Friday, June 26, 2009

Remembering Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson's Bad was one of the first CDs that I owned, alongside Actually by the Pet Shop Boys and Jody Watley's self-titled solo debut. As a 14-year-old drawn to the embarrassment of riches of electronic pop filling the airwaves, I wasn't impressed by the first single from Bad, the rather sappy ballad "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" with Siedah Garrett, but most of the rest of the album offset that first impression. Bad became a hot topic at school, and I can remember trying to work out the lyrics to "Smooth Criminal" with my friends: "Eddie are you walking? Are you walking? Are you walking, Eddie?"

File that one under famously misheard.

Those were the days when a big hit album could easily go four or five singles deep, and Bad went no less than seven, with five worthy chart toppers. And, in the U.S., some of the best tracks weren't even tapped as singles. In retrospect, the prescient "Leave Me Alone" seems like a no-brainer choice to have been one of the first few singles off Bad. Even if it was a CD-only bonus track, why leave it on the table and release an obviously weaker song, such as final single "Another Part of Me"? "Speed Demon," too, with its muscle and bluster, seems an obvious single. I can easily imagine the music video, with Jackson zooming around in sunshades at night on a motorcycle, working his "bad" routine.

While I certainly noticed "Beat It" and "Billie Jean" in the early 1980s (and they are arguably better songs than anything on Bad), I wasn't yet a music consumer, and that leaves 1991's Dangerous as the only other Jackson album I own. It was a peculiar mixed bag and overrun with the influence of "New Jack Swing," a style that I generally found underwhelming. Tracks like "Why You Wanna Trip On Me" and "Keep the Faith" simply felt like Jackson was trying way too hard, although "Who Is It" is a paranoid gem and "Jam" is hard-driving fun. With Nirvana's Nevermind following Dangerous at number one early in 1992, I associate the album with a time when the public was turning its back on the styles that I loved.

In a sign of how sharply his fortunes changed, I can't recall even hearing a single from 2001's Invincible on the radio. Anything is possible, but it's hard to believe there was another big hit in Jackson's future. I would love to have been proven wrong, though, and yesterday's loss feels as if a cornerstone of the world of pop has been yanked away.

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