30 years after the release of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, we take a look back at a recording lost in the shuffle.
Every family has those stories. You know the ones. They’re recanted over holiday meals and backyard barbeques. With each telling the tale grows slightly more outlandish than the last. As for me and my house, we will always speak of the night that Michael came to town.
It was late September. My parents would have been celebrating one of their earliest wedding anniversaries, an important moment in a young couple’s life. Completing this happy home was me, a tender, yet spritely seven month old baby. To most, everything important in life was situated right here. But tonight, Michael had arrived.
The tour was in full swing—Tokyo, London, New York, and now Pittsburgh. For three nights, the world’s greatest entertainer had descended upon our western Pennsylvanian enclave. Even in an arena with a seemingly endless capacity, this was a hard ticket to come by. However, my mother was in luck, a friend had surprised her with the opportunity to see one of her favorite artists in history.
And without hesitation, she was gone. My father, left behind, spent the evening at home tending to me, one of our first moments of father-son bonding. September 27, 1988.
Now twenty-five years after the album’s release, it is still difficult to absolutely capture its significance. But we will try. After all, this is an album that sold a “disappointing” 45 million copies, at best.
Think about it.
Today, most critics would argue that Bad paled in comparison to the eclectic and effective use of sound found on Off The Wall and it simply fell short of the crossover classic, Thriller. Bad was still an incredible album, of course, but not up to the standard previously set. Its importance, however, extended beyond the music. This was the album that turned Michael Jackson, the talented artist, into Michael Jackson, King of Pop.
At this point in his career, he was greater than the music. He had elevated to a stature at which people believed in HIM more than they simply enjoyed his music.
Michael Jackson as a gang leader. Laughable, right? Only because we have short memories. MJ had everyone rocking right along with him during his turn as an 80s Bernado, ridding the pop variation of A West Side Story to meteoric success.
Don’t believe me? Michael Jackson was so good, or dare I say bad, that he didn’t even need to be in his own music video.
He literally told a few dozen of his famous friends to show up and clown around a bit, with his record playing in the background. And that’s it. That’s the music video.
Like I said, by the late 80s, Michael Jackson was just bigger than the music.
Michael Jackson was so bad that he could make a woman leave her family, if only for the night. He was so bad that he had grown men crying, even fainting because of his mere presence. Sonically, Bad is not Thriller or Off The Wall. Instead, Bad is a statement, stronger than any other album to date. For everything that happened before that moment in time and thereafter, this was Michael Jackson, the figure, at his greatest.
As we look back on Bad, we have to respect the music. Regardless of how it is situated within the Jackson songbook, what Michael did with Quincy Jones was a sonic achievement, greater than most works surrounding it. As I reflect, however, I will appreciate Bad as a moment in time. Twenty-five years later and there is still no one greater than the King of Pop.
Written By: Paul Pennington