It’s Friday at 2 PM as I’m writing this. I’m at home, sick, which has been a convenient excuse to go through the Michael Jackson catalog. I’ve listened to all his solo records from Off the Wall (1979) forward, the few Jacksons records from the ’80s, and hell, I even tossed in “Centipede” from sister Rebbie since he wrote it.
It was impossible to recall all the memories as I was listening. Since I was born in ’76 I don’t remember much from Off the Wall, but the images of the sidewalk lighting up in the “Billie Jean” video and the spectacular 14-minute, John Landis-directed video for “Thriller” stick in my mind as if I saw them for the first time yesterday.
Then there’s the most memorable MJ moment of all: I can vividly remember watching the amazing “Smooth Criminal” video on MTV every hour on the hour in 1988, making sure I came in from outside every time I knew it was going to be on. I also remember “Dirty Diana” being an odd choice for a single from Bad (1987), but every time I listened to it I liked it more and more. And I remember seeing the video for “Leave Me Alone” and wondering why the fuck it wasn’t on my vinyl copy of Bad. (Only on the CD? Hmpf!)
Thriller (1982) was great. Bad was great. Dangerous (1991) had the potential to be even better if Jackson had cut out some of the filler. I remember my little local CD store, which I frequented so often that they gave me some perks, selling me Dangerous the night before it was released. And I can remember sitting on my friend’s bed intently listening to every track, trying to predict the potential singles (like any true fan, I wrote them all down).
Of course, I also remember my WTF reaction upon listening to the greatest-hits-compilation/new-studio-album combo HIStory (1995) for the first time, marveling at the anger he showed on the new songs, feeling kind of sad and yet weirded out by his Free Willy 2 theme, “Childhood,” and wondering how anyone as talented as MJ could be convinced to let Shaq Fu rhyme on one of his tracks (“2 Bad”).
Then there’s the album I just finished listening to, the one that sold ten million copies worldwide yet I don’t know one person who owns it or will admit to owning it: 2001’s Invincible. I remember thinking back then how much of a shame it was that Epic wasn’t promoting it. I mean, it’s way too long and probably his weakest record, but there are some gems on it. There’s absolutely no reason that “Unbreakable,” featuring a posthumous rap from the Notorious B.I.G., shouldn’t have been the comeback single he needed. There’s probably no one who will say this but me, but “Unbreakable” is up there with Jackson’s best solo work. And even though he indulged himself on Invincible, tossing in probably every song he’d written since HIStory six years earlier, the fact that he wrote some true hip-hop tunes on this album just goes to show that no matter how out of it he seemed to be in his personal life, the guy always had an ear for the music climate and how to adapt to it.
One can only wonder what a new album from Jackson would’ve sounded like, or what would’ve happened had he gotten his life under control and actually released a few albums over the past decade after Invincible. Unfortunately, it will all remain a sad “what if.”
We all have our own memories. I could sit and write for another few hours on his son “Blanket,” the notorious 1993 video address in which he responded to allegations of child abuse, and a billion other things that contributed to the MJ legacy for better or worse, but for me it was always the music that made the King of Pop such an icon. I fault no one for having bad memories of the guy, but I just can’t.
I wasn’t old enough to remember John Lennon dying. Michael Jackson is my John Lennon.