May 09


FT + Popular/145 comments • 13,922 views

#516, 5th March 1983

Michael Jackson came to the title “King of Pop” in the style of a medieval ruler, carving out his realm piece by piece across a hard year of campaigning. He won some of his new subjects when he performed this song as part of a Motown anniversary special: others when he formed common cause with Eddie Van Halen or Paul McCartney. His fiefdom suddenly extended across my school playground with the release of the “Thriller” video and its body popping zombies. Through it all the album and its spin-offs sold, and sold, and sold. “Billie Jean”, its Wikipedia page claims, has now topped 800,000 sales as a digital download, a format invented close to 20 years after its release.

What few mentioned was how strange Thriller was, how odd and sincere and childlike in some places, and how nightmarish in others. Half the record is heartbreakingly tender, the other half hard-edged and horribly tight-wound. Jackson’s stuck in the middle, and the pain is thunder: uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

“Billie Jean” itself is the album’s darkest moment, where the goblin babble pressing in on Jackson during “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” goes fully internal and the barely-together bundle of tics that became Jackson’s star persona steps into the spotlight. Jackson’s one-take vocal is a long shudder – the gollum-gulp on “her schemes and plans”, the betrayed moan of “his eyes were like mine” – and the real craziness happens on its fringes. That contradictory “do think twice!”/”don’t think twice!” collision; the constant “ooh”, “oh”, and “no!” echoes; the clucks and gasps; and especially the madman’s comic book laugh punctuating the track, that eerily deliberate “hee hee hee”.

And of course this near-meltdown is the album’s most grippingly commercial moment too. Jackson’s claustrophobic performance is boxed in by stalking bass and arid drums, underlined by clawing and skittering guitars, counterpointed by those sensuous flushes of strings. A song about the fatal irresistibility of a dancer really does need to be irresistible on the dancefloor: at a hundred million weddings and discos since, “Billie Jean” has proved its mettle in that respect. But when you follow Jackson’s performance down and in, none of that matters – “Billie Jean” is a disquieting, troubled record.



  1. 1
    Steve Mannion on 18 May 2009 #

    Plus for me, unlike Come On Eileen, it’s not tarnished by past affection. This attitude isn’t necessarily the right one to take but I feel that Billie Jean is not JUST “cooler” than COE. Its (or at least MJ’s) exoticity as an event, its modern sound (no less ‘thrilling’ than the nostalgic euphoria of COE)…I mentioned it before but the sense of Jackson initiating his transformation process(es) and the resulting excitement. ‘Planet Rock’ portrayed the future but maybe MJ was more directly honouring Kraftwerk, desperate to escape his human form, but here so as to deal better with unparalleled global fame and fortune (and tragically the perceived imperfection he felt and blamed on his father’s brutal disciplinarism iirc)…at least for an entertainer. Maybe that’s all bunk but these ideas and associations seem to dominate his career from hereon, setting up a nightmarish descent – so for now marvel at the highest heights. Looking back it does seem extraordinary that he was not able to score as many #1s as his imminently emerging female counterpart (the Queen of Pop).

    I can see that aside from all that Billie Jean IS troublesome. WHY tailor a song so traumatic and thematically specific for the dancefloor anyway? Where’s the creepy line? Isn’t this only problematic in theory tho? It’s never stopped people having as a good a time to this as any song. ‘Thriller’ itself would’ve made probably just as great a #1 and probable 10 from my pov.

  2. 2
    pinkchampale on 18 May 2009 #

    think it would be a ten from me. much of the genius of this is the claustrophobia. it’s like a hermetically sealed system, with the funkiness coming from the tiniest inflections, particularly in the guitar part. mj himself is all over it, both trapped inside the system (yes, i love the ‘eyes like mine’ moan) and – when he lets go with the odd intakes of breath, strangled cried and all the rest of his ticks – startlingly outside it.

  3. 3
    Steve Mannion on 18 May 2009 #

    Well I realised recently you wouldn’t be giving this a 10 but for me it’s one of the most deserving tens for mostly obvious reasons. Pop genius at the top of his game. Possibly the most popular (yet “credible”) floor filler of the last 26 years? Iconic both sonically (the deep warm nocturnal enigmatic two note synth hook chiefly) and visually (pavement as disco dancefloor). That’s quite enough reasons for me personally. Untouchable (and yet he touched too much, ahem).

  4. 4
    Tom on 18 May 2009 #

    Blender, I believe, rated this as “best song of your lifetime”. I think it’s my fourth favourite song on the album TBH* so yes, not a 10 despite icon status, but there’s no shame in a 9

    *1. Wanna Be Startin Somethin, 2. Human Nature, 3. Beat It

  5. 5
    rosie on 18 May 2009 #

    Ten ten ten! I had this marked down a long time ago as the last ten I would award before my retirement, which can’t be far off now. It is indeed dark, and paranoid, a thorough exploration of a tortured soul (just how tortured we had yet to find out). And it is outside its time: it has all the hallmarks of a pop monument for all seasons.

    I come to this conclusion, by the way, knowing the song only as a song. It was only a few months ago that I actually saw Mr Jackson doing his dance routine to it, nor have I ever seen more than brief fragments of the Thriller video.

    And not for the first time, its mood resonated with my own at the time. The dark clouds had been gathering on the horizon for a while, and it was in March 1983 that the storm broke. I don’t really want to go into details – save that for my autobiography if it ever gets written – but lets just say that unemployment and profound depression were building up to a point where something had to give, and an explosion in my private life triggered a breakdown which left me homeless and helplessly drifting. I remember a long trek up to Durham, and being attacked with a hockey stick, and eventually landing, drained and exhausted and broke, at my mother’s house in Hitchin. There I shut myself in my mother’s back bedroom and sat up all night ever night, listening to Chiltern Radio and bashing out my first novel on my mother’s battered old manual typewriter (it was crap, and the manuscript no longer exists, but at least it was a formative experience.) All the time, Billie Jean could be heard somewhere or other.

    I had nowhere else to go but up, you might think. But life had a few more kicks to give me to the accompaniment of the next few number ones.

  6. 6
    Lex on 18 May 2009 #

    I’m really surprised this didn’t get a 10, I thought it’d be one of the most obvious 10s in the entire list! It’s weird, it’s one of those songs that one absolutely takes for granted as part of the fabric of popular culture, but the minute you think about what it’s about, you just think: how weird is it that this is one of MJ’s signature singles and as popular – not even just popular, but communally popular – as it is? It’s a dark, complex and sinister narrative, and every sonic element is geared towards reinforcing that – yet it’s not just the tune that everyone knows, it’s all the paranoid tics and creepy production flourishes. Just relistened, and it’s so impressive that despite the wedding-disco ubiquity, it still retains that power when you actually hear it.

  7. 7
    Tom on 18 May 2009 #

    The thing is, though, that this isn’t even MJ’s most freaked-out or dark record by any means – all those tics and creepy bits are totally part of his persona, and his popularity – as well as, ultimately, his unpopularity – is to some extent based on him being a weirdo. If you lift up almost any of his hits there’s all sorts of madness crawling about underneath.*

    Which is one reason why there’s never been a “next MJ” – the public were responding to the madness as much as the genius, and both were pretty hard to approximate, let alone combine, even IF you’d found someone wanting to take on this particular burden.

    *Case in point, what I didn’t have room to fit into the review, Billie Jean tempts Jacko for FORTY DAYS AND FORTY NIGHTS.

