This week I review the 25th anniversary edition of Michael Jackson's "Bad," recently released by Sony/Legacy.
Michael Jackson - "Bad - the 25th Anniversary Edition"
I've always admired Michael Jackson's supreme talents as an artist, singer, dancer and songwriter. There's no denying his talent, and his premature demise is a waste considering what could have been. Still, few performers have had the kind of career Jackson had, and he was at the height of his powers when "Bad" was released in 1987.
A child artist growing up in a musical family, Jackson was in the limelight as the precocious and extremely talented youngster who led the Jackson Five, one of Motown's most successful bands in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The band's unabashedly joyful music still sounds great on the radio today, with the young Michael lending his lead vocals to "ABC," "I'll be There" and "I Want You Back," which is my all-time favorite Jackson Five tune.
It was after Michael released a series of so-so albums on Motown in the early to mid-1970s and after he signed to Epic that he really came into his own, and the fabulous, Quincy Jones-produced "Off the Wall," released in 1979, really began Jackson's second career.
I think "Off the Wall" is by far Jackson's best solo album, an absolute monolith of pop perfection, released before all the weirdness began.
But it was with "Thriller," released in 1983 and also aptly produced by Quincy Jones, that Michael Jackson became a superstar's superstar. Every song off "Thriller" was aimed for radio, and every single hit the target with amazing accuracy. "Thriller" was a spectacular pop creation, an album chiseled with hooks galore. The best cut was also its creepiest - the profoundly weird "Bille Jean," a mixture of irresistible dance-floor beats and stunning, bottled up intensity. This was the place where the Michael Jackson of the next 20 years was spawned from a truly visionary and eccentric artist with an unerring ear toward ear candy that blew away everything else on the dance floor or the radio.
"Thriller" also was where people began to notice that Jackson was "different," at least in a mildly amusing way. Jackson, an extremely ambitious individual, always wanted to better what he'd previously done, but there really was no doing better than "Thriller" and "Off the Wall."
But then again, why mess with what works?
So Jackson and Quincy Jones teamed up again for "Bad," and while the result isn't as riveting as Jackson's first two albums for Epic, it wasn't mediocre by any means. The best cut, "Smooth Criminal" is a fabulous piece of thinking-man's dance music with a hook to die for. It's also the first album where Jackson took the lead role in writing his own material, and while it's understandable from an artistic stance, the album doesn't sit quite as tall in the saddle compared to its predecessors. Jackson was reportedly devastated by sales and some critics' reactions, but in hindsight you can only repeat the same formula for so long in pop music. That's just the name of the game.
The deluxe edition of "Bad" also comes with a CD of outtakes and demos, which are interesting to hear. But the real enchilada is the CD/DVD concert of Jackson live at London's Wembley Stadium during a string of one-nighters in 1988.
This was Jackson at the height of his performing game, and his radiant energy and commitment during the performance are astonishing. The Michael Jackson show came complete with a crack band of professional dancers and musicians, including a big-haired Sheryl Crow as Jackson's female vocal counterpart.
This was right at the height of the "bigger-hair-is-better" rage in '80s pop music, and no one was going to outdo the King of Pop with teased and tortured pompadours. Big hair is everywhere - and that's just the men!
Jackson looks healthy and fit throughout, and it's understandable why he was the reigning prince of pop - no would could touch him at what he did best. It's a tragedy what he became, but for one hot minute in American pop music he was truly a deserving artist of the highest magnitude.