We couldn't not do this one.
For our final review of Black Music Month, it had to be Michael Jackson and it had to be Thriller. He is the most iconic black music artist to have ever lived, and has left a musical legacy like no other. In addition, today is the 25th June 2020 - exactly eleven years to the day that Michael Jackson died. With all these factors considered, there was simply no other choice for today's review.
To so, so many people, Michael Jackson represents the pinnacle of the musical art form, the absolute embodiment of what music should be. After starting out as a child in the Jackson 5, he grew up and went solo, becoming the 'King of Pop' and forging a career that absolutely nobody else has been able to replicate.
Despite recording a rather low number of 10 studio albums, he has become the second best-selling artist of all-time. It's a remarkable achievement for an artist who, let's not forget, was black. When talking about breaking down racial barriers, few did it in a bigger way than Jackson. Not only that, but the first four of those albums hardly dented the charts in the US, particularly his third and fourth efforts which peaked at #92 and #101 on the Billboard 200, respectively.
His fifth album, Off The Wall, was his first with Epic Records and brought him back into the big-time. Also his first with producer Quincy Jones, it set the scene up perfectly for album number six.
Let's make no bones about it: Thriller is a monster. Every track, EVERY track, is killer. This album is nine tracks of music in its purest form, nine tracks of funk, rock, pop, soul and disco, all combined to create the most legendary of albums. With 66 million copies sold, it is the best-selling album of all-time, and on musical terms, it fully, fully deserves to be.
That's not to mention the support cast. In addition to the second best-selling artist of all-time, you've got guest turns from the likes of Eddie Van Halen, Vincent Price, Janet and La Toya Jackson, and three members of Toto. Most notably, however, the song 'The Girl Is Mine' features Paul McCartney of The Beatles - the only musical act ever to have sold more than Michael Jackson. It's the two top dogs of music teaming up, the pop fan's wet dream. Thriller just has everything.
It doesn't even have the mid-album slump; in fact, it's a mid-album peak. In the dead centre of the nine songs, you've got tracks 4, 5 and 6 - 'Thriller', 'Beat It', 'Billie Jean'. It's absolutely pointless to review these songs; you know them, you love them, everyone loves them. They're three of the most famous songs of all-time and each has a claim to be being the best song on the album. Personally, I lean towards 'Beat It' as I am naturally a rocker and it features a killer guitar riff and Eddie Van Halen, but that doesn't mean I dislike the others. My word, there truly is no bad song here.
Quincy Jones' production is, of course, absolutely sublime. Beautifully balanced and crystal clear, not one instrument goes to waste as a lost sound buried in the mix. It all comes through, and it packs a punch where it needs to as well. 'Thriller' sounds suitably haunting, the funk of 'Billie Jean' is clear as daylight, and the soul of the record really comes through on 'The Girl Is Mine' and 'Human Nature'. The record wouldn't be nearly as good without Jones' involvement, and that's just a fact.
But, of course, there's a catch, and that's Jackson himself. Over the years, he has been embroiled in controversy surrounding possible acts of pedophilia, and though he has been tried and acquitted, the rumours and accusations have never quite gone away. The recent documentary Leaving Neverland featured the stories of two men who claim that Jackson assaulted them as children, and left many who watched it feeling very uncomfortable indeed. Jackson's family have strongly denied the claims and many people, including those who knew Jackson when they were children, have defended him, saying he never assaulted them.
The problem for us is, it's just impossible to know for sure. Michael Jackson's legacy now comes with this huge asterisk and we've been left with this grey area. The question for us is: is it okay to listen to Jackson's music? Well, in this case, the answer is that it's down to you. He was never found guilty and thus, in the eyes of the law and from what evidence was given, he is innocent and these acts never happened. If that's where you lie, feel free to listen to Michael Jackson. However, if the stories and accusations which have been presented just seem to be a little too authentic for you, and you doubt Jackson's innocence, then don't listen to him. This case is a grey area and it's difficult to judge, so no-one should be judged whether they choose to listen to him or not.
It's a shame, because Jackson's music is undeniably stupendous. Thriller was the peak of a phenomenal career, a one-in-a-billion album, the likes of which we may never see again. Brilliant albums come out every year, but none quite as special as Thriller. It's like the very essence of music was caught in a jar by Jackson and Jones, and unleashed in the recording sessions. There'll never be an album like it again, and that is a guarantee. Magnificent.
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