Monday, July 27, 2020

Musical Monday - Bille Jean by Michael Jackson

#1 on the Billboard Hot 100: March 5, 1983 through April 16, 1983.
#1 on the Cash Box Top 100: March 12, 1983 through April 16, 1983.
#1 on the U.K. Chart: The week of March 5, 1983.

The 1980s can be divided into two eras: The time before Thriller and the time after Thriller.

I'll start off by saying that I wasn't much of a Michael Jackson fan then, and I'm not much of one now. That said, there is no denying that, to a great extent, Michael Jackson's music in general, and the songs from Thriller specifically, were a big part of defining the decade.

It is easy to see why this album became a titanic hit, starting with this song. Billie Jean is a catchy, danceable song with a post-disco groove and a eminently memorable chorus. That's not really enough to make it the cultural phenomenon that it became though, because if it was, the numerous other catchy danceable songs with memorable choruses would have also become just as huge.

One of the things that set Jackson apart was that he had the foresight to really dive into the world of music videos. There had been decent music videos before, but Jackson managed to elevate the entire medium to a new level, and this video for Billie Jean was a leading edge for that. I distinctly remember my peers swooning over the fact that everything he touched in the video lit up. I remember how blown away everyone was by the choreography and the presentation. You can also see several of the signature Michael Jackson dance moves in the video as well, as well as the start of his distinctive style. He doesn't have the single glove yet, but the high-water pants and white socks are already present. Jackson didn't just show himself singing the song, he performed it, and then he got the video to complement that performance.

The final element that I think helped make Jackson into the defining star of the decade was that he was "safe". It is hard to remember now after all of the salacious material about the sleepovers with young boys at Neverland and the rumors that swirled about Jackson for years, but in 1983, he was seen as being almost ridiculously wholesome. He was openly and publicly devout, and rather loudly a virgin despite his superstardom. Not only that, if you were a teen in the 1980s, your parents remembered him as little Michael from the Jackson 5. They had seen him grow up. They were familiar with him, and thought of him as that cherubic little boy who fronted a band made up of his brothers. Jackson was, in effect, a Mom-approved pop star.

All of this combined into a perfect storm of popularity that helped make Thriller into a massive hit that generated a record seven top ten hit singles. Looking back, it is hard to really capture what pervasive phenomenon this album and the songs that came from it were. Jackson's music was everywhere in 1983, and ended up influencing pretty much everything that came afterward.

Previous Musical Monday: Baby Come to Me by Patti Austin and James Ingram
Subsequent Musical Monday: Is There Something I Should Know? by Duran Duran

Previous #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Baby Come to Me by Patti Austin and James Ingram
Subsequent #1 on the Billboard Hot 100: Come On Eileen by Dexy's Midnight Runners

Previous #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Do You Really Want to Hurt Me? by Culture Club
Subsequent #1 on the Cash Box Top 100: Come On Eileen by Dexy's Midnight Runners

Previous #1 on the U.K. Chart: Too Shy by Kajagoogoo
Subsequent #1 on the U.K. Chart: Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler

List of #1 Singles from the Billboard Hot 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles from the Cash Box Top 100 for 1980-1989
List of #1 Singles on the U.K. Chart for 1980-1989

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