By Rob Markman
On August 31, 1987, Michael Jackson set out to do the impossible: Try to outdo Thriller, his classic 1982 LP.
“It was the follow-up to the greatest-selling album of all time. A lot of people slept on it,” Spike Lee told MTV News of Bad, which the King of Pop released 25 years ago today.
It’s a story that the critically acclaimed film director explores in his new “Bad 25″ documentary, which will premiere at the Venice Film Festival and will be broadcast in the U.S. on Thanksgiving.
Ultimately, Mike fell short of his goal. It’s estimated that Thriller sold over 110 million copies since its release, while Bad has moved over 30 million, but Spike believes in MJ’s 1987 release so much that he issues a challenge to all music fans:
“Go to the charts … and see what were the top albums 25 years ago, play those albums now and then play Bad, and then see which one still sounds fresh and doesn’t sound dated.”
MTV News figured we’d take Spike’s task to hand, but it was no easy feat. In a year where Bon Jovi, U2, Beastie Boys, Whitney Houston and Bruce Springsteen all notched #1 long players, maybe Bad isn’t such a slam dunk.
The year started off with Springsteen’s Live/1975-85 at the top of the charts, but we omitted that album and the “La Bamba” and “Dirty Dancing” soundtracks from our breakdown, choosing to focus solely on studio albums.
Bon Jovi’s Diamond-certified Slippery When Wet dropped in 1986, but didn’t hit the top of the charts until January 1987. Similarly, the Beastie Boys’ debut Licensed to Ill also took several months before toppingBillboard. While both LPs were widely successful and spawned iconic singles, neither really hold up today. In the case of the Beasties, the sound of hip-hop has changed so drastically that it’s hard to find a place for it in 2012’s hustle-centered Rick Ross-isms.
Springsteen’s studio effort, Tunnel of Love, spent only a single week in the top spot and was a downgrade from the Jersey rocker’s previous triumph, Born in the U.S.A., so his ’87 LP isn’t much of a match for MJ’s.
While Whitney Houston’s second album (Whitney) ruled the summer thanks to powerful singles like “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” “So Emotional” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go,” it’s U2’s Grammy award-winning The Joshua Tree that comes closest to touching Bad. The classic LP cemented the rockers as global superstars, setting a blueprint for just about every band who followed.
Still, Spike looks at the King of Pop’s offering and its record-setting singles “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” “Bad,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Man in the Mirror” and “Dirty Diana” as clear-cut proof of why MJ can’t be beat.
“What people didn’t realize, that unlike Thriller, Bad had five consecutive #1 singles, which had never been done before until recently; Katy Perrytied the record,” he said.