On August 29th, 1958, one Michael Joseph Jackson was born. A few months ago would have been his 60th birthday, had he not tragically passed away in 2009. This past October, I got to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, where many exhibits showed his iconic costume pieces and props, as well as highlighted his pure undeniable influence and impact on the history of popular music. Here I want to take the time to delve into the legend’s history with some insights into his continuing relevancy and sheer importance in the cultural zeitgeist of the past 5 decades.
A young Michael Jackson began his career performing songs with his siblings The Jackson 5 in the late 60’s, where they rose to fame with songs like “I Want You Back” and “ABC”. In 1979, after releasing a few mostly unsuccessful solo albums, with the help of longtime producing partner Quincy Jones, he released Off the Wall, which established him as a unique, bold, funky solo performer with big commercial viability.
His next album Thriller was released in 1983 and is credited with breaking racial boundaries. It also hugely popularized MTV and the music video format at large with his iconic videos for “Beat It”, “Billie Jean”, and the title track, with the latter being frequently ranked by sources as the greatest and most famous music video in history. “He was unique…so many have tried to copy him. As time went on, the mold was being shaped by what he was doing.” says Jack Martin, a CHS senior and aspiring songwriter who grew up on Jackson’s music.
Aside from the quality music, trademark costume pieces, and dance moves, Jackson was known for his message of radical pacifism, positivity and kindness that he presented with a rare sincerity, which influenced generations of fans and was showcased on songs like “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” and “Beat It”. Even while plagued with numerous controversies throughout his career, his sincerity brought celebrities to stand by and defend him, as they trusted in his innocence as a person.
Several artists today show direct influence from his music. When posed the question of what artist today he feels is the most influenced by Jackson, Jack Martin said “Definitely The Weeknd.”, and when asked his favorite MJ song, “…probably “Billie Jean” or the more modern “Monster”. Both are amazing songs and such well written and detailed pieces of poetry.” Some recent uses of Jackson’s music include Kanye West’s “Good Life”, which slows down the keyboard outro from “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)”; Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music”, sampling “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”; and Kendrick Lamar’s “King Kunta” borrowing lyrics from “Smooth Criminal”.
MJ was a best-selling, innovative, and larger-than life musician, style icon, radical, genius, and a human cultural landmark who has brought joy and inspiration to generations of people across the planet.