  8. 8
    Steve Mannion on 18 May 2009 #

    Additionally, this song is joined by another from the same year in my ‘would never be so sick of it that it’s value is diminished’ hall o’ fame. It wouldn’t be difficult to guess what this other seminal and arguably just as dark and doomy dance track is. Cheer up goths!

    To go back to my description of the two note synth hook…I guess it’s sound reminds me of an owl’s muffled hoot? Wondrous.

  9. 9
    Tom on 18 May 2009 #

    #7 yeah – I can see this as a strong argument, for whatever reason (me being a 30something parent? Dunno) records with a strong association of modernist shock like this or “I Feel Love” never quite seem to get the 10s from me.

  10. 10
    lonepilgrim on 18 May 2009 #

    Another number 1 with an instantly recognisable bass line.
    I think this record powerfully conjures up the intensely equivocal and destructive nature of global celebrity culture that began in the 80s with Lennon’s death and which is literally embodied in Michael Jackson himself.
    The music on this is wound tight – the bass line punctured by yelps, gulps and stabbing strings – and put’s me in mind of ‘Venus in Furs’ – although that sounds almost vanilla compared to this.

  11. 11
    Steve Mannion on 18 May 2009 #

    At least you’re consistent :)

    I’d probably give twice as many tens as you will during the 80s (one of many good reasons I’m just a commenter), but this really is ‘first name on the teamsheet’ stuff.

  12. 12
    pinkchampale on 18 May 2009 #

    #6 the terrible thing is that all that was there even before it began to show itself in the records. on the face of it there’s no more compelling expression of human joy in world history than year old michael screaming BABY! BABY! BABY! in the middle of ‘i want you back’, but as we all know now, things were actually pretty far from joyous

  13. 13
    pinkchampale on 18 May 2009 #

    er, *ten*year old, that is

  14. 14
    Lex on 18 May 2009 #

    Ayyy, I forgot ‘I Feel Love’ didn’t get a 10. SCREWFACE.

    Tailoring dark or sinister songs to the dancefloor is a pretty common thing, surely? I can think of so many, whether the darkness is the obvious appeal or a semi-disguised undercurrent to the song’s narrative to merely present, indefinably, in the sonics. What’s interesting about ‘Billie Jean’ is that its sinister aspect isn’t really a part of its presence in popular culture. No one ever goes “oh, ‘Billie Jean’ is so CREEPY” unless they’re thinking about it critically – it’s first, foremost and entirely iconic because it’s a good-times dancefloor song.

  15. 15
    pinkchampale on 18 May 2009 #

    lex – replace “sinister/creepy” with “heartbreaking/wretched” and you’re talking about ‘dancing queen’!

  16. 16
    Steve Mannion on 18 May 2009 #

    I think it’s just that Billie Jean’s dark tale relates so specifically to an event. The song is the name of the girl (probably so as to meet listeners halfway? did people read or hear what his new single was called and think ‘oh, sounds like another fine romantic modern soul hit!’ before hearing?). Jackson describes his reactions to the sequence of events including what he’s thinking as well as doing. This all seems a level above the usual, esp. for a dance song.

    I wonder if years and years later a certain #1 single was made on the ‘that song is so great but maybe a version that is actually ABOUT dancing would be nice for the kids?’ premise.

  17. 17
    Steve Mannion on 18 May 2009 #

    Just had a look at the song’s chart positions achieved in various countries. Curiously it only made #45 in France while making top 10 if not #1 in most other Western European countries. This column’s author is himself quoted on the BJean wikipedia page regarding reactions to Kanye West’s 2008 remix (which I have still never knowingly heard).

  18. 18
    Erithian on 18 May 2009 #

    Blimey, I might have to don the tin helmet on this one, I’m so far out of kilter with the apparent consensus on it. Couldn’t stand it then, and unlike quite a number of records I’ve happily revised my opinion of over time, can’t stand it now. And among the main reasons I feel this way (aside from the fact I’ve honestly never felt moved to dance to it, just not my BPM I guess) are those vocal tics others have cited as a plus factor. If it’s supposed to indicate emotion and living the story of the song, well for me it just doesn’t work because of its sheer overuse.

    At around this time a friend took me to see a popular local singer in the town near Cherbourg where she was working as a language assistant: he clearly modelled himself on Jacques Brel, and at the end of the first song he built to an emotional crescendo, thrust the microphone into the stand and walked offstage as if overcome. But he did it after practically every song, so eventually we reckoned he was just nipping off to check the lyrics. That’s kind of the reason I found Jacko so tiresome. If he’s singing the song straight, fine, and there’s some of his work I can happily live with. But usually he doesn’t. And the sheer ubiquity of “Thriller”, and having it drummed into you that this suite of not-all-that-special disco tracks was the Greatest Thing Evah (especially that overwrought bloody zombie video) – well, I can understand how some of you react to the established rock “canon” on these pages. I react to Jacko (and this was long before the weirdness, the allegations and the surgery) as possibly the most overrated artist in pop.

    (And what’s with this “King of Pop” business anyway? It’s really strange how an artist who should be confident enough in his status gets fixated on a title. Even odder, if it’s true, is Aretha Franklin and that supposed tiff over the “Queen of Soul” title. Did she really throw a strop because Beyoncé introduced Tina Turner with that title at the Grammys? Aretha, your place in history is assured and she was just being generous to Tina, is it really that important?!!)

    Rosie, I’m finding your story touching and I’m not alone in that. Funny how the wheel of fortune had us at opposite sides – right now spring is coming to Vannes, my German girlfriend is coming over to visit and the next few weeks are going to be great. Even after we broke up.

  19. 19
    Conrad on 18 May 2009 #

    There’s a polished coldness in the production of the “Thriller” album which, together with its all embracing ubiquity among friends, peers, family (uncool cousins and uncles and aunts esp) that sort of scared me off MJ at this point. Latterly, I am often very mildly irritated that DJs plays this as an easy ‘score’ in a set, and wonder why they can’t be more imaginative.

    But why shouldn’t it be played? It is a monstrously infectious groove, and the rhythm of MJ’s singing – esp his tics and yelps – lift it to another dimension altogether (to people who think MJ overrated I play The Jacksons’ “Can You Feel It” and the difference when MJ is on the mic as compared to his more pedestrian, tho highly competent brothers, is night and day).

    His vocals at this point in his career are a rhythm instrument in themselves.

    Still, whether its over familiarity, the too-boxy drum sound, or just not being able to connect with it emotionally (in a way I can with “I Feel Love”), I can’t say I care greatly for “Billie Jean”.

    Much prefer the “Off The Wall” production than any subsequent MJ. So it follows that “Thriller” was the start of the artistic decline.

  20. 20
    Steve Mannion on 18 May 2009 #

    “just not my BPM I guess”

    this begs the question!

  21. 21
    Billy Smart on 18 May 2009 #

    Hm, this is a recording which I admire and can fully hear everything amazing thats going on, but I can’t say that it ever makes my heart leap. Actually, that’s my problem with Thriller as a whole – apart from perhaps Human Nature – that it sounds like a thrilling exercise to make a great album, but there’s some level of empathetic human engagement that I can’t find in there.

    You could say that this says more about me than it does about Michael Jackson and you might even be right, but I don’t have this problem at all with Off The Wall – I just feel that something got lost between 1979 and 1982. An instinctive gaiety of spirit, perhaps.

    Also, whenever I hear the bump! click! intro to this I start to imagine either Thieves Like Us by New Order or The Whole Of The Moon by The Waterboys playing instead.

    A likely cause of personal antipathy towards eighties Michael Jackson is also that as a weakling first former with a high-pitched voice, whenever other boys would hit me and I, not unreasonably, exclaimed “Ow!” my peers would shout that Michael Jackson was in the classroom, an unfailing source of amusement.

