Trial By Trailer: Your opinions on Michael Jackson are entirely irrelevant. I’m sure you have them; I’m sure you’re passionate about them…comments are below: go nuts but they’re totally irrelevant.
MJ’s powerful contributions to our culture (beyond the standard pop culture contributions like the music and fashion) easily overshadow your thoughts: his actions speak louder than your words.
Spike Lee’s latest MJ doc…his follow up to Bad 25 is an opportunity to properly and authentically document Jackson’s crucial cultural contributions: Let The Record Show!
Michael Jackson’s Journey From Motown To Off The Wall premiered at Sundance at January’s end will now air on Showtime on February 5th at 9:00 P.M. #SetTheVCR
MJ’s journey from Motown to Off The Wall is crucial for him as an Artist and especially for us as culture. This is what I mean I say your MJ opinions are irrelevant:
In 1981 MTV refused to air Super Freak Rick James’ biggest hit; MTV focused on (white) rock and rejected videos by black performers (primarily R&B as rap was still in its formation…Blondie’s Rapture (often credited for giving rap it’s genre name) was released in 1981 several months before Super Freak. Rapture aired on MTV…white rock for the win.
That was the state of the union MJ recognized as he prepared to release Thriller in 1982 his eagerly anticipated follow up to Off The Wall. Fortunately he was already battle-tested courtesy of Off The Wall.
Before MTV and its racist ban on music/videos by black performers like Rick James came Disco Demolition Night akathe day disco died: July 12, 1979. An anti-disco demonstration held during a baseball double-header in Chicago’s Comiskey Park celebrated rock by literally crushing disco: Disco Sucks. It was (is?) a rejection of gay culture and black culture Trojan horsed as an emphatic rejection of disco…one loud hedonistic rock celebration. (The standard ongoing tensions that permeate American culture…Disco Demolition Night concluded with a riot, of course. How far have we come since 1979…30 seconds on social media reveals progress hardly worth celebrating…)
“On July 21, 1979, the top six records on the U.S. music charts were disco songs; by September 22 there were no disco songs in the US Top 10 chart.” Disco Sucks!
(By the way how amazing is it to look back and realize that KISS the very epitome of rock n roll (can’t get more rock n roll than Love Gun!) was on Casablanca Records which featured records by Donna Summer, Lipps Inc., Village People plus many more disco types…the more successful KISS became the more rock fans were indirectly supporting disco! Pop culture makes us all hypocrites).
Disco died on July 21, 1979 and Michael Jackson (with the talented Quincy Jones) delivered the eulogy on August 10, 1979 via Off The Wall. Creatively separated from the Motown Jackson 5 era MJ wanted to make a emphatic statement: a sonic manifesto to put listeners on notice. Off The Wall was extremely effective at establishing MJ’s adult and musical identity, further cementing Quincy’s reputation as a genius and putting listeners on notice.
(Popular 1979 hits include but are not limited too: Rod Stewart’s Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?, Tragedy by The Bee Gees and the never out of style classic You Don’t Bring Me Flowers by Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond!)
Critical acclaim, American Music, Grammy and Billboard awards, successful sales…the third best selling album of 1980…even establishing a bold record: Jackson became the first solo artist to have four singles from the same album peak inside the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 all amazing but…not enough; not even close, not for MJ.
Proving once again how you define success is irrelevant (I told you from the start your opinions on MJ are entirely irrelevant) Jackson was disappointed Off The Wall was not bigger. This disappointment was the fertile ground from which the seeds for Thriller grew.
Thriller brings us back full circle to MTV and their ban on videos by black performers. MJ affectionally became the Jackie Robinson of pop music. His Thriller work could not be ignored and helped desegregate MTV but also many rock stations. That’s huge: we still live in that ripple effect.
MJ had to experience Motown to get to Off The Wall which lead to the end of disco and the start of Thriller the birth of short films disguised as music videos and most importantly the desegregation of our music media like MTV and rock stations.
Sammy Verdict: Considering how we just lost Bowie this is another sobering reminder of all that we’ve had…and lost.
Sammy Younan is the affable host of My Summer Lair: think NPR’s Fresh Air meets Kevin Smith: interviews & impressions on Pop Culture.