left was Elvis. So he married his daughter, Lisa Marie Presley in 1994. Their marriage seemed a bit odd at the time, especially after the child drama. Still, there seemed to be a strong bond between the two as they would remain friends after their divorce two years later.
In 1995, Michael releases HIStory, a double disc that featured greatest hits and new material. At the time, this best selling multiple-disc album of all time moved 40 million units worldwide. Alongside “Earth Song” and “You Are Not Alone”, the main track on this album was “Scream”. “Stream” featured Michael sharing vocals with his sister Janet and was the biggest song of the album. The video was crazy and still technologically innovative for even today’s standards. This album saw another world tour. It’s crazy to think that 1997 is when Michael Jackson found the most success in crowd attendance. This time a whopping 4.5 million fans showed up for the 82 date tour. While on tour in Australia, Jackson married Debbie Rowe in late ‘96. They would have two children together – Michael Jr. (“Prince”) and daughter Paris. They would go on to divorce in 1999, but remained civil and friends because of the kids.
In 2001, Jackson released his first album in a six year span. Invincible would sadly be the last album Jackson would ever release. Due to label disputes and some under handed antics by Sony, there were no single releases, video shoots, or promotions at all for the album after MJ let it be known he was leaving the label. This didn’t stop the fans from showing support. Without the backing, MJ’s last album still sold 13 million albums. “Butterflies”, “Cry”, and “You Rock My World” were the bigger hits from the album. Obviously a letdown, it was time for karma to take care of Michael. The karma received was his third child being born. “Blanket” as he’s called was born of a surrogate. Being very guarded of his kids, Michael faded into the background as the world changed around him. Over the next few years Michael dealt with more drama over another failed attempt at accusing him of molestation, financial woes, and more dirt thrown at his name. Then the 25th anniversary of Thriller snuck up on us. The reissue of the album sold well and got people talking again. To celebrate his 50th birthday, King of Pop compilation albums were released to respectable success. I think all of these situations sparked something inside Michael Jackson.
In early 2009, Michael planned to return to the stage with a spree of shows at London’s O2 Arena. There was a lot of hype and discussion about it, but the majority of the world was either excited or in the least intrigued if the man still had it. He instantly went back into the artistic genius mode that made him who he is. He put together films for the show, hired other performers, and rehearsed like mad as he was getting ready for the “This Is It” tour. Sadly, this is one vision of Michael’s that he wouldn’t be able to share as intended. On June 25th, 2009 Michael Jackson would collapse and soon pass away in Los Angeles. With the tragedy of his death, something beautiful came too. The streets filled up with people, the radio played his music on a loop, old fans remembered why they loved him, new fans were exposed to the passion people shared for his art, 29 million more of his classic albums were sold, and an entire world united as reportedly a total of up to one billion people watched the memorial service as his three children, family, friends, and the world laid rest to the greatest entertainer of all time.
Why Michael Jackson Was Selected:
Michael Jackson has always been a fixture of pop culture. He represents the American dream, a voice of innocence, and an era in time that all of us consider our own. Michael Jackson was a Johnny Appleseed of hope, sharing it everywhere he stepped. When thinking of the most famous, most loved, and successful of music history the three eras are Elvis, The Beatles, and Michael Jackson. With massive hits like Thriller, Bad and Off The Wall, it was just the tip of the iceberg. You can take any of Michael Jackson’s albums and put any other pop star’s name on it and you’ll have that pop star’s best album. “The King of Pop” isn’t just a nickname used to push albums; it was a role that this man wore the crown of proudly. Long live the king.