  22. 22
    Erithian on 18 May 2009 #

    OK, on Friday I was happily dad-dancing to “Town Called Malice”, “One Step Beyond”, “Young Hearts Run Free” and “Israelites”. Does that help?!

  23. 23

    on lollards on saturday (podcast not yet posted) we raised the question of why JB called himself the (very equivocal) “godfather of soul” (you disrespect me — tonight you sleep with FISH RISING): MJ is first best next-generation inheritor of a LOT of brownian motion, including of course the grunts and yelps, and the endless bodily self-punishment — “king of pop” is also (i think) an ambiguous title, intentionally or not

    also: if this ever went to court it d be “billie jean vs king” \n/ \n/ \n/

  24. 24
    lonepilgrim on 18 May 2009 #

    “tonight you sleep with FISH RISING” – the godfather of sole?

  25. 25
    wichita lineman on 18 May 2009 #

    Key to this creepy/wedding party dichotomy can be found in a hit by one of MJ’s heroes – Smokey Robinson’s I Gotta Dance To Keep From Crying.* As a non-clubber at the time, I only heard Billie Jean coming out of a car radio or in the kitchen, or in a cafe, so the song’s atmosphere of dank claustrophobia and paranoia (Tom, I love your description of the “stalking” bassline) were what struck me during its chart run. The lyric was strong enough to earn an “answer” song in Lydia Murdock’s Superstar.

    I don’t want to fixate on the mark, but this betters Beat It on every level for me – lyric, production, groove, vocal performance.

    Oh, and Elvis was the King, wasn’t he? Which is why MJ had to make do with the lesser King of Pop, and later (I recall Radio 1 getting a memo from CBS about this) King of Rock Pop and Soul. Wasn’t this all his idea, or at least his people’s? Like the sad kid at school who awards himself a “tough” nickname, it never really works, hence he got what he deserved when the public christened him Wacko Jacko.

    *Any number of exceptionally bleak Motown hits, usually Holland Dozier Holland, that are irresistible dancefloor items: My World Is Empty Without You, Seven Rooms Of Gloom, Behind A Painted Smile.

  26. 26
    Steve Mannion on 18 May 2009 #

    Erithian ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ can’t be too far from ‘Billie Jean’ tempo-wise but n/m.

    i was not aware of the KoP title until the mid 90s where it seemed far less apt (but at that point i don’t think anyone could make a real claim to such a throne…except for The Mad Stuntman perhaps).

  27. 27

    SCOOTER: people’s revolutionary army of bosh

  28. 28
    wichitalineman on 18 May 2009 #

    Not sure when KoP dates from, but I think it might have been part of the massive self-hype around Dangerous – which I found totally off-putting (especially when the lead single was so weak… but Tom’ll get to it in time).

    Re 26: Haddaway, surely?

  29. 29
    Weej on 18 May 2009 #

    Just want to say that I thought this was a very good bit of writing. Particularly “the goblin babble pressing in on Jackson during “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” goes fully internal” Great!

  30. 30
    AndyPandy on 18 May 2009 #

    Absolute 10 out of 10 in so many ways. As modern today as the day it was made and unlike some of the other 80s hits which I would have given 10 back then but which have become slightly tarnished by overfamiliarity I dont think this has had one iota of its sparkle dimished.
    Elvis the King? I’ll happily defer to Chuck D’s opinion about that…

  31. 31
    Steve Mannion on 18 May 2009 #

    I would like to have seen more pop stars make claims based more on chess pieces as equivalent to Jacko’s King. Outhere Brothers as cavorting knights, PSBs as the dutiful bishops and PJ & Duncan as yer canny rooks.

  32. 32
    Steve Mannion on 18 May 2009 #

    As for ‘Wanna Be Startin Something’, I only recently heard the excellent ‘Soul Makossa’ for the first time I’m ashamed to say.

  33. 33
    Conrad on 18 May 2009 #

    loved the ‘mash-up’ (can you call it that in 1983? can you call it that in 2009 come to think), or was it two actual re-recordings (probably the latter) brought to us by Clubhouse in the Summer of 83 (Billie Jean vs Steely Dan’s Do It Again).

  34. 34
    Conrad on 18 May 2009 #

    I like that “Fish Rising” keeps cropping up in the unlikeliest of places.

    Shame MJ didn’t enlist Steve Hillage for axe duties on ‘Beat It’, now that would have been startin’ something

  35. 35
    koganbot on 18 May 2009 #

    Isn’t this only problematic in theory tho? It’s never stopped people having as a good a time to this as any song.

    I agree. Michael pours forth his dilemmas but he doesn’t endeavor to make you feel them. Whereas groups like the Stones and Public Enemy want to hurt you and trip you up, and bank on your getting off on it.

  36. 36
    Kat but logged out innit on 18 May 2009 #

    I think I’d give Thriller a 10 and this an 8. And not just because I can play the bassline to the former for the entire song in the right key without my hand cramping up. Obviously the video for Thriller had a massive impression on me from an early stage but I could only ever remember the light-up dancefloor from BJ (later viewings: ‘who is the detective dude? Why has he disappeared? WHAT WHAT I DON’T REMEMBER THIS’ etc). I prefer Jackson’s vocal on Thriller as well (night creatures calling etc) but that doesn’t mean Billie isn’t a cracking record – just not Jackson’s best. And definitely not his best #1.

  37. 37
    Steve Mannion on 18 May 2009 #

    Surely it IS his best #1, looking at the alternatives. I’m not sure what you have in mind as superior.

  38. 38
    Tom on 18 May 2009 #

    And we won’t be finding out either ;)

  39. 39
    wichitalineman on 18 May 2009 #

    Re 30: Well, that’s his nickname, it wasn’t my opinion. But I’ll resist rising to the bait, I will…

    This could be one for Lord Sukrat – is MJ calling himself King of Pop in the spirit of King Oliver and Duke Ellington?

    As for Queen Aretha, it’s a sad reaction but you can kind of understand. Tina Turner?! A bit like The Hollies being introduced as the Fab Four.

    Re 31: Or types of penguin? Elvis as King, MJ as Emperor, Adam Ant as Macaroni… not sure who’d be Erect Crested.

  40. 40
    Steve Mannion on 18 May 2009 #

    Baltimora as chocolatey biscuit-based snack

  41. 41

    “erect crested” would be the once and future king: wattie from the exploited

    i think james brown’s playful and disorientating flood of absurd self-proclaimed titles (Minister of New New Super Heavy Funk) absolutely fits into the king oliver/count basie mode — brown always insisted* jazz was a component of his music, and it was riding high when he was a kid — as noted above, MJ is very self-consciously JB’s successor in a lot of ways; brown is like the school MJ studied at

  42. 42

    i forget what the apostrophe was for, something deep no doubt

  43. 43
    Tracer Hand on 18 May 2009 #

    We will be playing the original demo of Billie Jean on Lollards, this Saturday (the 23rd) – you can hear MJ kind of making up the words!

  44. 44
    Matthew K on 19 May 2009 #

    Brilliant review, made it new for me again. But dear god – this is an ELEVEN in terms of pop genius and chart history.

  45. 45
    Doctor Casino on 19 May 2009 #

    Good song, probably great song, but have never really felt a personal love for it myself. You definitely [i]can[/i] dance to it but somehow I’m not drawn to – whereas “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” for example is just utterly irresistible on all levels – that would be a 9 or 10 from me depending on my mood. “PYT” would be way up there also.

