Thriller! Celebrating the Life of An Icon

It didn’t take me long to figure out which of the many lasting memories that I wanted to share upon hearing of the death of Michael Jackson.  I could have gone with the time the Jackson 5 had four consecutive number 1 hits of “ABC,” “The Love You Save”“I Want You Back” , and “I’ll Be There” in the early 70’s.  Or the way I tried to do “The Robot” like he did in the middle of “Dancing Machine.”  Those were great. 

But one of my favorites was the time The Jackson’s (the older version of the Jackson 5) were on American Bandstand one Saturday morning.  The year was 1978 and I had gotten their latest LP “Destiny” for my 11th birthday. I was familiar with all of the songs and new them by heart.

Normally, when Bandstand came on, I would peep the opening to see if the musical guest would be worth my time.  There would be two bands or groups on any given show.  You may get the Bay City Rollers for instance with KC & The Sunshine Band.  But this time The Jackson’s were on.  The guest list included…..

wait for it…..

The Jacksons.  That was it.  There were no additional guest or second act.

As Dick Clark tried to open the show with his usual monologue, the crowd was screaming so loudly that you could hardly hear him.  You knew it was going to be a wrap. 

The first part of the show was the usual dancing and stuff.  We all waited for the brothers to appear.  It was mundane at best.  “Let’s get on with it, ” I thought to myself.”  Even the dancers looked impatient.  Finally, after the first two numbers and the first customary commercial break, it was that time. 

As Dick sat in his usual place with fans behind him waiting to witness the show.  He once again tried to introduce The Jackson’s to the TV audience.  The crowd wouldn’t let him as they screamed and screamed continuously.  There was no curtain on AB so the group was obviously already visible to the live audience on the set.  Clark just gave up and hurriedly exclaimed, “Ladies and Gentleman, The Jacksons!”

Now at the time the hit that radio stations were playing was “Blame It On The Boogie.”  If you had the album you knew “Shake Your Body Down (To The Ground)” would be a mega hit to come.  But do they jam either of these as an opening?  NOPE!  These cats come out with “The Things I Do For You.” 

After that signature intro – Michael goes off!

People all over the world are the same everywhere I go
I give in to this, I give in to that
Every day it bothers me so

Am I in a bad situation
People taking me to the extreme
Am I being used
I just need a clue
I don’t know which way to go

So I took my problems to a doctor
So he could check it out, he don’t know
Took it to a palm reader so she could
Read my hand, she don’t know
Five minutes later I started to understand
I started screaming, shouting, acting mad
No one could help me but myself
But I gave everything I had

Chorus:
It’s things I do for you
In return do the same for me
It’s things I do for you
In return do the same for me

Destiny

Right off the top it was a show stopper!  The song, (arguably the best on a GREAT album) was not even released as a single.  Talk about confidence!  They killed it!  I sat in front of my 13 inch black and white television with my mouth agape.  Michael sang his ass off and moved like the wind.  It was surreal the way they opened the set.  The energy, the positive vibes.  I mean you couldn’t just sit in front of the television and merely observe.  You couldn’t listen without moving.  Ha!  Man I was like, “Damn!”

You got to understand that at that time, there was no Prince to compare Michael to as it were in the 80’s.  In terms of groups and musical icons it was Michael with the Jacksons and everybody else.  Nothing else was even close.   Michael had the best voice, the best and most innovative moves, he was a pin up star and teen idol.  He had the entire package even then.  This was before “Off The Wall” let alone “Thriller.”

Now don’t get me wrong.  Michael had his own style for sure.  But all great artist take from the foundations laid before them.  Some merely copy styles, but the great ones can take what you did and put their own brand to it and make it their own.  Michael was a great student.  As a friend of mine who saw the Jackson 5 perform in Gary Indiana, told me today, “We grew up on James Brown, but we grew up with Michael Jackson.”  James Brown and Little Richard laid the foundations for Jackson.  Mike just took it to a new level.

He also borrowed from former Shalamar member Jeffery Daniel who did a dance called “The backslide,” which Michael turned into The Moonwalk.  It was no shame to it.  Mike was secure with himself in terms of performing and loved to watch others, and learn. 

It was common knowledge back in the day that Michael Jackson and Prince used to sneak in and view each others concerts during the 80s.  Though their music was totally different, they were the heartbeat of the 80s.  When Thriller and Prince’s 1999 were out at the same time, the music on both albums dominated the radio and party scenes.

I will most definitely mourn Michael.  I am not ashamed to say that.  He is the greatest entertainer ever… period.  He’s the original MJ.   Elvis made the ladies cry.  But Michael is the only dude I’ve ever seen who made other dudes cry.  I am glad to have lived during the early and glory years. 

I’ve got more to say about MJ.  I just have to get it off my chest.  It’s a cleansing for me. 

But for now I will just say to Michael, “Rest in peace dear brother.  You gave a lot musically, gifts from your soul for a lifetime.  We around the world received those gifts.  And we will be forever grateful.” 

Michael Jackson