Upon the untimely demise of Michael Jackson, much have been said. But whether facts or speculations, the legacy of Michael Jackson and his great influence on the music of our time cannot be forgotten, forever. Following are some notes on the King of Pop.
The Jackson 5. The Jackson Brothers started it all with the trio of Jackie, Tito and Jermaine. But the small group couldn’t be considered a success so they included Marlon and Michael, changing their name to Ripples & Waves Plus Michael. They then went back to the original Jackson Brothers before finally settling for The Jackson 5.
The youngest of Joseph and Katherine Jackson’s sons at age 8, Michael was already the lead vocalist together with Jermaine. They won a local competition in 1966 with their rendition of My Girl, a Temptations original. The following year, the group won another major amateur competition held at the Apollo Theater in the Harlem area. That’s where they met Gladys Knight, their first celebrity fan and probably the person who had them recommended to Motown.
Their father Joseph acted as band manager, booking their first professional gig. The Jackson 5 had toured the Midwest for almost 2 years, from 1966 to 1968. They also had recorded the single Big Boy and several songs in 1967 for Steeltown, a local record label.
Setting their sight for the big time, Joseph signed them up with Motown. To drum up public interest in promoting The Jackson 5, Motown decided to make it appear that it was Diana Ross who had discovered the group. And to further tickle the public, Michael, who was to turn 11, was pictured as an 8-year old vocalist. On August 11, 1968, Diana Ross formally introduced The Jackson 5 at The Daisy, a posh club in Beverly Hills, California.
The first single of The Jackson 5 is “I Want You Back” which was intended for Gladys Knight. The single was part of the album titled Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5. Released in December 1969, the single was number one in the charts the following year. It was a record of sorts that their first 4 singles became number one on the Billboard Hot 100 – I Want You Back, ABC, The Love You Save, I’ll Be There.
In 1970, the song Give Love On Christmas Day, written by The Corporation (Berry Gordy, Freddie Perren, Fonce Mizell and Deke Richards), was released by Motown Records. The signature song was part of The Jackson 5 Christmas Album which sold a total of 3.5 million copies through the years. Ironically, the Jackson family doesn’t observe Christmas because of their religion (Jehovah’s Witnesses).
With the success of The Jackson 5, Joseph and Katherine decided to move the family residence from the lowly Queens Road in LA to a mansion they had purchased in March, 1971. Amidst the success, the family remained close-knit and strictly religious.
Turning solo. In 1971, Michael had tested the waters for turning solo when he recorded his first single – Got To Be There. Entering the top 5 hits, it was followed up by Ben which was used as a soundtrack for the movie with the same title. On the following year, Michael did another solo recording of Rockin’ Robin and I Wanna Be Where You Are which were both successful.
In 1972, Jermaine also started a solo career with his single Daddy’s Home which entered the top hits charts. Jackie likewise recorded his own solo album although it failed to enter the music charts. All this time, the Jackson 5, as a group, was still doing well, co-existing with the solo careers of Michael, Jermaine and Tito.
In 1975, The Jackson 5 left Motown for the greener pasture of CBS Records. Motown producer Berry Gordy said that The Jackson 5 were the last big stars to come rolling off the Motown assembly line.
The Jacksons. As a manifestation of their new contract with CBS, The Jackson 5 was changed to The Jacksons. Michael, still the lead singer and also the lead songwriter, wrote Shake Your Body, This Place Hotel, Can You Feel It. Their brother Randy had joined the group as a substitute if someone is absent.
Not just with music, the CBS contract paved the way for the Jackson family to barge into the television scene. The Jacksons, a variety show that debuted in 1976, lasted almost a year. Meant to compete with ABC’s Donny and Marie, the show featured Michael, Marlon, Tito, Jackie, Randy, Rebbie, La Toya and Janet, the first variety show on American TV to be hosted by an Afro-American family.
In 1978, Michael Jackson and Diana Ross starred in the movie The Wiz, an adaptation of the Broadway musical Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Michael’s association with Quincy Jones, the producer of the film’s songs, led to the production of Michael’s epic album Off The Wall. Released in 1979, Off the Wall sold more than 20 million copies, featuring 4 top ten hit singles and two number one singles – Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough and Rock With You. The songwriters of the album were Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Rod Temperton and Michael himself.
Michael Jackson, the solo performer. In 1993, Michael made his most acclaimed performance during the Super Bowl XXVII at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. He was catapulted onto the stage while fireworks were ablaze behind him. And as he landed on the canvas, he was like a statue with clenched fists for minutes before he opened up with Jam followed by Billie Jean, Black or White and Heal The World.
In 1984, the Thriller album was released. The phenomenal album stayed in the top 10 of the Billboard for 80 consecutive weeks. Seven singles from this album entered the top 10 of Billboard Hot 100 that included Billie Jean, Beat It and Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’. The album raked in with more than 109 million copies sold, making it the best–selling album of all time.
Like a well of serendipity, adding more income was the 350,000 copies sold of the documentary of The Making of Michael Jackson’s Thriller which was produced by John Landis.
Amidst Michael’s success as a solo performer, life with The Jacksons continued. In the same year of the Thriller mania, Mick Jagger guested in The Victory album of The Jacksons. It also marked the formal return of Jermaine to the group.
A year later, Marlon left the group, leaving the rest of his brothers to go solo. They, however, appeared with Michael in the We Are the World single on the US for Africa aid concert in 1985.
The last album recorded by The Jacksons was 2300 Jackson Street, released in 1989 by Epic Records. It included the hit songs Maria and Nothing Compares To You.
US Patent 5,255,452 also known as anti-grav lean, was granted to Michael Jackson, Michael Bush and Dennis Tomkins. It is a system that allows the shoe-wearer to lean beyond his center of gravity. The specially-designed pair of shoes will engage with a hitch on the stage surface.
The invention was used in Smooth Criminal, the focus of the short film Moonwalker. It starred Joe Pesci and was produced by Michael in 1987. It was later included in the album Bad which turned out to be another best-seller.
Accidents and peculiarities. Due to a mishap in filming a Pepsi Cola commercial at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in January 1984, Michael Jackson suffered second degree burns on his scalp caused by pyrotechnics used for effects. This injury would haunt Michael with intermitent pains such that there was a time when he got dependent on pain killers. He had undergone 3 rhinoplasty operations to troubleshoot the burns.
When Michael’s brown complexion started to get pale, people assumed that he was into chemical bleaching. But Michael denied the bleach issue, reasoning that he had vitiligo, a chronic disorder that causes depigmentation of the skin in patches.
The tabloid story that Michael slept in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to slow his aging was just a fabrication. Michael admitted that he concocted the story to help promote his film Captain EO. And the tale that he had bought the bones of The Elephant Man was also just a yarn and was just disseminated by Michael.
(To be continued)
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