  46. 46
    Doctor Casino on 19 May 2009 #

    Good song, probably great song, but have never really felt a personal love for it myself. You definitely can dance to it but somehow I’m not drawn to – whereas “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” for example is just utterly irresistible on all levels – that would be a 9 or 10 from me depending on my mood. “PYT” would be way up there also.

  47. 47
    Snif on 19 May 2009 #

    Steve at #31 – do you think anyone’s likely to declare themselves as pawns?

  48. 48
    Steve Mannion on 19 May 2009 #

    uh, MiniPops?

  49. 49
    Rob K on 19 May 2009 #

    Woah Tom, I’m amazed you’ve not given this a ten, I thought it was a given! I’m in complete agreement though. The thing that marks this song down for me is the voice. Not the tics, the inflections or the mannerisms that MJ came to rely on, but the voice itself.

    Blunty speaking, it’s not very good! Paper thin, reedy, produced-to-the-max-at-all-times and weak as piss. And that was in 1982, imagine what the paying public at the O2 are going to get? As it goes, mainly miming, just as they did in the BAD tour in the late eighties.

    Still, it’s a tune and a half, and is a terrific representation of Jackson as the all conquering mega-star, before he disappeared down the road of exaggeration, self parody and then artistic death. Shame. 9.

  50. 50
    H. on 19 May 2009 #

    I may have remembered this wrong, but my feeling is that at this time he wasn’t yet thought of as weird, at least not by the general public. The Wacko Jacko thing came a few years later. Which makes tying in the song’s creepiness with the Jackson public persona a bit retrospective…

  51. 51
    mike on 19 May 2009 #

    Hmm. Objectively a classic, but I have to line up behind those who have admitted to never feeling the love. In particular, I agree with Billy Smart at #21: “There’s some level of empathetic human engagement that I can’t find in there.” / “I just feel that something got lost between 1979 and 1982. An instinctive gaiety of spirit, perhaps.”

    As for its alleged dancefloor classic status: 1983 was the year I started going clubbing a lot, and this never got played at any of the clubs that I was going to, in Nottingham or in London or in Berlin.

    Off The Wall had been so fantastic, as well. “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” was just about the first record I ever danced to in a disco, on its first week in the Top 40. “Off The Wall” reminds me of the day we came into the London department store for a Sunday stock check, again when the song had just charted. Somebody had brought in a radio, and this came on, and all the shopgirls on our floor cheered, stopped work, and started dancing behind the counters, their faces pictures of bliss. (It’s a scene which has never left me.) And “Rock With You” is just perfect in every way.

    But Thriller? I remember it getting a sniffy dismissal in the NME in December 1982, and I remember sniffily dismissing it myself: as an ungainly stab at being all things to all men, which had snuffed out its soul in the process.

    And then, more gradually than you’d think, the album wormed its way into ubiquity, over a period of some fifteen months or so… and the very fact of its ubiquity couldn’t help but change your own relationship with it. The whole world – really, the WHOLE WORLD – seemed to fall in love with Jackson, and there was something thrilling just in that fact itself. Pop was becoming newly globalised, and maybe “Billie Jean” marked the first staging post in the “Big Is Best” path that would eventually lead to Live Aid.

    So I learnt to appreciate “Billie Jean”, even if I could never quite love it. “Human Nature” and “Wanna Be Starting Something” would be my picks from the album… which I never felt the need to buy, or even tape from a friend, as its everywhere-ness meant that there was simply no need. An 8 from me.

  52. 52
    Pete on 19 May 2009 #

    All thinking about Michael Jackson for me lives in opposition to anything off of Off The Wall – it being THE BIG FAMILY ALBUM (the only album we owned that everyone liked). I have no idea why we didn’t buy Thriller under the circumstances – though I think the zombie video and air of silliness around Vincent Price may have alienated pragmatic parents. As such I don’t really remember hearing Billie Jean much (no idea why) and have even subsequently remarked on how surprised I was that it was a number one.

    So this cultural blindness (deafness) continued way into my peripatetic DJ-ing career. I remember Carsmile suggesting it at a wedding we played and me pooh-poohing it, it just simply had not crossed my mind that it was dancefloor crack, and still in some ways surprises me now. I like to dance to it, but I equally like to laugh at the little bow tie and in many ways my lack of connection to it means I relate to it much like I relate to other second hand bits of culture (things that people told me were good before I realised myself): so it lives in a box with much of the work of Dickens and Taxi Driver!

    So an uninvolved seven from me.

  53. 53
    mike on 19 May 2009 #

    #50 – Agreed, the Wacko Jacko stuff didn’t start appearing until, ooh, late 1984 maybe? (Although those of us who had read Danny Baker’s brilliant and hilarious NME feature on The Jacksons a few years earlier were under no illusions at to MJ’s strangeness.) Similarly, “King of Pop” was an early 1990s invention as I recall.

    Incidentally, my ambivalence about Thriller hasn’t stopped me from buying a ticket to see MJ at the O2, on his second night of the run. It might well be awful, but it’s certainly not going to be boring.

  54. 54

    when was danny baker’s nme interview with him? he came across as quite strange in that — incredibly insecure and confused about boundaries, basically

    the fostering of the “wacko jacko” image came later, and — afaict — was a kind of media bafflescreen, which he partly cooked up himself, with his promo team, to ensure the right kind of publicity AND the right kind of non-intrusion (ie if you’re a well-known to be an eccentric, you give yourself a lot of latitude for behaviour towards the media: capricious reclusiveness taken to belong in the same bag as wanting to buy the elephant man’s skeleton* and sleeping in an oxygen tent)

    *the internet isn’t telling me the date of the would-be skeleton purchase — wikipedia makes it sound as if it was post-2003, but i think that’s just an extremely confusing story edit: it was mid-80s i’m convinced

    i recall swellsy at nme arguing that jackson had confused joseph (or john) merrick with john (or joe) mellers — ie that jackson actually wanted to buy joe strummer’s skeleton

  55. 55
    mike on 19 May 2009 #

    The Danny Baker NME feature was 1980, I think. Excerpts are here…

  56. 56
    Billy Smart on 19 May 2009 #

    Re #51: IIRC (don’t have my magazines to hand) the Danny Baker MJ interview was in 1981, around the time of the release of ‘Can You Feel It?’. The cover of that issus also includes perhaps my favourite ever NME strapline “DONCASTER WELCOMES FUTURISM” (coverage of Futurama festival)

    There was a second Danny Baker/ Michael Jackson interview in the summer of 1992. Oddly for such a genuine scoop, the NME put Ice T on the cover that week.

  57. 57

    the 80s being the 80s, there was a fair amount of discussion among music writers (off the page) that “thriller” (song and video) was a coded coming-out song (though i doubt i myself heard or had the discussion at the time: i was writing for nme by the very end of 83, but not hanging with the name-writers)

    the first critical discussion i recall of the weird extremism of some of his lyrics was koganbot writing in the early 90s in “why music sucks” about the song that alien ant farm covered (ie smooth criminal: “He Came Into Her Apartment/He Left The Bloodstains On The Carpet”)

  58. 58
    wichitalineman on 19 May 2009 #

    Pete at 52: “Air of silliness” is right. Most MJ lovers I know are a few years younger than me. Thriller, its video, and its Vincent Price narrative seemed somewhat unbecoming of a man in his mid twenties. How little we (allegedly) knew. I found the sobbing on She’s Out Of My Life pretty tawdry, but there was nothing “silly” about Off The Wall, it was as well-respected as anything Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye would have come out with around the same time. Both were fellow Motown alumni who were known to be a little odd, but would never have released something as daft as Thriller.*

    Re 57: I’m guessing the Smooth Criminal lyric comes from the same part of his barely-adult mind that gave us Beat It (anti-violence? It makes 80s gang culture sound like West Side Story) and Dirty Diana (or Dirty Miss Ross as she’d rather it was known). I don’t find this sinister or extreme, just a little sad.

