(an excerpt from my book, "The Myth of Rock and Roll: The Racial Politics of American Popular Music; 1945-2005")
Michael Jackson - Rock’s greatest performing artist came of age when at ten years old, he led Motown’s most prolific group, the Jackson Five. A prodigy who had to be seen to be believed, Michael was a master showman who could hold his own with those far older and more experienced. But, as he progressed into his teen years, he displayed his skills as a songwriter as well as a profound understanding of music production. After teaming with Quincy Jones to produce the phenomenal “Off the Wall” in 1978, he established himself as one of rock and soul’s premiere artists, and its most exciting. However, with the release of “Thriller”, Michael obliterated all sales and popularity standards and achieved success only realized by Elvis and the Beatles. He had fused (with Quincy’s help) rock and soul as no one had done before, and had developed an electrifying dance style and artistry that transcended performance genres. Michael had elevated rock live performance to such a level that it (or rather he) was viewed and revered by dancers from ballet to modern. Every contemporary singer and performer in rock and roll has been influenced by him and his moves can be seen everywhere on television and on videos. In fact, he essentially made the music video industry. A fledgling promotional feature supporting artists’ records and tapes, Michael singlehandedly transformed the music video from a lame advertising technique to an event. Millions would wait for the premiere of each new MJ video, anticipating a new step or dance move. By the end of the 80s, Michael so outdistanced the rest of the rock world as a performer (only Prince could compete with him), that all others seemed virtual amateurs next to him. His televised routine during the Motown 25th Anniversary, as well as his HBO special live concert in Budapest, Hungary are unequaled spectacles. A great vocalist and underrated writer, Michael’s later work in the 90s has not received the credit it deserved. Notwithstanding his public and personal problems, he is unquestionably without peer.