Walking into my second-grade classroom I can remember the buzz and the singular question, “how did he do that?” Southwestern Ohio had not been educated about the street dancing that was emerging in NYC. There had to have been a transparent rope around his waist? Perhaps a moving floor under the stage? Whatever it was, there was no explaining the “Moonwalk.”
The night before, some of my all-time favorite artists appeared on Motown’s incredible 25th Anniversary Special. Diana, Marvin, Stevie, and of course Lionel. The Jackson 5 also reunited with Michael after he had embarked on a solo career. It was a beautiful moment to see the brothers sing and dance on stage. But the audience and estimated 34 million people watching at home wanted to see what Michael would perform from his chart-topping “Thriller”.
His brothers vanished, and after a touching tribute to the “good old days” he donned his black fedora, struck his iconic profile pose and the music universe would never be the same. The instantly recognizable drum beat for “Billie Jean” fired up and the audience exploded. I was captivated. He moved with such ease and precision. With every passing second, he did something more dazzling. But 3 minutes and 37 seconds into his performance he did something so physically defying that it literally took the audience’s breath away – and mine as well. He did the “Moonwalk”, the dance that would partially define him for the rest of his career. A move that was so jaw-dropping he did it again just to make sure the viewers saw what he did the first time. In writing this, I have watched replays of that moment seven or eight times. You can see on his face that he knew what he was doing. He knew he was no longer one of the Jackson 5, or just Michael Jackson. From that point forward, he would become the most famous person in the world.
In 1983, Michael Jackson was arguably the coolest person on the planet. His look, his voice, his dancing, and of course his sequined glove. That moment in time produced a musical love affair that would last with him through his death. I immediately asked my parents for a breakdancing video and mat so I could learn to do what he did. In high school before sporting events, I would tape my fingers like he did as a subtle (or not so subtle) homage. And when he died my phone lit up with hundreds of text messages as if I was a member of his family. On a May night, thirty-nine years ago, the King of Pop forever changed my life when he showed the world the magic in the music.
It’s no secret that Michael Jackson was already climbing the music Mt. Rushmore prior to Thriller, but the heights that he reached attributable to this album are comparable to none. His sixth album and second time collaborating with Quincy Jones following “Off The Wall,” just about every single song on Thriller was a hit, and Michael intended it to be that way. From “Beat It,” to “Billie Jean,” to “Pretty Young Thing (P.Y.T.),” and of course the title track and greatest Halloween song of all time, “Thriller,” the album features some of Michael’s most recognizable songs. It only took a year for Thriller to become the world’s best-selling album, and still holds that title 40 years later with over 70 million copies sold.
Thriller cemented Michael Jackson as one of the greatest artists of all time, breaking records in every facet of the music industry and revitalizing the album format. The airing of the music videos for “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” made MTV a dominant force within music in the early 80s into the 00s and helped to transform music videos into a serious art form. He has inspired and broken down the doors for numerous artists that we enjoy today, and it’s not a stretch to say that music would not be the same without Michael Jackson.
Help Me Sing It, Ma Ma Se,Like the songs you hear on King’s Passage? Then check out the KP Jukebox playlist on Spotify!
Ma Ma Sa, Ma Ma Coo Sa
Ma Ma Se, Ma Ma Sa,
Ma Ma Coo Sa