    *though, respectively, in ’83 they were concocting a gruesome Bunny-embargoed 45 that MUST be a joke, and Masochistic Beauty, on which MG announces “it is my duty to spank your booty” in a voice pitched between Chris Eubank and Terry-Thomas. If they were trying to outweird each other, MJ came a distant third.

  59. 59
    Martin Skidmore on 19 May 2009 #

    I’m with Tom on the mark. This is also the subject of one of my all-time favourite remixes, by I think Bushwacka! – must remember to check at home tonight.

  60. 60
    mike on 19 May 2009 #

    #56 – That 1992 Baker/Jacko NME interview was a fantasy spoof though, surely?

  61. 61

    “barely-adult mind” — well, there’s two things here… one is (as koganbot says above) the music doesn’t really amplify the content of the idea when MJ’s being “dark”, so it’s not in any sense uncomfortable reading such content as trivial

    (again, contrast james brown — who if anything pushes the other way, songs ostensibly about hott sex which are actually, sound-wise, about fear and self-hatred and control) (not a criticism)

    second thing: “barely-adult mind” as psychological profiling seems to me more a (successful) product of the media-bafflescreen than anything grounded enough to build explanations on — he is a very weird and troubled and unhappy (and gifted) adult, but he really is an adult not a kid

    (1991 lyric, from Who Is it? much quoted by yrs truly: “I am the damned! I am the dead! I am the agony inside a dying head!”… at some point you really have to give up on “these words mean nothing” and start again with “yikes”)

  62. 62
    Erithian on 19 May 2009 #

    Top Jacko spoof by Lenny Henry: “Those guys are really frightening and they look as if they’re fans of Aston VI – LLA…” (cue zombies waving Villa scarves)

  63. 63
    The Lurker on 19 May 2009 #

    #50 – I think if I had been asked in the 80s (when I was in my pre-teens/early teens) why Jackson was “Wacko”, I would have said “he lives in a theme park with a chimpanzee”. Wikapedia tells me that he rescued Bubbles in 1985 and opened Neverland in 1988, so I would suggest that was roughly the time he gained his reputation.

    I was never a big fan of MJ, but I would certainly say this was his best song by a distance (excluding I Want You Back, of course).

  64. 64
    wichitalineman on 19 May 2009 #

    I suppose I meant there’s a definite childish streak to those particular lyrics, in the same way as calling himself King Of Pop, then King of Pop Rock and Soul, was childish. And, like a child, he could be pretty malevolent – which I’m sure wasn’t part of his media ‘wacko’ smokescreen.

    Not that that explains Who Is It, of course. Zoinks!!

    I’d like to think ‘Wacko’ was a UK media nickname dreamt up when MJ was clearly being dictatorial and too big for his boots circa Bad. Likewise, when did Madonna become Madge? Wasn’t it the Sun wot done it in both instances?

  65. 65
    Erithian on 19 May 2009 #

    I think “Madge” was more affectionate – circa “Ray of Light” when she was becoming one of us and wearing T-shirts with Kylie Minogue’s name on them.

  66. 66
    Billy Smart on 19 May 2009 #

    #60 – Oh right, now I find out 17 years later…

    For a conceptual piece, it seemed wholly plausible though, as I recall.

  67. 67
    Tom on 19 May 2009 #

    Isn’t Madge Smash Hits vintage?

  68. 68
    Pete Baran on 19 May 2009 #

    witchitalineman @58: Yes, I think the status of Off The Wall in our house was as a continuation of Motown / soul goodness. Favourites of parents (though less lively for the kids) would have been Randy Crawford’s Rainy Night In Georgia (and there was a ropey C90 of various Diana Ross / Supremes stuff my Dad had). The album (tape) that was bought which probably took Thriller’s place in our family record collection was Stevie Wonder’s Hotter Than July. Being a tape, somehow it got twisted quite early on in its career leading to:
    a) many recriminations over who broke it
    b) short lived but fondly remembered tradition of playing Happy Birthday backwards at family birthdays.

  69. 69
    wichitalineman on 19 May 2009 #

    Re 67: “Where’s the cougar, matey?” is my favourite Smash Hits/Madonna moment. But I wasn’t reading ‘ver Hits’ when Madge was first coined – I think Erithian’s got this right, it was her Anglicisation period, wasn’t it?

    ‘Wacko Jacko’ seems quite playful too, but maybe I wouldn’t think so if it was my nickname.

  70. 70
    lonepilgrim on 19 May 2009 #

    I remember that when Prince achieved more mainstream success – and particularly after his appearance at the 1985 Brit awards – he was portrayed as the weird one in comparison to Michael Jackson

  71. 71
    AndyPandy on 19 May 2009 #

    And around Madonna’s “Sex” book period the Sun had it in big time for Madonna – extreme vitriol including an “article” where an agony aunt came up with the conclusion that in reality Madonna was so unhappy she’d end up commiting suicide.
    This was the period where she had the hate hate period with the paparazzi and British tabloids and it was commonly thought that she detested Britain seeing the tabloids as a true representation of the British psyche.
    Which made it all the more unlikely and weird when a few years later she married Guy Ritchie and became the real ale drinking Anglophone we came to know.

  72. 72
    AndyPandy on 19 May 2009 #

    Mike at 51:
    Interesting stuff about club play for ‘Billie Jean’ – my own memories are that I seem to remember the track as the last MJ track that would get occasional club plays on soul/jazz-funk/funk nights without any raised eyebrows. A bit like Lionel Richie’s ‘All Night Long (All Night)’ from later in the year although on 2nd thoughts that was the only solo Lionel track that ever WAS played!(and in that case far more than occasionally).

    I also remember everyone in the vicinity of the big video screens at the Windsor Safari Club (a mainstay of the South Eastern jazz, funk and soul scene back then)stopping what they were doing and watching the full length ‘Thriller’ video when it was first shown.But this was more because it was a genuine pop-cultural event (and with Michael being the creator of sort of relevant stuff like that ‘Off The Wall’ they could just about get away with showing it there) than because it was ever going to have tnhe slightest chance of getting played out by Colin Hudd, Sean French,Nicky Holloway, Chris Hill, Pete Tong or any of the djs who might have played the Safari.
    And funnily enough I got a lift up to Windsor Safari (circa Autumn 1983)one Saturday night with some workmates from the supermarket I worked in at the time and who I’d bumped into that night in my local (and when no-one from my usual mob wanted to go up) on my protestation that “they play(ed) Michael Jackson” which they sort of did/had…I think one of them actually asked for some MJ that night (which was sort of un-embarrassing) unlike one who I believe actually asked for something by U2!

  73. 73
    koganbot on 19 May 2009 #

    He’s Jagger.

