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|Written by Kris Millett|
|Wednesday, 01 July 2009 00:00|
By the time you read this, you will probably be so oversaturated by Michael Jackson coverage that it will pain you to finish this sentence. I will try to spare you from unnecessary eulogizing. As I write this on the evening of his death, I feel nothing but a sense of shame – for this man will not get the opportunity to regain respectability as a musician and a person. It is also shameful that he will not bear witness to the inevitable public outpour of love that is sure to follow his passing, something that I feel would’ve happened in time anyway. And it is a shame that Michael Jackson passed away at what could arguably be considered his low point.
For years, I’ve been waiting for the moment in which the world would fall back in love with Michael Jackson. It seemed destined to happen. His disturbing childhood (or lack thereof) had become common knowledge due to endless news magazine specials and philosophizing TV psychologists, and we’ve come to accept that anyone who began in the entertainment business at age 6 is going to end up a little fucked up. There is no guidebook to handling stardom before puberty.
Jackson’s passing comes just as he was set to make a realistic bid for artistic redemption: a sold-out string of 50 shows slated for London’s O2 Arena starting in July, and a new album reportedly with the Black Eyed Peas’ Will.i.am collaborating to come (like him or not, Will.i.am has a unparalleled nose for chart success). Everything was unfolding according to my plan until this morning when Jackson collapsed in his rented mansion.
So, until demos from the Will.i.am sessions inevitably surface, here are a few sometimes overlooked (but not unknown) songs that reflect the man’s genius:
1. “BEN” – Michael Jackson’s solo career was spawned at age 14 with this song paving the road for two decades of unprecedented success. Strip away the overblown 1972 production, and you hear the unique phrasing, melodic sense, and that iconic voice – steeped in R&B tradition, yet unmistakable. His singing at the key jump near the end is nothing short of exhilarating. Who cares if parts of it sound a bit like Eric Cartman?
2. “BLAME IT ON THE BOOGIE” (w/ The Jacksons) – At the beginning, MJ flashes his pearly whites, and exclaims “eeee, hee-eeee!”. It’s 1978 and the boy has grown into a man. If you’ve worn out your copy of Off The Wall, here’s something else to sink your teeth into. It almost sounds like an extra track from Off The Wall -- albeit cheesier --, setting a template for the groundbreaking work on that album. In my opinion, Michael never looked cooler than he did in this video, dated as it may be. If it wasn’t already obvious, the older brothers were just cluttering up the stage at this point. A full solo turn was inevitable.
3. “SAY SAY SAY” (feat. Paul McCartney) – This is a song I had avoided listening to until a few months ago. I had written the whole McCartney-Jackson compilation period off as tragedy. I like both artists, but the 1983 pairing of the 60s English pop songsmith with the Black American R&B sensation clashes as poorly as . . . well, let’s just say it clashes very badly. Fortunately, in “Say Say Say,” one only has to put up with roughly 30 seconds of insipid McCartney pop before Jacko steps in to rock your world. The 80s, Golden Earring-esque backbeat only sweetens the deal. That Jackson pre-chorus knocks me off my feet every time it appears. The hook is undeniable. Even Linda McCartney is bopping . . . This reminds me to tell you to NEVER to watch the video for it. I’ve included it below to test your willpower.
4. “THE WAY YOU MAKE ME FEEL” – You know what I like? When an artist, at the peak of their popularity, comes out with their best material, and the whole world starts dancing. It rarely ever happens. It probably last happened when Eminem released “Without Me,” or anything released by Chris Gaines . . .Anyway, after Thriller sold 40 million copies in just 3 years, the pressure to deliver a follow-up must have been unimaginable. From that perspective, 1987’s Bad could be viewed as a disappointment. But it did spawn the perfect single, four other singles that went #1, and “Smooth Criminal,” which peaked at #7. The video for “The Way You Make Me Feel” may be the last one where Jackson looked relatively normal before he started to emotionally regress backwards in a reversed-Benjamin Button fashion.
5. “THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT US” –
Beat me, hate me
You can never break me
Will me, thrill me
You can never kill me
Jew me, sue me
Everybody do me
Kick me, kike me
Don't you black or white me
This song marks Michael Jackson’s final attempt to circumvent the media filter and tell it his way. This would prove futile, as the song’s lyrics were changed after people like Steven Spielberg found it offensive. Anti-Semitic concerns aside, this is the type of provocative song important artists are supposed to make. Its lyrics, along with 1991’s “Jam,” lead me to think that Michael Jackson had more of his marbles than we’re told to believe.
I mourn when I listen to “They Don’t Care About Us.” Nevertheless, it’s not really related to what transpired earlier today. For years, we have all longed for the return of the man who at least physically – due to a series of tragic accidents, illness, and bad operations – has not been with us for decades. After numerous public humiliations, we determined him to be a wacko and his music was never again given the chance to be credible. I always will mourn the loss of generational talents and transformative pop icons such as MJ – individuals that bring the whole world together.
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “There are no second acts in American lives.” This may be true, and I was not under the assumption that the ‘Elvis Presley of the music video era’ could rescue the music industry again today.
But I had hoped that, unlike Elvis, Michael Jackson would at least get the opportunity to age gracefully, to earn and be privy to the power of human forgiveness.
Post script -- Also be sure to check out his 2001 30th Anniversary Celebration concert and witness footage of Jackson giving his last great performances.