Personalities | Michael Jackson | Eighties | Rock
The self-proclaimed ‘King of Pop’, Michael Jackson (1958–2009) was the biggest star of the 1980s following the success of Thriller (1982), which remains the world’s best-selling album with sales of more than 110 million.
The King Of Pop
The youngest member of The Jackson Five, Jackson signed a solo deal in 1971 with Motown Records, aged 13. Within a year he had overtaken the Jackson Five on the strength of two US Top 5 singles – ‘Got To Be There’ and ‘Rockin’ Robin’ – followed by a No. 1 with ‘Ben’. But after that his career stalled, due to the sub-standard material he was given.
In 1975, The Jacksons (as they were now known) and Michael switched to Epic but his career continued to stagnate until 1977 when he landed a part in The Wiz movie and teamed up with producer Quincy Jones. Their first album together, Off The Wall (1979), reached No. 3 in the US charts and Jackson became the first solo artist to have four US Top 10 singles from one album. Two of them – ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’ and ‘Rock With You’ – went to No. 1. In the UK the album also went Top 5. More significantly, Off The Wall stayed in the US charts for a year (more than three years in the UK). It encompassed the dance floor and pop radio with outstanding songs, quality arrangements and high-definition production. It also won Jackson two Grammy Awards in 1981.
Thriller eclipsed the high standards of Off The Wall with seven US Top 10 singles including two No. 1s – ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Beat It’ – and three more that went Top 5. Jackson also won an unprecedented eight Grammy Awards in 1984. The album, which stayed at No. 1 in America for 37 weeks and was still in the charts 21 months later, again straddled different genres of mass appeal with consummate skill. But the album was also visually choreographed by videos, including a mini-epic for ‘Thriller’. As a result Jackson became the first black artist to get regular exposure on MTV and his dancing (the moonwalk) and fashion quirks (one gloved hand) became as iconic as his music. His megastar status was confirmed in 1985 when he co-wrote (with Lionel Richie) the all-star USA For Africa single ‘We Are The World’, which got to No. 1.
In the UK Thriller topped the charts on three separate occasions and it also went to No. 1 in every Western country. It was an impossible album to follow and while Bad (1987) could not compete in chart terms it still sold 22 million copies and produced a record five US No. 1 singles: ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’, ‘Bad’, ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’, ‘Man In The Mirror’ and ‘Dirty Diana’. The year-long Bad world tour was the biggest-grossing rock tour of the 1980s. Bad was the last album Jackson made with Jones.
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