Michael Jackson has died at the age of 50. He really was the “King of Pop.” I saw him in concert three times. He was spellbinding. I think that Michael’s career can be illuminated through the story of his performance on Motown’s 25th Anniversary Special.
When Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall album (yep, it was an album back then, 1979) came out, I bought it the first week it was out. I was in college. MTV was just starting. Off the Wall‘s first hit was “Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough.” This was a hit… a huge hit. This began Michael’s best time as a creative performer. He did the voice track for ET and won a Grammy for it.
MTV was getting big. “Billie Jean” was released. As I recall, the song was just doing okay. Nothing big. Nothing huge. Then MTV played the video. No Black artist that I know of was on MTV before Michael. Michael being on MTV was HUGE. Blacks were starting to boycott MTV because of their unwillingness to play RnB/Soul/Funk music. The “Billie Jean” video was slick. It was more than some guy with big hair sticking his tush out at the camera for three minutes. Was it video’s answer to nuclear physics? NO. It was a huge breakthrough.
There was just a hint of BET (Black Entertainment Television) at this time. Most houses couldn’t get BET. There was no satellite. Cable was still really young. WGN and TNT were the main channels on cable. HBO and Showtime were the only movie channels that I can remember at that time.
So, May of 1983. Motown is going to have their 25th anniversary show. I’m running around with graduation from college duties. I miss the special. Everyone who saw it was amazed at Michael’s performance. This performance, if I’m not mistaken, wins Michael an Emmy. The combination of the video and the live performance caused Michael Jackson to blow up. He was HUGE.
Michael and Quincy Jones, the producer who really was responsible for the sound, cleaned up at the Grammy’s. They won eight.
Just a few words about this performance. There are two new dance moves that Michael breaks out for this performance that floors the crowd and became two legendary Michael Jackson moves. He does the moonwalk for the first time. He also does the thing where he goes up on his toes. I have no idea what that’s called. But he was so fluid, and moved so well, that the audience just stares at one point. Also, watch the passion in Jackson’s face.
No one was as big as Michael Jackson, in my opinion. No single performer. Maybe a group was bigger. The Beatles? Maybe. The Stones? Maybe. Elvis? Nope. Here’s why I say this. Michael Jackson was popular all over the world. With TV and truly world tours, he had the ability to be worldwide like no other performer. Thriller, which was the zenith of his popularity, sold over 104 million copies.