Multiple plastic surgeries, two marriages, drug abuse, allegations of sexual abuse —there wasn’t a kookier pop star with more dirt heaped upon him. The real story begins with Got To Be There, Michael Jackson’s first solo release for the legendary Motown Records in 1971—this was his father Joseph Jackson’s idea. Jackson Sr held the reins of his gifted family’s musical ambitions and has also been blamed for the abusive past that the Jackson 5 share, and one that Jackson made public on Oprah Winfrey show in 1993.
Moonwalker: The scion of pop culture made an indelible impression in the world of music with his distinctive style. AP Photo
Jackson had released four solo albums which made little noise except for a few hits – Got To Be There, Ben (which was written for one of his many pet rats, later in the early 1980s Jackson did a track with his idol Diana Ross called Muscles named after his pet snake), Music and Me and Forever Michael since that first solo cut in 1971. What Joseph wasn’t prepared for was Jackson’s rebellion that now simmered over and pushed him as far as possible away from the Jackson 5 for his fifth solo album ‘Off The Wall’ with the studio genius Quincy Jones in 1979.
Jackson had met Jones the previous year when Jackson played out the role of the scarecrow in the musical ‘The Wiz’, a colossal flop. ‘Off The Wall’ was also the album where Jackson cemented his friendship with Paul McCartney who stars in the duet Girlfriend and included other R&B sparks such as Stevie Wonder and Heatwave’s Rod Temperton. The cover of the album shaped Jackson’s new disco star image and is etched in the memory of most Jackson fans – Jackson in a tux and the trademark silver white socks. The world couldn’t have enough of his moonwalk and toe spins.
The moonwalk was in reality a step called backslide invented by dancers on the famous American TV series called Soul Train. Jackson hunted down Geron Candidate, a 16-year-old Soul Train dancer and learnt the step in about an hour. The spin that he’s known for is also something that he saw Broadway icon Fred Astaire perform in his movies. Jackson and the moonwalk made its debut on a TV show that the Jackson 5 did for Motown called ‘Motown 25: Yesterday, Today and Forever’ that was aired in 1983. Jackson had a solo spot after he did his thing with Jackson 5 where he unleashed the moonwalk for Billie Jean. This was soon after the seminal album ‘Thriller’ which went platinum as many as 28 times in the US and has sold 65 million copies world wide till date making it into the Guiness Book as the best-selling album of all time.
After ‘Off The Wall’ released Jackson wanted out. The 21-year-old hired himself a lawyer and decided that he no longer wanted his career to be controlled by his father. Thriller, which released in December 1982, was an emotional vent of sorts—Billie Jean the second single off the album was a monster hit. It’s said that Jackson wrote it to lash out against his father’s innumerable extra-marital affairs. He roped in Eddie Van Halen to do a burning solo, Beat It, which had rockers screaming their heads off—some with joy and some with undisguised hatred that the guitar god had sold out to pop. Every track on the album was pure platinum but the title track with its path-breaking video released in 1983 featuring vampires and zombies, inspired after Jackson watched An American Werewolf in London. It got all the eyeballs on MTV, a network that had just broken into the music scene in the US. Jackson went onto make music history winning eight Grammies for the album in 1984. This was also the time when some of the goofiness started unspooling like a strange, crazy film. Jackson who went out of his way to emphasize that the Thriller video in no way associated him with occult, began spreading the word of the Jehovah Witness faith by going door to door, shocking some of his fans beyond belief. Next rumors about Jackson’s homosexuality created a tabloid storm.
Jackson was busy fighting these claims and putting together a marathon star-studded anthem—We Are The World released in 1985—the proceeds from the record sales went for famine relief in Africa. Co-written with Lionel Richie, the track featured Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Tina Turner, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder among others.
In 1986, Jackson began work on Bad. Jones convinced Jackson to let Martin Scorsese direct the video for the title track. While the album delivered hits such as I Just Can Stop Loving You and The Way You Make Me Feel, Jackson had begun gaining reputation of being a freak—who wanted to buy the hyperbaric oxygen machine and bones of the ‘Elephant Man’. The Bad tour of 1998 was also the first time Jackson brought the groin clutching pelvic thrusts to stage. While on tour, Jackson bought the infamous estate that he christened Neverland.
Dangerous, which released in 1991 was known for its landmark videos. Remember the Time with Eddie Murphy playing a pharaoh, Jam with Michael Jordan in it and Black Or White which turned the morphing SFX into a big rage. The disc also included his next cause-related anthem Heal The World. Jackson tried to bounce back with a double album of his hits and new tracks such as Scream titled ‘History: Past, Present and Future, Book I’ in 1995. The next release was Invincible in 2001— by this time the label ‘Wacko Jacko’ showed no signs of peeling off thanks to the bizarre events that Jackson came to be linked with including the one where he dangled the newly born Prince Michael Jackson (later nicknamed Blanket because of the controversy) off the balcony of his Berlin hotel room with a cloth on his face.
This was the man who hadn’t completed an entire tour in the past 12 years according to some media reports. Soon after he had announced his ‘This is It’ series of concerts in London, scheduled to begin on 10 July, most people just wanted to see for themselves whether at 50, he could still put on a show like used to. That will remain unanswered.