Throwback Single: Michael Jackson Special
The year is 1983 and a newly gone solo musical prodigy takes the stage at the Motown 25 television special. The crowd excitedly jumps up from their seats, the distinctive drums kick in and an infectious bass-line begins. The ecstatic crowd starts to wolf whistle and passionately clap to the beat as the spotlight focuses on the shimmering sequin attired performer, shining brightly under the lights singing. The prodigy mesmerizes the crowd with his soulful voice and energetic dancing; then- three and a half minutes into the performance, the lithe dancer backslides across the stage like exquisite warm butter on porcelain. Michael Jackson debuts for the very first time what will go on to become his signature move- the Moonwalk and finishes it with a dizzying triple spin. The crowd screams in euphoria enthralled by the "Billie Jean" performance and another forty seven million people watch from home. History was made that evening with MJ’s magic displayed in all its magnificent glory.
The same euphoria never ceased when Michael Jackson entertained in the years to come; his appeal and magnetism were indescribable. He broke racial barriers as his music transcended geographic boundaries and smashed through demographics appealing universally to all music lovers. The shock and utter disbelief an entire global community experienced after the King of Pop's sudden passing, was testimony to the sheer might of the legend and his phenomenal music.
It has been almost three years since the icon’s passing and his memory very much lives on. Today, his family shall be gathering in the courtyard of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. The legend’s children will use their late father’s shoes and that signature sequinned glove of his to create imprints in cement in the forecourt of the theatre, celebrating the superstar’s legacy and coinciding with the Los Angeles debut of Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Michael Jackson: THE IMMORTAL World Tour.’
Michael Jackson has always held a very special place with MOBO. In 2009 we paid homage to the King of Pop at our Awards show in Glasgow. We were privileged to have La Toya and Jermaine Jackson pay tribute to their late brother, collecting a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award on his behalf. Jermaine performed Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” one of Michael’s favourite songs. The young talented Shaheen Jafargholi sang a rendition of Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” and dance troupe Diversity performed in his honour. The tributes themselves were a shining example of how the King of Pop’s music has transcended time, entertaining generation after generation.
Those of us born in the '80s grew up on a staple diet of MJ. Whether it was a school disco or somebody's 50th birthday, a post - Bar Mitzvah or Holy Communion party, there was one rhythmic constant and that was Michael's music. “Thriller,” “Beat It,” “Smooth Criminal,” “I Just Can't Stop Loving You,” “Give In To Me,” “Who Is It?” “Jam,” “Black And White,” the list of fabulous songs continues and the number of memories attached to each melody- hopelessly innumerable. He was our musical Messiah and the soundtrack to our lives, influencing the way we danced and sometimes even dressed. I got a pair of his coveted LA Gear trainers and can still remember how blessed I felt to have a pair of the black studded wonder shoe endorsed by the great man himself. I felt helplessly cool, kids without a pair looked at me in awe and when I danced in them I felt on top of the world, I felt like I was the best dancer in the world because MJ was the best in the world!
Michael Jackson’s explosive performances were undeniably breathtaking. A potent combination of grace and power- Jackson was Astaire, Nureyev and the most agile East Coast street dancer rolled into one. When he danced, he commanded an auditorium. His elaborate choreography saw his music videos rise to mass popularity. They were not mere videos but short films embracing the newest technology. Video became Art for Michael and the popularity of his videos put MTV on the map. John Landis, Martin Scorcese, Stanley Winstone, Spike Lee; MJ hired the best to create and direct his visual masterpieces. He understood more than anyone the power of audio visual and the impact of imagery. The world had not seen anything like it and Jackson raised the bar to a whole new cinematic level.
“Beat It” is a case in point. The track played a major role in cementing the Quincy Jones produced album ‘Thriller’ as the best selling album of all time. The highly acclaimed track was written by MJ and featured Eddie Van Halen on guitar- giving the track its delicious distinctive guitar solo. The third single from ‘Thriller,’ “Beat It” was released in 1983 to a fantastic reception and enjoyed instant global chart success. The superbly choreographed accompanying video, further helped catapult Michael Jackson to superstardom as a seasoned solo artiste.
The song carried a clear message of abstinence from violence and the importance of courage and determination; and the video was a vivid representation of this. Directed by Bob Giraldi, the video featured real life members of rival LA street gangs, to help encourage peace and reconciliation between them. The video showcased a host of dancers and the mass synchronised choreography in the video would go on to become MJ’s signature style.
