A Class by Himself
Michael Jackson‘s recent induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist honors his remarkable 30-year career, which has scaled unparalleled musical, commercial and critical heights, Jackson‘s myriad achievements include being responsible for the best-selling album of all time, pioneering the music-video medium, and virtually redefining the concept of the modern pop star. Indeed, Jackson has come a long way since first bursting onto the charts in 1969 as the Jackson Five’s magnetic 10-year-old lead singer. The seventh in a family of nine children in Gary, Indiana, Michael began performing at the age of five when his father Joe, a musician turned steel-mill worker, assembled the Jackson Five with Michael and his older brothers Jackie, Jermaine, Marlon and Tito.
Thanks in large part to Michael’s precocious talent, the Jackson Five quickly progressed from performing in local talent shows to landing a record deal with Motown. The group scored 13 Top 20 singles for Motown and continued to turn out hits through the 1970s, while Michael spun off into a parallel solo career.
Michael began to exercise an unprecedented level of control of his musical and business affairs following the Jacksons’ departure from Motown in 1975. He achieved substantial solo success with his 1979 album Off the Wall, which marked the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration with producer Quincy Jones and spawned the hits "Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough" and "Rock With You." Those singles previewed the distinctive – and, at the time, revolutionary – rock/soul fusion that Jackson would later explore more fully on his 1983 blockbuster Thriller.
It was the 45-million-selling Thriller that marked Jackson’s ascendancy to superstar status, establishing him as pop’s preeminent presence, both on the radio and on the still-new MTV, where his innovative song-and-dance videos for "Billie Jean," "Beat It," and "Thriller" helped pioneer the rock-video form – and break the cable channel’s unofficial color barrier. In 1984, Michael temporarily reteamed with his brothers (who by then were recording as the Jacksons) for the successful Victory album and tour.
Jackson’s new status as a figure of planetary influence was underlined by his involvement with the all-star USA for Africa benefit single "We Are the World," which he co-wrote with Lionel Richie. His subsequent solo albums Bad and Dangerous further expanded his musical legacy, as did the 1995 double CD HIStory: Past, Present and Future: Book One, which combined 15 previously released hits with 15 new songs. That collection was followed two years later by Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix, which combined new material with dance mixes of his hits.
Now in his fourth decade as a performer, recording artist and public figure, Michael Jackson remains a consistent musical innovator and stylistic trendsetter. His induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is just the latest in a long list of achievements that seems likely to grow a lot longer.