Michael Jackson's "History: Past, Present, Future, Book I"
By Maximillian Muhammad
Life gets stranger by the day for the "King Of Pop" and that's an understatement. Unproved allegations, marriages, a skin disorder, children, Bubbles, power, ruthlessness, empires, Neverland, chambers, Elephant man Bones, tabloid stories, and midgets--that's the norm in Michael's world today, but it was another world I remember as a child. The Jackson Five were an industry onto themselves. Not the Osmonds, Silvers, New Edition, nor Debarge, matched them and only Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers came before, but lacked the kind of impact these boys had. Groups even today try for that flavor, such as Soul for Real...it's cute but not the real thing. Like Marvin &Tami said, "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing." Artists like Tevin Campbell dream it...why not try bringing that 11-year-old boy back that the music world grew up on.
Four number ones early on, album success, tours, pin-ups, the works, all before the age of 21. Usually that's where the story ends, but there's nothing usual about Michael Jackson (say it with a straight face) is there? And so after early fame, then the Vegas gig--he wasn't even 18--and the end of the Jackson Five's Motown careers, adult fame? You gotta be kidding me! After making "The Wiz," which didn't have Shirley Temple Black tossing and turning in her sleep with its box office receipts, Michael Jackson started his road with the unlikeliest of partners at the time, Quincy Jones. Despite producing Leslie Gore's hit "It's My Party," Jones was seen as a jazz producer. Together we got "Off the Wall," mega-platinum, but more than that, a true classic. Melody, genuine soulfulness--it's all there and plenty more where that came from. Still my all-time fave MJ record.
With "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough," Rock with You," "She's out of my Life," the title cut, "I Can't Help It," he covered all type of styles. How could you duplicate that? A Black man seeking to top the charts, a young teen heartthrob, whose group was almost shelved just a year prior to "Off the Wall?" Sounds crazy, sounds unbelievable, sounds like you got lucky with "Off the Wall"--be grateful. It'll never happen again? Right? Right? Wrong. Dead wrong when it comes to Michael.
Before Chicago got its own soaring MJ (23), this MJ, mad and frustrated at the Grammy awards for overlooking "Off the Wall," vowed to come back with vengeance. And boy, did he ever. Everything unheard of for an African-American artist was shattered when "Thriller" came: 40-plus million records...later it still leaves you speechless, with its incorporation of all types of sounds, from pop, funk, mid-tempo, rock, easy-listening and even Swahili chants. "Thriller" became all that and fries after that moon-walk on "Motown 25." I never wore sneakers that much after that night. "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin,'" "Beat It," "Human Nature," the title cut, "Pretty Young Thing (PYT)," "The Girl is Mine" and the trademark piece, "Billie Jean."
Awards, worldwide it don't get no bigger (as they say). But it became an albatross, powerful and strange. "We Are The World," written for USA For Africa, was a huge hit. Then came the "Bad" record, which, except for "The way you Make Me Feel," "Another Part Of Me," "Liberian Girl," "Man in the Mirror" (I Love it even more live...sounds more soulful) and "Smooth Criminal," missed the mark. "Leave Me Alone" didn't really move me and is my least favorite. But (of course) it was another huge hit again for Michael world wide.
Then in 1991 comes "Dangerous," an attempt at New Jack Swing--enter Teddy Riley, exit Quincy Jones--but the same ingredients. And it works, showing Michael back on top vocally, able to handle grooves such as "Jam," "In the Closet," and the soulful jam, "Remember the Time." But in "Thriller" fashion came the first cut "Black Or White"--a pop-rock ditty that explored love of humankind and the differences of people visually. This album was proof Michael could run the show his way, which, though a good record, wasn't ground -breaking like "Off the Wall" and "Thriller."
You know what's next, and it was "History"--all the hits, except for "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" and "Heal the world." (This type of song, while sung with force and feeling, are too sappy to the ear and killed "Dangerous" from being a classic and part 2 from being real good.) Part 1 is a must have. "Scream" (with sister Janet), "Stranger in Moscow," "This Time Around," "You're not Alone" (which was the first single here in the USA to debut at Number 1), "Childhood," "Tabloid Junkie" all stand out. But going back to the point of Michael in charge--despite Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Dallas Austin, R. Kelly and David Foster, it still sounds like these people emulating Michael. It's his sound--they really don't add anything to the mix.
"History" suffers from too much pleasing. It contains plenty of anger (with good reason), but he sends the message that if you just love him, he'll forgive you-- and it doesn't jibe. It's that boyish charm, innocence and free flow we love about Michael, not the man raging against all the demons he has brought on himself and the ones against him. He proved he was bad before--he never lost his talent. "History" is just his flow, not anyone else's. Michael Jackson is his only threat and that's the story.