Fact: Michael Jackson had a video in the top 5 of each of MTV’s 3 decades;
#1 Thriller – 1980’s, #2 Scream – 1990’s, and #5 You Rock My World – 2000’s.
For the first day and a half after the death of the King of Pop, MTV largely abandoned its usual lineup of reality shows in favor of a marathon of Jackson videos, from the classics like “Beat It” to more obscure ones like 2001’s “You Rock My World” (with a Marlon Brando cameo!).
It’s been often said that Jackson brought about two fundamental changes to the world of music video: he desegregated MTV, and the cost and scope of his videos marked a paradigm shift away from the cheap, unambitious schlock MTV had been showing to that point.
There’s more evidence supporting the former theory than the latter, but Jackson inarguably made as big a mark in the world of video as he did in the world of music itself.
Great as his songs were, many of our strongest memories of him come from television: The early Jackson 5 appearances with Diana Ross. The Rankin/Bass-produced Saturday morning cartoon. Jackson moonwalking to “Billie Jean” on the Motown 25th anniversary special on CBS in 1983, which has to rank alongside the “Ed Sullivan Show” debuts of Elvis Presley and The Beatles among the most iconic moments in the crossover between music and TV.
Most of all, we think of the videos: of Michael as a dancing zombie in “Thriller,” Michael as a tough gang kid in “Beat It,” Michael evading the paparazzi in “Billie Jean,” etc. As he grew from boy to man, it was his dancing as much as his singing that made him the King of Pop, and nowhere was his otherworldly footwork on better display than in his videos.
MTV executives have always denied that there was any kind of prohibition against African American artists in the channel’s early days, while Walter Yetnikoff, who was the head of Jackson’s record label at the time, has always insisted there was.
Yetnikoff wrote in his autobiography, “Howling at the Moon,” that “I screamed bloody murder when MTV refused to air his videos. They argued that their format, white rock, excluded Michael’s music. I argued they were racist (jerks) — and I’d trumpet it to the world if they didn’t relent… With added pressure from Quincy Jones, they caved in, and in doing so the MTV color line came crashing down.”
Whether MTV’s resistance to Jackson had to do with color or genre, there was no question that his videos quickly became the channel’s biggest draw.
The launch of the video for “Thriller” — a 13-minute pastiche of ’50s horror movies, directed by John Landis and featuring horror legend Vincent Price in a cameo — was presented with all the pomp and circumstance of a movie premiere. Later Jackson videos, notably “Bad” and “Black or White,” got similar treatment.
Whether there had previously been resistance to artists of color on the channel or not, there’s no question that they became more prevalent after Jackson’s ascension.
As for changing the content of the videos themselves, what Jackson and his collaborators accomplished wasn’t so much a matter of kind as of degree. While the reputation of early ’80s MTV was of low-budget videos that were little more than glorified concert footage, many videos of the pre-“Thriller” period were ambitious and/or expensive, like Duran Duran’s “Rio,” or Blondie’s “Rapture.”
But the “Beat It” video cost a reported $150,000, a huge figure at the time. “Thriller” was an epic. Many of Jackson’s videos in later years would debut at an extreme length, then be cut down for regular airplay.
In addition to Landis, Jackson would work with directors like Martin Scorsese (“Bad”), John Singleton (“Remember the Time,” which featured cameos by Eddie Murphy and Magic Johnson), Spike Lee (“They Don’t Care About Us”) and David Fincher (“Who Is It”). (Jackson also got Francis Ford Coppola to direct “Captain EO,” the 3-D movie musical that used to play at Disney’s theme parks.)
And as Jackson put more time, money and artistry into his videos, other singers followed suit.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 1 Star-Ledger Plaza, Newark, N.J. 07102-1200. Please include your full name and hometown.
by Gary Trust
THE KING REIGNS AGAIN.
Michael Jackson leads Billboard’s Dance/Club Play Songs chart for the first time in almost 16 years, as “Hollywood Tonight,” from his posthumous album “Michael,” rises 2-1.
With the coronation, the late King of Pop collects his eighth solo No. 1 on the survey.
Jackson last ruled with his sister Janet when their duet “Scream” led the weeks of July 15 and 22, 1995.
Here is a recap of Jackson’s eight solo Dance/Club Play Songs No. 1s; he first dominated as a member of the Jacksons, with “Forever Came Today” (four weeks, 1975) and “Lovely One”/”Can You Feel It”/”Walk Right Now” (one week, 1980). (Previously, combinations of album cuts were eligible to chart as one entry).
Title, Date reached No. 1, Weeks at No. 1
“Thriller (all cuts),” Jan. 22, 1983, 11 weeks
“Tell Me I’m Not Dreamin’ (Too Good to Be True)”
(Jermaine Jackson & Michael Jackson), June 9, 1984, three weeks
“Bad (Remix),” Nov. 7, 1987, two weeks
“The Way You Make Me Feel,” Jan. 30, 1988, one week
“In the Closet,” June 13, 1992, one week
“Who Is It,” May 22, 1993, one week
“Scream” (Michael Jackson & Janet Jackson), July 15, 1995, two weeks
“Hollywood Tonight,” June 11, 2011, one week (to-date)
CBS 6 Staff
SARATOGA SPRINGS —
The king of pop is in the hall of fame and the news has people dancing.
A big celebration was held Sunday to mark Michael Jackson’s induction into the National Museum of Dance and Hall Of Fame in Saratoga Springs.
Jackson’s brother Marlon — a former member of the Jackson Five — was in Saratoga Springs to represent the family.
“On many an occasion when I am dancing, I have felt touched by something sacred. In those moments, I felt my spirit soar and become one with everything that exists” ~ Michael Jackson ~ Dancing the Dream, 1992