By Carol Anne Szel
So what did you expect? Yes, I chose The Jackson 5 as my clear favorites in 1972. The Osmonds vs. The Jackson 5 was the great debate of our days that summer. I remember sitting on the stoop down the block when I was in fifth grade, a bunch of us girls with Tiger Beat magazines spread around amid our portable record player, the one with worn-out red trim, handle on top so when you snapped it up you could carry it from the stoop to the basement to... wherever our Barbie dolls pointed us. Jackson 5 music beat Osmonds hands down for me in what was the original battle of the boy bands. Little did I know there as a 10-year-old that the first sounds of "ABC" and "Never Can Say Goodbye" would carry through to morph into the legend that overtook the music world, bringing forth The King Of Pop Michael Jackson.
It's been one year since the swift and still-mysterious death of Michael Jackson. I hope this artist, singer, songwriter, performer and gentle, troubled soul, is now at rest. He brought joy to so many of us, from the times his voice blasted from the record player speaker to a bunch of us suburban girls singing along with every song on the stoops of our houses to the times when The King Of Pop sang to a record-breaking crowd live, to the multi-million sales of his music around the world. Which all seems like a gross understatement of his huge impact on music.
The 1980s was the decade of Michael. I remember vividly watching "Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever" on television in 1983. Yeah, Michael Jackson. OK. But when he burst onto that stage and gave the audience that tip of the hat as if to say to us, “Watch, you're going to be amazed by what you see.” Then he sang "Billie Jean" wearing that now-infamous silver glove, and he did the unimaginable: the Moon Walk. And that sound. The panache. As one of the 47 million people who tuned in that night, it was truly something that sent the music world on fire. (Viral, as the kids say nowadays, but back then spreading like wildfire meant radio and newspaper and what fanned the flames that night, good old-fashioned word of mouth.)
This night, a reunion of sorts with his brothers, was the culmination of his two record-breaking albums "Off The Wall" and "Thriller," which were the proving ground for Michael as a musical entity and worldwide superstar, outside of the Jackson family constraints. It was the time we all started to take note of him, good and perhaps not so much.
Musically, he broke ground, bringing video into songs to create a musical visual of his work. In the MTV world of what was now selling albums for artists at rapid rates, Michael Jackson pioneered video with mini-movies. Who can forget Jackson jumping that subway terminal in "Beat It?" Or agonizing in thought alongside Jackson in the "Billie Jean" video as he sauntered down the sidewalk as each step lit up the sidewalk. Ultimately, he brought the video change of all changes, the ultimate music short film "Thriller." Changed the face of creative expression of this newly MTV-driven 1980s.
1985 was the year that Jackson, along with Lionel Richie, brought the country together with "USA For Africa" in the first musical plea of sorts, with a gathering of musicians at a studio in Los Angeles to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. I'll never forget hearing about how Bruce Springsteen drove up in his own car, parked and just strolled in to record. "Leave Your Ego at The Door," read a sign at the entrance.
In 1986, Jackson broke new ground again, producing a 17-minute, 3-D movie for Disney — "Captain Eo" — that was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The "Bad" album rounded out the decade, producing a single "Man in the Mirror," which was more of a telling tale of the emotional struggle that Michael was giving us a glimpse of before a decade that brought him much strife.
The rest, as they say, is musical legend and real-life drama. The ’80s were arguably the defining decade of Michael Jackson's musical formidable years. Having grown up in the ’70s, listening to Michael Jackson — through the ’80s when my musical taste was growing in form and fashion — I have to say his music was part of my life journey. And speaking from the heart (as I always do), foolish as it may seem, I've enjoyed the ride from that old hand-held folding stereo in my childhood through the ride of life as an observer of the music of this inspiring, yet tortured soul of Michael Jackson. RIP, Michael. You were taken off the ride way to soon.
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