14
Jan 10

The FT Top 100 Tracks Of All Time #19: Michael Jackson – Billie Jean

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There really isn’t much to add about Billie Jean that wasn’t mentioned in Tom’s excellent piece for Popular, or indeed in this Freaky Trigger & The Lollards Of Pop episode where we heard Jackson’s slightly ramshackle unformed demos of the song. So I will give you the one thing that always made me wary of Billie Jean, bar it being on an album that my family had already dismissed for being “silly”. The name. Who is called “Billie Jean”?

So in lieu of saying anything about Billie Jean, here are some other prominent Billie Jeans, or Billies Jeans.

Billie Jean King: Probably the most famous Billie Jean, and almost certainly the most important female tennis player of all time. But was Michael Jackson a big tennis fan. It would certainly make sense when Mike says she is not his girl though, by 1983 she had been outed. Certainly if Mike chose the name to honour her, he would have been way ahead of the US: she did finally receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama last year. But apparently Quincy Jones (who never liked Billie Jean anyway) wanted to change the name of the song because he though people would think it would be about Billie Jean King.

The Battle Of The Sexes is what I mainly know Billie Jean King from, the 1973 match up between on top of her game Billie Jean King and ex-male champ Bobby Riggs. In winning it Billie Jean struck a serious blow for feminism DESPITE it being a game, and Bobby Riggs being 26 years older than her. Indeed I had not realised the age thing until recently, and it does put a bit of a spin on it. Feminism has since been repealed since Jimmy Connors beat Martina Navratilova in 1992.

The Legend Of Billie Jean
Mike clearly isn’t talking about the heroine of this, the second nail in the career coffin of Helen “Supergirl” Slater, as this film came out in 1985. In it some kids get bullied for talking like Jack Nicholson (Christian Slater – no relation), being pretty (Helen Slater) and talking like Bart Simpson before Bart Simpson was invented (Yeardley Smith). I vaguely remember seeing it on video back in 1987, and it is a wonderful piece of its times, plenty of neon cut down wetsuits, denim, power ballads and EMPOWERMENT BY CUTTING YOUR HAIR. Indeed as the clips below show, EMPOWERMENT IS 90% hair cutting. (The other 10% seems to be watching Jean Seberg be burnt at the stake in Saint Joan, which is meant to be a meaningful scene though its hard to note anything like emotion in Slater’s (no relations) face, as she is probably more interested in Seberg’s ginchy bob and making the obvious link between EMPOWERMENT and HAIRDO’S).

As befits a 1980′s teen movie all the characters have ridiculous names (except for Billie Jean, which is merely an unusual name to tie into a song which has nothing to do with, and is not in, the film). Christian Slater (no relation) is called Binx, Yeardley Smith is called Putter and there is even a character called Hubie. If I remember rightly Billie Jean’s rampage of disorderly behaviour all comes about because a mechanic doesn’t fix her brother bike properly, which means she is basically playing the Texas version of Watchdog with Lynn Faulds Wood. With better hair (but then LFW never made Hairdo of the Year, did she?) The teen rebellion is also inspired by Billie Jean watch The driving power rock soundtrack featured Pat Benatar’s Invincible (which also has Helen ‘Did Anyone Say Outrageous Fortune’ Slater all over the video), which Pat always often introduces as being from “the worst film ever”. Truly Legendary.

Billie Jean in Eastenders
Apparently on Eastenders in November they played Billie Jean in the Queen Vic, when Billy and Jean were having a conversation. THAT’s why its the 48th best TV drama of all time!

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