Michael Jackson: The Legend Will Continue  

Michael Jackson has always been synonymous with superstardom.  Ever since he burst onto the scene in the late 60’s, the young boy from Gary, Indiana, was blessed with a prodigious talent. As a kid I stumbled upon the “Off The Wall” album from my mother’s music collection. It remains my favorite of all the Jackson albums and contains my favorite track; “I Can’t Help It.” It was never released as a single. However, any song from the album could’ve potentially been a No. 1 hit. The album was that good. What mesmerized me about him at that age, and to this day, was that voice of his.

Jackson’s androgynous vocals were breathy trembles, saturated by primal gasps and fluttering hiccups with the sudden outbursts of “Shamone” and the shrieking “Heeehee.” His ballads were laden with weepy ardor and soulful pathos. The vocal delivery on “Rock With You” “Lady In My Life” “Human Nature” “Liberian Girl” and “Butterflies” hummed like a fervid instrument.  His faster numbers brought out a tenacious element to his voice. When he sung in falsetto on “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” it was delightfully angelic. It would not be elementary for any singer to cover a Michael Jackson song. Mariah Carey in her prime covered “I’ll Be There,” and it could be argued that her version was a lesser interpretation than his one at the age of twelve.  Legends like Al Green, Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye vocally were on the same plain as Jackson. Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra came a little short. Everyone else was light years away.

The present generation of artistes have clearly been inspired by him. He lives on through the workmanship of Beyonce, the dancing of Ne-Yo, the performances of Usher. Listen to the songs of Justin Timberlake, Pharrell, Britney Spears, Rihanna and Chris Brown and you can hear Michael Jackson in there.

As a dancer, he was an innovator on the scale of James Brown. We loved the spin, the moonwalk and how he’d grasp his groin and scream “Oww!” Of his artistry vision, he had no rival. He collaborated with the best, and it showed in his music. For “Off The Wall,” “Thriller” and “Bad”, he hired the legendary music producer Quincy Jones and top lyricist Rod Temperton with super guitarist Van Halen strumming his instrument lavishly on “Beat It.” On “Dangerous,” he brought in the talents of Teddy Riley of New Jack Swing fame and Slash from Guns ’n’ Roses. On “History” and “Invincible,” it was R. Kelly with Darkchild, and Riley again featuring heavily. For his forthcoming album, he had lined up Will.i.am and Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes fame.

His music videos were shot on an epic scale and the costs ran into millions of pounds. Who could forget the “Thriller” video with those dancing zombies leaving their tombs and the choreography that followed? What of “Bad,” directed by Martin Scorcese of Taxi Driver fame or “Black or White” directed by John Landis, the architect of the “Thriller” video? “Remember The Time,” “Smooth Criminal,” “Scream,” “In The Closet” – the list is endless. The vision of the Thriller video and the subsequent ones that followed have not yet been surpassed by modern day acts, and Thriller is almost three decades old.

The truth was that prior to his death and going back to the mid-90’s at least, Michael Jackson was seen very much as a past master and a relic and more of a freak show because of his unnatural pallor appearance and his association with young boys. I vividly remember the criticism then when I spoke of my unwavering admiration for his music. His songs sound the same, they said. His dance moves were redundant and hadn’t evolved since the days of Billie Jean. R&B was the new pop of the nineties, and Hip-hop was where it was at in the Naughties. Michael was seen as a weirdo that frolicked suspiciously with children, and he was shunned by many people, including those on the music scene. Eminem famously mimicked him albeit insultingly in one of his videos. Singles from “HIStory” and “Invincible” were widely panned by music reviewers. His popularity had waned miserably in his home country. His comeback tour was to feature in a foreign one, where affection for him remained. Michael Jackson didn’t bother touring in America for the “Dangerous” or “HIStory” tours because it was perceived as a has-been. He was still popular in Europe, Asia and Africa and so he took his music overseas.

Suddenly he’s died and the general populace has suddenly remembered what a talented dude he really was. Once somebody dies, we’re in awe of him and he becomes a saint. Whilst he lived amongst us sinners, he’s fair game. So we’re off to buy his albums that had been gathering dust in the basement of record stores for years. I’ve had people ask if they could borrow “Thriller” and “Bad,” as if they were oblivious that these albums had been available since 1982 and 1987 in the shops. What a reactionary species we are!

Of course Michael Jackson was blessed with the most fanatic of fans, fans who traveled from afar to come and support him outside his courtroom at his trial in 2005. But how many others were buying his music then, when he needed them (and the sales) most? His career was at an all-time low and his reputation was tarnished. After his innocence was proved in a court of law, he said nothing to the waiting media and promptly fled the country. That action spoke volumes.

His death was certainly unexpected, and the King of Pop will get a send-off that would probably dwarf that of Princess Diana. I’m all for honoring his life and celebrating his music but it is a little off-putting when genuine affection is being hijacked by tragedy tourists who are willing to deliver a waterfall of emotion whenever a Sky News camera is shone in their faces.  Whether we will see his like again I’m not so certain but I wouldn’t like to be the one to rule out the aspirations of forthcoming artistes to be greater than what preceded them. Michael Jackson may have been flawed as a person, but then so are all of us. But his genius, his music, was definitely flawless.

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