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RIP Michael Jackson

When I was a young teenager, Michael Jackson was almost inescapable: His music was on every pop radio station, and he was one of the darlings of MTV. His album Thriller was a generational advent, especially when the video for the title track showed up (it’s still influential today).

So I couldn’t help but pay attention to Michael Jackson as a teen. Despite this, I never bought any of his albums or singles. They were nice enough, but mostly not my thing. (Though to be fair, I did enjoy his music casually, especially the “Thriller” video.)

To be fair, Jackson at his best was better than dance-pop music (especially the synth-pop of the early 80s, which was largely execrable and which, unlike Jackson’s music, sounds even sillier today than it did then). It had some depth and complexity to go along with the rhythm and melody, and I think that’s what over the long haul separated him from most of his contemporaries. Jackson was also a showman, but what he brought were not just slick dance moves and a pretty face (although he brought those, too), but a sense of grown-up style atop his fundamental energy and enthusiasm. Really, all of this is perfectly captured in the cover to his album before Thriller, Off The Wall. Even in his later years, I think it’d be fair to say that Jackson was basically a big kid in an adult body.

Why do so many pop stars become so eccentric? Okay, everyone’s eccentric in their own way (look at me, for instance. No, on second thought, stop looking at me), but something about the rise to the top or the fall from the top seems to make these people nuttier than normal. Arguably Madonna and George Harrison’s eccentricities are more the result of the media coverage that they received, but consider Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, who embraced their eccentricities and ultimately crafted their images around them, and then seemed to get stuck in a feedback loop of getting weirder as they’re farther removed from their peak.

(Aside: Elvis, The Beatles and Jacko are clearly the dominant pop stars of the 50s, 60s and 80s; who was the dominant star of the 70s? The Bee Gees? Somehow they don’t seem to be in the same class.)

Jackson’s later years became more spectacle than performance (his last album was released in 2001), but his death yesterday still reverberates (even though I’m still a little surprised at the number of passionate Jackson fans out there today). I can’t yet think of the music of my teen years as “golden oldies”, but Jackson’s passing is a big step towards making it so.

(Another reminiscence at Standing on the Shoulders of Giant Midgets.)

2 comments to RIP Michael Jackson

  • Like father-in-law, like son-in-law, eh?

    For the 70s, I dunno. Bee Gees were influential but perhaps Abba was more so?

    Elvis was the rock and roll king of the 50s, but rock and roll was just one corner of popular music then. For instance, show tunes were still making the charts then.

    Even in the 60s Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass were competing with the Beatles in record sales, if I remember (the facts, not the decade) correctly.

  • JAG

    I’m not sure that the 70’s actually slipped by, but it was rather saturated with Rock and Progressive Rock which got the weirdest journalism coverage plus a bombardments of death of musicians and different styles getting bigger and more in demand.

    Now I am still very much a fan of those musicians for they pretty much wrote the progressive genera even though some bands had starting out in the med 60’s. They in fact changed from Rock to Progressive Rock, ie. Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Yes, King Crimson and Genesis. These bands started out as Rock or Blues Rock bands with some folk in the mix with some bands to evolve to what they are still doing today some 35 years later. These are our 70’s heroes that influenced new band such as Marillion, Dixie Dregs, Rush and Dream Theater for which they too are the newer heros of the 80′ – 90’s. Unfortunate like too many band tend to get discovered too late and then the band is gone by the time they are discovered, if only they could have could have stayed on, Van Der Graaf Generator is a prefect example of poor marketing, the label had funded and made five albums, only the last album was imported in the United States then Canada, both had a huge following of Progressive Rock. By the record labels no longer funding the recordings anymore, it pretty much plunged a knife into many bands ever seeing the light of day.

    So Elvis, The Beatles and Jackson all were around when labels paid you to recorded, and were any good, they would also payola the radio stations and stores to have your album. Now the record labels own the stores and radio stations which allows no unknown to recorded, sell, and get air time. The industry has changed the rules and you get what they conceder a money making artist which they control into the top artist but it may lack a lot real raw talent the fall in the cracks. To prove a point, imagine four young lads going to a record label with a totally new type of music that the record labels don’t understand how they could sell this and show any profit Plus these young labs are from Liverpool and have no money to produce a recording … or a single singer swings his legs out and has a weird hair doo… or this cute young child that dances as he sings …. Nah, they would have no chance at all to make it. Today’s industry has lost a big part of the market due to the huge corporation they have become. They cost a lot to run, so no money to help new talent that is outside the box or too different.

    Marillion got going again because they got funded by their own fans, Dixie Dregs is due to a past history and their own money, Ian Anderson has his own business in Salmon distribution and Yes has a huge following where they survived the Disco Punk era by hanging low, then came back full throttle and very persistent, then Dream Theather around because their label believes in them and the band has been very loyal to their fans that love the prog/metal. These are all excellent musicians to boot you could not go wrong. So with this fast-Food type of record Industry they are only CASH ‘N CARRY outfits. but be ready because when you will retire, chances are that it will be along side of with Kiss and Ozzy still around.

    B-Well, JAG

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