    On the scared side of the steel-plate door a lot more than Jagger is, but like Jagger he’s smart enough to know that the human psyche puts you on both sides of the door. So in song after song after song he tells us he’s vulnerable and scared shitless and feels preyed upon and feels he has no ability to protect himself, we’ll eat off of him, he’s a vegetable – but then he’ll turn around and play the feeder in the “Thriller” video, and in the “Billie Jean” vid he’s the smooth stalker, I am here and I disappear, and then in the “Smooth Criminal” vid he’s the same stalker but now he’s the smooth killer, too, the one you never seen before, who glides in and you can’t protect yourself (just as irl he’s convinced he can’t protect himself). And he keeps doin’ it, album after album. Is profound, actually. Of course, Mick’s a lot more in control than Michael, which means he flicked down the switch and turned off the wellspring c. 1971, while with Michael the stalked/stalker thing continues. Bad‘s the album of his that moves me the most. The contention at the start is ludicrous, that he’s badder than the tough guys, but the sign-off at the end, where he’s as hurt and scary as anyone else, is throat clenching. And as I said, it goes on, album after album, the fear feeding him and feeding off of him. You’re trapped in halls, and his face is the walls, he’s the floor when you fall, and when you scream it’s because of him. Because he’s the thoughts in your head.

  74. 74
    koganbot on 19 May 2009 #

    Also think his talents are far from evaporated. I think I’m one of only two people in the world who gave Invincible a favorable review. (Xgau was the other.)

    The violence starts to enter his sound with the spare new jack swing beats on the Teddy Riley tracks of Dangerous, and it keeps going with Rodney Jerkins on Invincible.

  75. 75
    koganbot on 19 May 2009 #

    Where the MJs loom the most for me right now is on The-Dream albums. The-Dream’s persona isn’t Michael’s – Michael would never play the haughty loveman – and The-Dream’s voice isn’t nearly as spectacular as Michael’s, but like more recent Michael, The-Dream plays smoothness and violence off each other continually in his sound; and like Michael he plays two sides of everything, he’s the cuckold and he’s the Don Juan, he came into her apartment…*

    *For which he’ll claim he paid the rent, no doubt

  76. 76
    crag on 19 May 2009 #

    re: nicknames- for what its worth I’m pretty sure Wacko Jacko was coined in the gradual run up to the “Bad” period i.e around 1986
    Wasnt King of Pop first used round the time of the HIStory album?
    As for Madge/Madonna i clearly recall Johnathon Ross using it introducing an interview to promote the Erotica ALBUM in 1992(?)
    As for BJ- undoughtably one of the top 5 #1s of the 80s. 10 out of 10 no question. I’m not the biggest 80s fan(hence my lack of comments reccently) but this stands proud with anything else before or since.

  77. 77
    Tracer Hand on 19 May 2009 #

    #59 – Yes Martin it’s by Bushwacka! My copy has “Billie Jean Bushwacked” on a little white sticker in the middle.

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned “Superstar” by Lydia Murdock, an answer song which was a pretty big radio hit in East Tennessee and, presumably, elsewhere.

  78. 78
    Lex on 20 May 2009 #

    There’s also a terrific Minilogue remix of ‘Billie Jean’ – makes the groove extra propulsive and really brings out the bass even more. Was looking for it on ye olde youtube to no avail but if you google minilogue “billie jean”, the first two results are links to download the mp3.

  79. 79
    peter goodlaws on 20 May 2009 #

    I don’t have the slightest hesitation in saying that both “Off the Wall” and “Thriller” were extraordinary pieces of work and that “Billy Jean” was one of the highlights of the latter. The only comic snippet for me is Michael’s continual plea that “the kid is not my son”, which was rather funny even back in 1983 and bloody hilarious now. I, like one or two of you, never had this (or much else) down as a dancing track despite its disco properties. I could listen to it and appreciate just how fine a track it was without having to shake any part of me, and the fact that Jackson has become what he may or may not have become is of little consequence as far as I’m concerned. Quality is quality.

  80. 80
    Jonathan Bogart on 20 May 2009 #

    It’s taken me this long to figure out what I want to say because I’ve never felt that I understood Michael Jackson. I first paid attention to his music when the publicity for “Dangerous” was flooding the earth (quite literally; I was in Guatemala and it was inescapable), and I had the nagging feeling that I was coming in at the middle of a story, and had no hope of catching up. The “King of Pop” label was well affixed, and with the arrogance of youth I felt slightly affronted that a king had been crowned without my having been aware of any great feats of arms or victories on the field of battle. I think — I THINK, this is going back years now and I wasn’t paying very close attention to the chronology — that I had heard “Billie Jean,” or at least heard some other kids singing it. I believe I associated it with Billie Jean King, who I knew about because Snoopy kept talking about her in Peanuts, and I thought that it seemed very out of character for Billie Jean King to be making up stories about Michael Jackson like that.

    (Come to think of it, I probably had Billie Jean King and Mary Lou Rhetton confused, for no better reason than that they both had two first names and were in sports.)

    But regardless, “Billie Jean” and maybe “Bad” and “Beat It” (the latter two via the Weird Al parodies) were all I knew of MJ before Dangerous. I was unprepared for its tightly-wound, micromanaged industrial pop sound, and nothing else on the radio sounded anything like it. It was thrilling in a kind of gut-wrenching sci-fi way (I politely hate sci-fi), but it was also scary and kind of nauseating. I see now that I was reacting to the paranoia and suffocating solipsism that have been Jackson’s stock-in-trade since Thriller, but at the time he seemed terrifyingly adult without any of the comfortable aspects of adulthood: increased awareness, understanding and facility of expression without any sense of security or stability.

    I’ve only rarely cared to listen to him since, and when I attempted to revisit his mid-80s works when I trawled back through pop’s back pages, I was in too rockist a frame of mind to do them justice, aside from “Beat It” (yes, sigh, it was Eddie did it for me).

    I don’t think I’m yet able to separate what it’s possible to feel about “Billie Jean” from what I’m used to feeling about it: irritation at the vocal tics and yelps which became so overwhelming in the 90s, when I first knew him, that they smother my appreciation for the rest of his performance, combined with lingering white-boy snobbery about dance-pop, underlaid by a puritanical disgust at the maudlin self-centeredness of the lyric and a vague and irrational horror of the intense, crowded production which is still my most resonant feeling about Jackson.

    I still feel like I’ve come in too late, and no matter how often I listen to Thriller and Bad I’ll never hear what people who heard them in the 80s heard. (Off The Wall is different and more entirely pleasurable, probably because I never heard any of it until I was an adult.) I have to admit to a little grin of satisfaction when I saw that Tom hadn’t given “Billie Jean” the expected 10, even though I can’t at all work out what I’d give it. I need to spend more time with it, I suppose.

  81. 81
    Billy Smart on 20 May 2009 #

    I once had a theory that each Michael Jackson album was precisely half as good as the preceding one. But by the time of ‘HIStory’ I was no longer listening attentively enough to calculate the precise trajectory of his decline.

  82. 82
    Alan on 20 May 2009 #

    @69 “Where’s the cougar, matey?” is my favourite Smash Hits/Madonna moment

    OK – i need that explaining, because I’m having the strangest memory meltdown right now. I have that phrase in my head from what I recall was etched between the runout groove on the Talulah Gosh album.


    a quick google reveals this to be a running joke at the time in smash hits. I NEVER KNEW. (i’m also remembering there was a single by TG of the same name too, so i’m not going all that mad – just never knew the source of the phrase before them!)

  83. 83
    Rory on 20 May 2009 #

    Tom, that’s a masterly piece of critical writing, and I can’t hope to top it (or many of these comments), so I’ll take a different tack.

    A handful of albums and singles from this year rush me back to it more than most, and Thriller is certainly one of them. Just thinking about it, let alone hearing any of it, recalls those few months at the start of my pop obsession when I didn’t yet own a stereo, and had to listen to my new purchases on the one in the dining room while the rest of the family were off watching telly in the lounge. I remember it always being dark, because this was hitting the Australian charts as we were entering winter, and hovering over the turntable, gatefold sleeve with luxurious photo of Jackson and tiger cub to one side, lifting and replacing the needle-arm to re-listen to key tracks.

