In many ways, Michael Jackson got what he wanted. Friends and family members talk about how he wanted Thriller to be the most successful album of all time.
He wanted to be the wealthiest man in show business. He called himself The King of Pop. He married Elvis Presley's only daughter.
He wanted to be Elvis, and sadly he got the whole package. He was hugely successful, he descended into parody though he still had his loyal fans, and he died way too young in a creepy seclusion.
Let me also say this. I like Michael Jackson's music much more than I liked Elvis Presley's. There are two Elvis Presley songs I can listen to.
Trying to Get to You and Blue Moon of Kentucky.
For me, that's what he sounded like before it all went bad.
I like some of Michael's stuff on and after Thriller, but Thriller was the beginning of the end. From my perspective, it wasn't the most successful album of all time. It was Chapter One in the book The Events Leading To His Death. I was watching Michael Jackson videos on MTV last night, and the thing that comes through most clearly is the huge wellspring of stupid and misplaced anger once he became the biggest star in the world.
Here are some songs from the time before it all went bad.
ABC Not my favorite J5 song, but still a great groove.
I'll Be There A sweet song from a sweet kid.
Ben The rock critic Robert Christgau considers this the biggest mistake of Jackson's career, the love song to a rat. Christgau is wrong. I'm all about listening to the music, and this is a lovely song.
Don't Stop Till You Get Enough and Rock With You Here are two from Off The Wall, his first solo album. It's very much an album from the disco age, but the leadership of Quincy Jones gives it just the right level of production.
While I admit it's odd to end a tribute to a dead guy with someone singing a cover version of my favorite song of his, here is the British singer KT Tunstall doing a completely stripped down version of I Want You Back. While the Jackson Five version is still my favorite recording Michael Jackson was ever involved in, it's great to hear this song away from all the production. Ms. Tunstall is young enough that when she grew up, there was always a Michael Jackson, and her version is clearly the tribute of a fan.