Michael Jackson started off as a pre-teen sensation sounding old beyond his years before morphing into the leader of the Jackson 5 as a disco swirl of Motown product and finally, after all but begging Quincy Jones to collaborate with him, the prince of pop.
All the pre Thriller (yes even Off The Wall) while at the least important, were not the ground breaking mashup of Thriller. That album is a Sgt. Peppers type album, it is not as great as it seems to be and still a world changing experience. The 60s had Pepper, the 70s Never mind the Bollocks, the 80s Thriller, the 90s Nevermind and the 00s? I can’t think of the one album game changer for this decade.
Anyway, what it was was an ultimate mash of forms, each one growing on the other. To hear an electric guitar on a disco song was to hear a new hybrid of sound in the process of morphing to a world beating howling songstress. Eddie Van Halen was more a game changer than anything else on “Beat It”. It was as black a move on a white audience as Chuck Berry’s studied decision to write about white teen concerns in the 50s. The disco audience (a cute euphemism for black in the 80s) and the rock (hey, disco sucks) were further apart than grunge and hip hop in the early 90s. It was a break in between; urban, suburban, black, white, them, us -all that stuff. And it sounded like nothing else because Van halen’s guitar sounded like it fit and was out of place at the same time.
There it was at the center of the sound, of Thriller, and as the pop world tried to get used to dancing as a part of modern pop and the video as central to the sale, that’s the stuff that seemed earth changing. But it wasn’t. Because time could change the way we see music videos, there is no cadet either cool or not cool in the filming of little movies and as far as pop goes over a quarter of a century later the videos look cute and the dancing is awesome but the music still sounds fresher than fresh and more than fresh it sounds like the way music sounds now where Jay-Z checks out Coldplay and Grizzly bear and says its all music and where Kid cudi is more emo than hip hop. All of this stems from what rock always does which is morph out. And remember, this is four years BEFORE Run DMC covered “Walk This way” with Aerosmith so not only was it before its time it was also years before its time.
Today, you can hear Jackson’s sound the way you can hear Berry’s sound: its so deep into pop it’s hardly worth pointing out. When you love Flo Rida you love Jackson the way when you love KSM you love Berry. Don’t matter if you know it or not, no point drawing a straight line between Baby Face thru Usher to Ne-Yo and saying “Michael Jackson” every step of the way. How can Miley Cyrus NOT NAME CHECK HIM (on the Teen Awards version of “Party In The U.S.A. -which does double duty as a Berry cop)?
I know you think I’m finished here with MJ but I’m not. I keep on returning to him because I write about pop music and in pop music MJ IS THE STORY.
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