Perhaps of all the deaths of famous rock stars throughout history, Michael Jackson’s recent passing hit really hard for me personally. I grew up and lived through the Thriller-era madness when Jackson seemed to have ruled the world from 1983 and 1984. His music and presence was unescapable, whether it was a song from Thriller on the radio; the amazing “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” videos; a guest vocal appearance on Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me”; and the Victory tour with his brothers. As we’ve all learned, especially in the last couple of days, Jackson was certainly larger than life.
The Thriller era is how I remember Jackson. Nearly every cut on that record–the hits “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” “Human Nature” (my personal favorite), “The Girl Is Mine,” “PYT,” “Wanna Be Starting Something,” and the title track—was classic. It is truly a great pop album and its record millions of copies sold is proof of its popularity and resonance. That to me is prime vintage Michael—a fruitful musical period that may never be duplicated.
It may be hard to separate the musical genius of Jackson with his latter-day eccentric behavior and extravagance, not to mention the scandals and criminal allegations. But clearly his influence on pop culture is not deniable. His popularity and talent has a unifying hold on so many people regardless of race, class division, or borders. Thus, Jackson should be best appreciated for that.