Synopsis of Pop Music
"Keep on with the force don't stop,
Don't stop 'til you get enough..."
The King of Pop is a lofty title for any person to live up to, but there’s no doubt that Michael Jackson is qualified. He had not yet reached his teens when he was recording million-selling hits with his brothers in the Jackson 5. By the time he reached his adult years, he was recording albums that rewrote the rules of the popular music industry and setting new standards in the arts of dance and music videos. Between childhood and adulthood, he became what many consider the consummate pop artist.
Michael Jackson was barely out of kindergarten when he was added to his older brothers’ band as a novelty. However, the boy’s prodigious gifts for singing and dancing soon revealed themselves and Michael became their lead performer. They were discovered by Motown in 1969 and soon began recording massive pop-soul hits like “I Want You Back” and “I’ll Be There” as the Jackson 5. During this time, Michael began making his first solo recordings. His songs, which included gentle, sweet ballads like “Got To Be There” and toe-tappers like “Rockin’ Robin,” hit just as big as the Jackson 5’s songs.
The Jackson 5 continued to record smash hits into the mid-70’s for Motown, including classics like “Dancing Machine.” Usually, Michael sang lead on these. He also continued his solo career with songs like “Just A Little Bit Of You.” The Jackson 5 became the Jacksons when they moved to Epic Records in the mid-70’s. They continued to hit big with songs like “Enjoy Yourself” and began writing and producing their own hits like the dance-floor scorcher “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground).” It was around this time that Michael began to think seriously about resuming his solo career.
Michael met master producer Quincy Jones while playing the Scarecrow in the film version of The Wiz. He recruited Jones to produce a new solo album for him and the result was Off The Wall, a classic pop-soul album that helped him make the transition from child performer to adult star. It was also full of hits: The propulsive, disco-tinged “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” grooved hard over a bed of swirling strings and the mellow-but-equally-danceable “Rock With You” was sweetened with horns and Michael’s multi-tracked vocal harmonies. Both songs became #1 hits and album went multi-platinum.
Off The Wall was a massive success, but Jackson had even bigger hits up his sleeve. He truly earned his superstar status with Thriller, an album that boasted an unprecedented 7 Top-10 hit singles, sold over 40 million copies, and won no less than 8 Grammy awards. From the guitar-driven funky rock of “Beat It,” which featured a guitar solo from Eddie Van Halen, to the sweet synth-driven balladry of “Human Nature,” Thriller was the rare album that had something for every pop listener. Accordingly, it held the number one spot of Billboard’s top album charts for a jaw-dropping 37 weeks.
However, the music of Thriller was only part of its overall impact on pop culture. Another key part of its significance came from the innovative videos made to promote it. Videos like “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” meshed Michael’s mastery of dance with sophisticated visual storytelling, making him the first r&b artist to get heavy airplay on MTV. However, the album’s most memorable video came from the title song, a complex mini-movie that paid tribute to classic horror films like Night Of The Living Dead and An American Werewolf In London. In fact, the video was directed by Werewolf’s director, John Landis.
Thriller allowed Michael Jackson to influence pop culture in many ways. The layered red-leather jacket and the single sequined glove he wore became fashion trends after being seen in his videos. The ‘moonwalking’ dance step he dreamt up for his appearance on Motown’s 25th Anniversary Special became a fad among dancers. Even parodies of his work could become major hits, as proven by "Weird Al" Yankovic’s success with “Eat It,” his food-themed parody of “Beat It.”
Although he would not release another album until 1987, Jackson stayed busy throughout the mid-80’s. He appeared with his brothers on their hit album Victory and also on the subsequent, hugely successful Victory Tour. He also lent his back-up vocals to Rockwell’s hit song “Somebody’s Watching Me” and appeared in the Disneyland/Epcot Center 3-D attraction Captain EO. He performed on the all-star charity song “We Are The World,” which he also co-wrote with Lionel Richie. This song also made millions of dollars for charity and won the Song of The Year Award at the 1986 Grammy Awards.
Michael Jackson returned to the pop charts with Bad. The title cut was a #1 pop and r&b hit that also had a memorable video—directed by Martin Scorcese—that depicted Michael Jackson calling the bluff of a group of would-be tough guys. Bad also scored hits with the swirling love songs “The Way You Make Me Feel,” the piano-accented ballad “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” the socially-conscious “Man In The Mirror” and the guitar-driven rocker “Dirty Diana.” These follow-ups all went to #1 on the charts as Jackson toured the world and delighted screaming audiences of all ages.
1992's Dangerous found Michael experimenting with a new r&b style called New Jack Swing on “Remember The Time” and recruiting Guns ‘N’ Roses guitarist Slash to lend his guitar chops to “Black And White.” Both songs were hits and were followed by another successful social-consciousness song, “Heal The World.” In 1995, Jackson celebrated his solo success with a compilation album called HIStory. It also featured new songs like “Scream,” a duet with his sister Janet, and “You Are Not Alone.” Both songs soon joined the long roster of Michael Jackson hit singles.
Michael Jackson remains an important force in the pop world today. His past albums continue to sell steadily and his songs are omnipresent on pop radio stations. His multi-year HIStory tour was a success around the world and he continued to hit big with albums like Blood On The Dance Floor, a combination of new songs and dance-remixes. His innovations have created new levels of success for pop music artists everywhere, and for this he will always be pop music's undisputed King.
Artist Release History1971 - Got to Be There
1972 - Ben
1973 - Music & Me
1975 - Forever, Michael
1979 - Off the Wall
1982 - Thriller
1987 - Bad
1991 - Dangerous
1995 - HIStory: Past, Present and Future (compilation)
1997 - Blood on the Dance Floor
2001 - Greatest Hits: HIStory Vol. 1
Pop Sub Categoriespop
Essential Music AlbumsOff The Wall (Epic)