    This was one of them; that soft-shoe shuffle down the video’s peach-coloured road had drawn me in, like so many others. ‘Billie Jean’ sat on top of the Australian charts for five weeks, so we saw it on TV a lot, and a single this good made it clear that buying the album was a good bet. With only two singles at that point, there was a real sense of discovery in exploring Thriller, and the stand-out tracks soon became clear: besides this, ‘Beat It’ was an obvious hit in waiting, and ‘Thriller’ itself still sounded fun before two decades of bad theatre-restaurants turned it into a zombie. But one stood out for me: ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin”. How many times did I lift the needle back to the start of that track? It was like nothing else around, the weird ‘vegetable’ moments heightening its sense of danger and excitement, and the closing chant tying it to a world-music tradition of which we were scarcely aware. And of course the lyrics tied it to this, its funk soul brother. These are the two that still sound fresh to me, although ‘Billie Jean’ is almost brought low by a glaring 1980s synth at one point.

    If I’d followed those cues to their logical conclusion, I might have bought Off the Wall and spent the next year exploring Sly and the Family Stone. But Thriller was a poor road-sign, pointing in too many directions at once. Besides infectious funk, world music and cheesy horror, it gave us smooth R&B, high-profile duets, cod metal and pseudo-Chipmunks. Something for everyone, which helped it succeed, but a guarantee that almost any listener would find some of it inessential. On re-listening to it today, I don’t actually mind ‘The Lady in My Life’, but at the time both that and ‘Baby Be Mine’ sounded like filler, an impression that niggled as the album became a smash: should Thriller have filler? Shouldn’t it all be killer? Worse was ‘The Girl is Mine’, which sounded contrived and dated even then; it’s a miracle that I still tolerated McCartney enough to begin a major Beatles obsession.

    The road-sign I ended up following was ‘Beat It’, down Guitar-Solo Lane to early-’80s metal; but like so much of early Van Halen and Iron Maiden, it sounds thin and stiff to me today. But ‘Billie Jean’ still has it. Maybe its early release saved it from the fate of the later singles: its success felt like a surprise, while the 15-minute ‘Thriller’ video felt indulgent. By the time the latter emerged, I’d had enough of the album, and had swapped it with my brother for something long-forgotten. Jackson was now so ubiquitous that it was hardly an act of self-deprivation. But part of me wishes Thriller was still sitting in my cupboard between 1983 The Hot Ones and The Beatles Number Ones (the albums that preceded and followed it at the top of the Australian charts – I was far too impressionable), if only for that luxurious gatefold sleeve and two killer songs. 8.

  84. 84
    dirty bertie on 20 May 2009 #

    That Danny Baker article is hilarious. Poor Yoshi.

  85. 85
    intothefireuk on 21 May 2009 #

    I have an aversion to the over-familiar which has probably affected my appreciation of Michael Jackson from 1983 onwards. However, up to 1982 he was pretty imperious. As a pre-teen I loved the Jackson 5 and followed MJ avidly up to about 1973 when other stuff happened. So it followed that I watched with interest his rise from Motown star made good to global superstar. The genius that is Quincy Jones undoubtedly helped him along the way. Billie Jean was beautifully produced with just the right amount of funk and subtle synth stabs (not typical 80’s synth pop) and was THE stand-out track on ‘Thriller’ which I never actually bothered to own at the time due to the ‘release everything as a single’ policy pursued by Epic. No doubt the Motown 25 concert with MJ’s moonwalk (although already seen in the UK via Shalamar on TOTP in 1982) helped sales and established his reputation as all round god-like genius. I didn’t think the rest of ‘Thriller’ was quite up to this standard, although ‘Human Nature’ is a lovely song. ‘Thriller’ itself was dwarfed by the video, ‘Beat It’ by Van Halen’s guitar histrionics, ‘The Girl Is Mine’ by McCartney’s schmaltz, ‘Wanna Be..’ by weird vegetables line. At this stage of the game MJ was ‘relatively’ normal with a reasonably unscathed face and growing popularity, things would never be quite this good again for him….

  86. 86
    mike on 21 May 2009 #

    Good point about MJ nicking his moonwalk from Jeffrey Daniels of Shalamar (which I don’t think was seen as much in the US as it was in the UK, Shalamar being TOTP regulars during 82). Curiously, a post-Shalamar (and indeed post-fame) Daniels appears as one of the backing dancers on the “Bad” video.

  87. 87
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 21 May 2009 #

    i’m reasonably sure it goes back to one of the great black dancers (bill bailey?)* of the 30s and 40s, though it (obviously) wasn’t called moonwalking back then

    jeffrey daniel danced through the soul train line! so he was certainly well known to us fans of soul on tv, even if shalamar weren’t especially

    (my guess is that MJ was well aware of both: 40s dance styles and 70s dance styles)

    *not that one

  88. 88
    Jonathan Bogart on 22 May 2009 #

    I know I’ve seen Eddie “Rochester” Anderson performing steps that could be considered ancestor to the moonwalk, in a 1943 film called Star Spangled Rhythm. I’d have to hunt up my copy of Jazz Dance to find anything more specific.

  89. 89
    mike on 22 May 2009 #

    The thing is, I don’t remember any collective “OMG MJ IS MOONWALKING!” moment, such as happened in the US at the Motown 25th anniversary TV special. (And am I right in thinking that the show marked a precise moment of re-incarnation for MJ over there, or is that an exaggeration? I didn’t see the show myself until many years later.) Anyhow, I’d already seen Jeffrey Daniels on TOTP, and also on the autumn 1982 Shalamar tour, so I just thought this was more of the same, albeit superbly executed. So I remember MJ’s ascent to global domination being a steady, gradual one, gathering momentum with each successive single and peaking with the “Thriller” video 12 months later.

  90. 90
    Lex on 22 May 2009 #

    Was MJ’s dancing particularly noted at the time (by critics, I mean)? For as long as I can remember, dancing skills have been sorely underappreciated as something to take seriously…

  91. 91
    Tom on 22 May 2009 #

    MJ was sort of the exception that proves the rule I think – he was very well regarded in the US for being a great dancer: I think it helped that he was using video as a means of showing off choreography, which I don’t think many others had latched onto.

  92. 92
    Tom on 22 May 2009 #

    & before the wacko jacko stuff his persona was of an all round entertainer – born to dance, sing, write, perform – so it was part of that package.

  93. 93

    if anything — since he arrived as a fairly tiny child-star — awed awareness of his dancing skills predates awed awareness of his singing, since the latter developed later (by which i mean, he was a pretty good singer for a small kid when he first appeared, but not astonishing; his dancing at that age was strikingly good though; both evolved but the singing actually caught up with — and arguably overtook — the dancing)

  94. 94
    crag on 26 Jun 2009 #

    RIP-just heard-what a shocker- a tragic end to a tragic life not much to add just wanted to say my piece

  95. 95
    Tom on 26 Jun 2009 #

    Bloody hell – went downstairs to feed the baby and heard the news. Poor guy. :(

  96. 96
    lonepilgrim on 26 Jun 2009 #

    A tragedy in the original sense of the word – as shocking as his early death seems, it also feels inevitable.

  97. 97
    Rory on 26 Jun 2009 #

    It’s a shock, all right. A bit of a relief that Popular reached this song before it happened – our comments might have read rather differently if written today.

  98. 98
    rosie on 26 Jun 2009 #

    Stunning news, although I suspect that he was never going to live to a ripe old age. And, of course, when Mozart was his age he has been dead for fifteen years (and Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison has all been dead for twenty-three).

