When Michael Jackson is remembered in the future, it most likely won't be for his controversial court cases, plastic surgeries or other odd behaviors. It will be for the music, and perhaps, upon reflecting on the self-proclaimed King of Pop's untimely passing, that's as it should be.
While his eccentricities eclipsed his musical contributions in recent years, it should be noted that Mr. Jackson revolutionized pop music both as a member of the Jackson 5 and as a solo artist.
The Jackson 5 transcended the sound of Motown, the group's label for five years starting in 1968. The group, anchored by a very young Michael's adolescent tenor, brought Beach Boys harmonies and Burt Bacharach-style arrangements to the Motor City soul. Although songs such as ABC and I Want You Back have, in the nearly 40 years since their release, become part of the collective musical consciousness, it must be remembered that before the Jackson Five, no act, at Motown or elsewhere, had ever thought to combine the styles and influences heard in the family act's music.
As influential as the Jackson 5's music was and remains, it will be Mr. Jackson's solo work, the groundbreaking Thriller in particular, that remains his greatest contribution to popular music.
A true iconoclast that drew inspiration from so many sources, close observation and dissection of Mr. Jackson's singular style will unearth elements of hard rock and soft pop, of orchestral arrangement and bare-bones emotionalism. You'll find Eddie Van Halen, who played on Thriller; Prince, who was Jackson's closest contemporary and of course, James Brown - lots and lots of James Brown.
It should also be noted that not only did Michael Jackson revolutionize the way music sounds, but also the way it was marketed. Mr. Jackson wasn't the first artist to produce music videos, but he certainly was the most successful. An artist always conscious of music's visual element, he channeled his interests in fashion, dance and cinema into short genre masterpieces. Be it the illuminated sidewalk in the Billy Jean video, the street gang dance off in Beat It or, most notably, the undead funk of the influential and wildly entertaining long-form Thriller clip, Michael Jackson believed, and proved, that a great track could be made into something more — more iconic, more culturally resonant — when accompanied by something that could be seen as well as heard.
It's amazing that an artist so boldly experimental could prove so popular, but the numbers don't lie. Over the course of his career, Mr. Jackson sold more than 750 million albums. This year, he sold out a remarkable 50 nights at London's O2 arena. He made much more than a career out of producing and performing music the likes of which nobody had heard before or, for that matter, since. He made history. It is, sadly, a history that feels like perhaps there were still chapters left to be written. Still, he left us an amazing catalog of musical memories and cultural contributions any other artist would have to go a long way to beat.
Thank you Mr Jackson. May you find peace.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org