Thursday, June 25, 2009

RIP Michael Jackson

The Jacksons - Enjoy Yourself

Wow ... where does one begin in writing a post eulogizing the King of Pop, Michael Jackson? I suppose I should take a page from my James Brown posts from a couple of years ago. With that in mind, let me talk a moment about MJ and then I'll talk about the first Michael Jackson-related record I ever heard.

As a child of the '70s and '80s, Michael Jackson was iconic. We had a copy of Thriller, and the title track was such a favorite that my brother and I would "perform" the song, with my brother singing and me doing the Vincent Price part at the end. (I was dared at a work social to do it, but I can't remember all of it now.) So many of his songs were favorites of mine, and to watch him perform was completely electrifying. Of course, like everyone else I was aware of all the scandal that surrounded him, and joined many "Lord help that man" conversations that put more emphasis on his man-child eccentricities than his talent. But to say I was shocked to hear that Michael was dead is an understatement. As soon as I heard the news I called my wife, and I told her that his passing was our generation's version of Elvis' passing (my mother can tell you exactly where she was and who she was with when she learned that Presley was dead). I know the blogosphere will have plenty of memorials to Jackson in due time, and they will all be truly deserved.

Now, on to some music. My mother's copy of the 45 of "Enjoy Yourself" by The Jacksons got a lot of spins when I was growing up. The funky groover from 1976 kicked off the post-Motown era for Michael and his family members (the Jackson Five had left Motown - and brother Jermaine, who was married to Berry Gordy's daughter - in the middle of the '70s, and Gordy retained the rights to the group's name; they added a few of the younger siblings and kept on going). "Enjoy Yourself" was a Gamble-Huff composition and production that was released on a joint Epic/Philadelphia International label, and it rocketed up the charts upon release. It's easy to see why, because from the funky guitar intro to the bumping groove to Michael's invitation to the girl "sitting over there, staring into space" to get up and boogie, it's a solid record. Of course, Michael would stay with Epic for nearly two decades, and would turn the music world upside down in the '80s. What a way to start, though!

RIP Michael Jackson. Although the last two decades weren't the kindest to you, your singing, dancing, music videos and overall talent will forever enshrine you as part of the legacy of total entertainers like Sammy Davis, Jr. and James Brown. Thank you for making the world a better place with your music.


Dusty said...

Beautiful post.
Could not be said much better.

Brian said...

Thanks for the great tribute. To those who would scoff at the legacy of Jackson, an unexpected defense of him came from my late, great Jazz professor, Jimmy Cheatham. I had not brought up the subject, but during one of our long talks in his office, he said, "Thank God for Michael Jackson! Now they can't deny it."

Cheatham had played with a LOT of people over the years and he was Chico Hamilton's music director for ten years. This was a man that saw the film, "Jammin' the Blues" by Gjon Mili and it solidified his decision to become a professional musician. He made a great deal of music and he never achieved worldwide fame, although he and his wife Jeannie Cheatham won the Grand Prix du Disque for their first album.

All that to say this: he had to wait nearly forty years to see an African-American enjoy such worldwide adulation. Cheatham was keenly aware of what he called "cultural subterfuge", for example, he HATED the idea of Jazz being played just before a murder scene in a movie. The validation of Jackson' success meant a lot to him as well as others (including me).

How big was he? One detail that is not making the news wires is that MTV, at one time, refused to play his videos (I think the video in question was "Billie Jean"), hiding behind the excuse of "not fitting into the MTV format". This is a charge that now seems absurd, especially seeing the time, effort and money that was spent on his videos (small side note: does anyone else find it a wee bit distasteful that many news organizations showed a "Michael Jackson Dead" graphic and then decided to show the zombie sequence of "Thriller"? A similar (inadvertent) incident happened when Fred Astaire (who complimented Jackson on his dancing) died. Rushing to pay homage to Astaire, someone at BBC Radio ran to get the first record they could lay hands on. To the DJ's horror, the first sung words were, "Heaven, I'm in heaven...". End of side note, back on your heads!). Epic did not cave in to MTV; they threatened to pull ALL of their videos, unless they played Michael Jackson's. Needless to say, MTV wisely relented and the rest, is history, or perhaps HIStory.

RIP, Michael Jackson.

boobie2shoes06 said...

I still have several Jackson5 45's including this one!