When you think of [url id=”http://www.mtv.com/music/artist/jackson_michael/artist.jhtml”]Michael Jackson[/url], the first thing that comes to mind might be his unique dancing ability — particularly his moonwalk dance, in which he would spin then glide in reverse, giving an effortless impression that he was impervious to the laws of gravity. But those skills sometimes overshadowed his undeniable musical talents and innovations, which spanned several decades, beginning in the ’70s and lasting into the new millennium.
It all began for MJ as a member of the Jackson 5, sibling outfit made up of him and his brothers.
The young Jackson led the Indiana-based group through the early ’70s as they scored a number of hits, including “I Want You Back” and “I’ll Be There.” The songs relied on their label Motown’s traditional soulful sounds, but were also tinged with a youthful pop sheen. The formula was a result of Jackson’s yearning pre-teen voice — and it instantly made him a star.
Throughout the rest of the ’70s, MJ continued to anchor the act while slowly branching out as a solo performer. He teased what he would later become with the title track to the movie “Ben,” and the song captured the hearts of many. Then in 1978, as he began working on “The Wiz,” Jackson hooked up with producer Quincy Jones and the duo would soon embark on a journey together that would see them mold the pop landscape for the next decade.
Off the Wall introduced Jackson as a dashing, charismatic solo performer. The album, released in 1979, featured five breakout singles, from the disco sounds of “Rock With You” and “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” to his preening falsetto on “She’s Out of My Life.” The exuberant set established Jackson as one of the premier talents in music and positioned him as the sexiest entertainer since Elvis Presley first gyrated his hips on national television.
Three years later, however, Jackson would rewrite everything we ever thought we knew about him with one word: Thriller.
The epic 1982 collection continues to stand as Jackson’s finest work and has become the blueprint that all musicians after would follow, from Justin Timberlake to Jay-Z. Thriller was a departure for Jackson — he would no longer be defined by the sounds of Motown or disco. Instead, MJ defied categorization. “Beat It” featured Eddie Van Halen on guitar, and the pulsating “Billie Jean” showcased Jackson as few had seen him before, dangerous and in-your-face. Then there was the title track, a soaring number that firmly established Jackson’s talents — this was the moment the King of Pop was crowned.
Following the twin cannons that were Off the Wall and Thriller wouldn’t be an easy task for most, but Jackson’s follow-up, 1987’s Bad, was formidable by all accounts. The set was wrongfully dismissed by critics because it wasn’t the sales blockbuster that Thriller was, but Bad itself featured five songs that would go on to be chart-toppers, a record for solo artists. By this point, his vocal hiccups and stammered “shamone” would become staples in his music (“Dirty Diana,” “Man in the Mirror,” and “Smooth Criminal” are just a few examples), heightening and highlighting the emotion of his lyrics.
Jackson took another respite in between albums before he returned with Dangerous in 1991. The uneven HIStory, a smattering of his greatest hits along with just a few new tracks, arrived in 1995. Then the singer’s last solo album, Invincible, was released in 2001.
Later in his career, Jackson seemed to suffer from insecurity amid reports of many abandoned recordings and difficulties with his record label. His later material was not groundbreaking; he parted ways with Jones after Bad and partnered with various producers for the rest of his career, from Teddy Riley to R. Kelly, with varying degrees of success, but nothing that approached the outerworldly achievements of his ’80s work. Most recently, Jackson was reported to be collaborating with contemporary producers like Akon, Ne-Yo and Will.I.Am for a comeback album.
Still, Jackson’s last true hit, Invincible’s “You Rock My World,” was a reminder of the Gloved One’s glory days.
“Girl, I know that this is love/ I felt the magic all in the air,” Jackson sang in a lush melody. “And girl, I’ll never get enough/ That’s why I always have to have you here.”
Then, only as he could, MJ punctuated the verse with an energetic yell.
MTV will be paying tribute to MJ throughout the weekend with music videos, exclusive performances and calls and tweets from celebrity admirers and friends. For everything we’ve got on the life, career and passing of the legendary entertainer, visit “Michael Jackson Remembered.”
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