Friday, June 26, 2009

By Julian Marshall
Newsbeat online editor

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson was on the brink of a massive live comeback due to start in London in July.

But after 10 years of seeing him in the courtroom or in the papers rather than on stage, you would have to be at least 18 years old to remember a time when Michael Jackson was first and foremost a pop star.

However if you strip away all of the gossip, rumours and allegations and look simply at his music, the phrase King of Pop does Jackson justice.

Which other musician had a career which spans four decades, reinventing himself every time? No, Cliff Richard doesn't count.

If you ask your parents, they'll tell you stories of a cherub faced boy who fronted the Jackson 5.

Signed to Motown records, he was just 11 years old when he was singing with his family on tracks like I Want You Back, which was a hit way back in 1969.

Growing up in the public eye from such an early age, the Jackson 5 had hit after hit - ABC, I'll Be There and Rockin' Robin to name just three.

Even then it was clear that Michael would be the one to break from the group for solo success. In 1979 he cracked it with a completely different sound.

Off The Wall, a disco album, sounds as fresh today as it did 30 years ago and is a contender for his greatest record.

You might know the slushy ballads Girlfriend and She's Out Of My Life, but when Jackson lets loose is when the album really shines.

Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough, Rock With You and Working Day and Night can still set the dance floor on fire and are an influence on the likes of Usher and Justin Timberlake.

Memorable Michael Jackson moments

By the 1980s Michael Jackson was the biggest star on the planet and Thriller is the biggest selling album of all time.

Almost every track a hit, Jackson took the disco sound of Off The Wall and, on tracks like Billie Jean and Beat It made it sound huge.

But what really tipped him over the edge into a universe of his own was a pioneering use of music video.

Thriller, less a promo and more a mini movie, was on almost constant rotation on MTV at the time. The sight of Jackson in red jacket, performing a perfect dance routine surrounded by zombies, is one of his most iconic.

With his success came the tabloid headlines. Claims of plastic surgery, skin bleaching, oxygen tents, monkey friends and a Peter Pan lifestyle were regular fixtures in the press across the world.

But none of this could stop his phenomenal rise. While the papers were saying Jackson was acting like an alien from another planet, if you were growing up in the late 80s he was one of the most exciting pop stars imaginable.

Bad, released in 1987 isn't really as good as Off The Wall or Thriller, but that didn't stop it selling over 30 million copies across the world with five number one singles in America.

One more studio album followed in the 1990s, Dangerous, but there's little of merit on it.

The hit Black or White is cheesy, and the rest of the album retreads old ground without any of the character of his best songs.

From then on, even Jackson's biggest fans admit that he was in creative decline.

Caught up in the child abuse claims and the court case that followed, most of the 90s were spent promoting greatest hits compilations with new tracks tacked on the end.

But that shouldn't take away from the fact that his albums in the late 70s and early 80s stand up as some of the best music ever made.

If you love Justin Timberlake, check out Off The Wall, if pop is your thing try Thriller, and if you prefer a few more guitars Bad is for you.

You simply cannot underestimate the influence these records had on stars including R Kelly, Britney Spears, P Diddy, Madonna, Fall Out Boy and Black Eyed Peas.

And we haven't even started to talk about the way he danced…




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