Just after its release, “Beat It” was included in an anti-drunk driving campaign in the United States, with the song being featured on the accompanying album. President Ronald Reagan presented an award to the star in recognition of his support for the national campaign. The song picked up two Grammy Awards in the 1984 ceremony, a Billboard Award and was later certified Platinum by the RIAA in 1989. The video in its own right won many awards including seven Billboard Video Awards and an induction into the Music Video Producer's Hall of Fame. The song is still one of the most successful, recognised and venerated songs in the history of music and years after its release, is still a universal dance floor anthem…
Michael Jackson’s success with the ‘Thriller’ album continued. The final release was the title track “Thriller,” written by Rob Temperton. The song was a global chart topper in 1984 and its video directed by John Landis, is considered to be the greatest video made of all time. The mini-musical centred around MJ and a love interest played by actress Ola Ray. Inspired by Horror flicks of the ‘50s, the engaging storyline saw MJ turn into a werecat, a Vincent Price soliloquy and slick choreography, setting a new bench mark in the music industry. It was a milestone moment where film and music merged, setting a new precedence where music videos gained an impetus. The stunning fourteen minute film is so iconic in its own right that few can think of the song and not visualise Jackson and that dance routine. This is the audio visual extravaganza's legacy.
The video captivated an entire globe and went on to win numerous awards, including a Grammy Award for ‘Best Video, Long Form’ and three MTV Video Music Awards. The video was listed in the Guinness World Records and in 2009, the video was inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, the first music video to ever do so. Years later, the video continues to be as popular as ever with a staggering one hundred and six million YouTube views alone!
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee’s accolades are a musician’s fantasy wish list. MJ’s awards’ tally runs into the hundreds and includes a staggering forty Billboard Awards, twenty two American Music Awards, nineteen Grammy Awards including a record breaking eight in 1984, twelve World Music Awards, thirteen Guinness World Records, thirteen MTV Awards, nine Soul Train Awards and a Golden Globe.
Michael Jackson the accomplished showman was also a dedicated philanthropist. He spoke publicly about the need to fund HIV/AIDS research at a time when it was taboo to talk about the crippling disease. He founded the ‘Heal the World Foundation’ in 1992 with a view of addressing global issues including helping children threatened by war and disease. Jackson was diligent and donated the entire profits from the Dangerous World Tour to the organisation, a figure running into the millions as the tour consisted of a hearty sixty nine concerts across the globe.
The Dangerous tour was hugely successful. I can still remember how sought after the golden tickets were and the scramble to be a proud owner of one. My sister the ultimate fan wanted to be one such lucky individual. Being all of five years old, unfortunately she was too young to watch MJ live at Wembley like the rest of us. Bedtimes rules could not be broken, even for him. However, having a mother well-respected in the entertainment industry was her saving grace and my sister became the privileged recipient of Michael’s personal ’88 Bad Tour t-shirt after he sent it through a mutual family friend for her. The magnanimity and sheer kindness Jackson possessed was also what possibly drew millions to him. He cared about his fans and in many ways, lived for them. They were his oxygen. A childhood spent in recording studios devoid of regular frivolous kinder life, it was all worth it when he could make millions happy- and he most certainly did.
“This is a massive loss for the music industry, that cannot be understated and although we have lost the King of Pop, his music lives on not only in the heart of his millions of fans worldwide, a fanbase built up during a career spanning four decades; but also in the music of his contemporaries and everyone who has come after him. Those who often imitated but never bettered his extraordinary achievements,” said MOBO Awards CEO and founder on hearing of the King of Pop’s passing as she arrived in LA for the BET Awards in 2009. Kanya's words echo a universal sentiment. Michael Jackson was a consummate singer, dancer, songwriter, producer, philanthropist and icon to millions. He inspired a plethora of performers from Usher to Britney, with his music having an immeasurable influence. I personally cannot count the number of times I have interviewed artistes and when asked about their musical influences, receive “Michael Jackson” as a reply. I can earnestly say that Michael Jackson has gifted many of us groove and there will never be another quite like him. Preciously unique, his passing left an immense void and I cannot envisage anyone filling it- at least not in my lifetime. Yet one can take solace in knowing that Michael Jackson’s Art remains immortal.
I remember the day I heard the news of MJ's demise, I like millions of others was in shock and decided to start a Facebook group to channel the immense sadness I felt. I wrote in the group's description, "I have a lump in my throat, I'm all out of tissues, I don't feel like retiring to bed infact I've missed time for slumber and daylight is filtering through my window BUT I'm listening to MJ and I'm beginning to tap my feet and may attempt to Moonwalk or more ambitiously nail the "Smooth Criminal" routine and finally figure out how Michael leaned so far forward without falling! I guess the latter is symbolic... So if the icon has made you smile, laugh, cry, dance, attempt to dance, sing, croon and break some Austrian crystal, be vocal please! Michael Jackson lived to entertain us- perhaps for a moment or two, we can entertain him..?"
With the same poignancy, I am off to court nostalgia and bust some dance moves to “Beat It.” I am sure that many, many of you, shall do the very same.
Michael Joseph Jackson
(Aug 29th 1958-June 25th 2009)
The ceremony at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre will be streamed live via Twitter @michaeljackson
For more information on Cirque du Soleil's ‘Michael Jackson: THE IMMORTAL World Tour’ please click here.
Reema Kumari Jadeja ©