    What’s really alarming is the premature death of a musical megastar WHO WAS YOUNGER THAN ME!

    I’d write more coherently but some bugger kept texting me in the night. Grrr!

  99. 99
    lonepilgrim on 26 Jun 2009 #

    …and if the king of pop is dead, what now for his kingdom?

  100. 100
    pink champale on 26 Jun 2009 #

    i think paul king is set to take over the job

    but yes, it is very sad news indeed.

  101. 101
    rosie on 26 Jun 2009 #

    lonepilgrim @ 99

    I think Jackson’s kingdom was overthrown long ago and replaced with a commonwealth wherein nobody leads for long without being messily assassinated.

  102. 102
    Erithian on 26 Jun 2009 #

    I’d have said it yesterday and I’ll say it today – King of Pop, my arse. But yes it’s a very sad story and due respect to his memory. Which is more than you’ll get from some of the papers. The first word in the top left hand corner of the Sun’s front page today was “Overdose”. What was that line, “Even when you died the press still hounded you”…

  103. 103
    Conrad on 26 Jun 2009 #

    Yes, RIP MJ

  104. 104
    Lena on 26 Jun 2009 #

    Sorry I haven’t posted around here lately, I’ve been ill and or busy, but I cannot NOT comment on his passing…I wish I had my journal from high school – one of many – where I reacted to the backlash against MJ at a ‘history of rock’ presentation in the school gym, wherein we were all ushered in to see a fairly slick representation of the history of rock & pop up to ’83 that culminated, inevitably, with MJ’s appearance (which caused the girls to scream and boys to boo). I felt, incoherently, that a lot of great music the boys who were booing actually liked was made by people who secretly or not-so-secretly dug MJ & the Jacksons & Motown in general, including 100% of the New Pop crowd, for instance. What do they know, I probably wrote….

    I heard the news this morning and felt like a sucking void had happened; I couldn’t say anything. I’ve been reading a lot of Greil Marcus lately on Elvis and what he says about him goes for MJ too, I feel. 50 years old is too young, yet was MJ ever really allowed to be ‘young’? Kanye raps about Michael and his dad on the Keri Hilson single, Jay-Z mentions him first on “Lost!” – somehow I feel they are saying a lot of what needs to be said, how tragic his life was in a way, when it certainly didn’t need to be.

    Again, sorry I am a bit incoherent here but as an American abroad I feel *more* connected to my fellow Americans, be they famous or not. I grieve for him and wish I could hug his whole family.

  105. 105
    susan holland on 26 Jun 2009 #

    I am 54 and Micheal has been here all my life I was 4 when he was born, and not much older when he performed the first time , I remember that this cute little Affao,d little child with a strong voice, even tho he was on tv and I never met him, he seemed to be looking right at me when he spoke, and I do believe when he said I love you all from the bottom of my heart he ment it. its so sad I offer my condolences to his Mom mostly,his familly, his close fans,and friends, and to his familly thank you for sharing with us. God Bless!

  106. 106
    AndyPandy on 26 Jun 2009 #

    I’ve never felt so shocked by the death of someone famous before – I was walking into a garage in Keighley this morning at just after 7 to pay for my petrol and there were the headlines on the papers I just couldn’t believe it – completely dumfounded.
    The eighties were “my” decade and Michael Jackson was such a looming presence throughout those ten years. As one of the papers said today THE entertainer of the past 30-40 years. The world sems a very different place without him.

  107. 107
    LondonLee on 26 Jun 2009 #

    Everyone here will appreciate this, last night on MSNBC the anchor referred to his collaborations with Paul Mc as being ‘Say Say Say’ and ‘Ebony and Ivory’ – as you can imagine I shouted at the TV.

    Also got very peeved about them acting as if his career had started with ‘Thriller’

  108. 108
    will on 26 Jun 2009 #

    I have to say I’m not surprised at last night’s news. If ever there was a pop star who was heading for an early death then it was Michael Jackson. It’s hard to believe he managed to make it to 50.

  109. 109
    Billy Smart on 27 Jun 2009 #

    “Psychic Uri Geller, a close friend, said that Jackson had appeared to be in excellent health.”

  110. 110
    Izzy on 27 Jun 2009 #

    I just wanted to say thank you for this piece getting me back into MJ recently. Beyond the human sadness, in a selfish way I feel sad that he hasn’t left more music behind – only three-and-a-half albums since this song over 25 years ago. I wish he had put the glitter aside for a time and just recorded himself singing, standards, covers, with a small band, whatever – the soap opera has obscured to a great extent what wonderful the records and performances are, and I just wish there were more of them.

  111. 111
    Tom on 27 Jun 2009 #

    BTW, a filleted version of this entry – and my thoughts on 5 other songs (including a Popular SNEAK PREVIEW for 1995) – are in The Times this morning. Print edition only as far as I can tell. Not worth buying a copy specially, it’s just one little column in their special supplement and I’m not saying anything revelatory. But I thought I’d mention it :)

  112. 113
    AndyPandy on 28 Jun 2009 #

    I’ve just about know who Chris Moyles is (but never knowingly heard him)and thought he was just some younger slightly updatedversion of your typical dodgy ‘Radio Wonderful’ dj. And he probably is.

    But in amongst the tributes to Michael Jackson the day after he died Chris Moyles was quoted as saying words to the effect of “Michael Jackson was our generation’s Elvis Presley and I imagine we feel about him what older generations felt about Elvis”.

    I thought that was very true and amongst all the other tributes about the best I heard. Still never thought I’d be biggin up Chris Moyles on here or anyway else for that matter…

    PS Since then I’ve heard the same thing said by some celebrity in America (cant think who).
    But pretty bang on anyway.

  113. 114
    Jonathan Bogart on 29 Jun 2009 #

    So who’s gonna be the Chuck D and offend everyone with “Michael never meant shit to me?”

  114. 115
    Pete on 29 Jun 2009 #

    Er, I did it whilst dancing to Public Enemy at Poptimism on Friday. A touch disingenuous, he just hasn’t meant anything to me since 1981.

  115. 116
    Jonathan Bogart on 29 Jun 2009 #

    I almost said it on Tumblr before deciding to be more specific.

    But I really am interested in how he’ll be seen by upcoming generations, as something to model after or to push against, the way Elvis was for the 60s and 70s. (It’s a perceptive analogy, though certainly not original with Moyles.) The unambiguous love he gets from most (American) pop stars today is a little worrying — don’t they know they’re supposed to kill the buddha? — but it may not have been long enough yet. Chuck D came thirty years after the fact.

  116. 117
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 29 Jun 2009 #

    don maclean is sharpening his quill as we speak

  117. 118
    SteveM on 29 Jun 2009 #

    #114 a few friends have done this over the last few days. i just brush them off as INDIEST PEOPLE EVER BOOOO.

  118. 119
    Billy Smart on 29 Jun 2009 #

    The least enlightening commentary yet came on PM on Radio 4 on Friday, where the opinions were sought of Jeremy Hardy and teenage Glastonbury-goers; “The like Rakes like said like ‘Has everybody heard the good news?’ like?” “I suppose that it might mean more to you if you’re OLD?”

  119. 120
    LondonLee on 29 Jun 2009 #

    Someone at work the other day said his songs were “drivel” and “not about anything”, when I asked him what he meant by “about” he said “you know, like The Beatles and Stones, come on Lee!” – it was that “come on Lee!” that really wound me up as if no thinking human being could probably think otherwise. So I threw “She Loves You” at him as an example of The Beatles’ deep and meaningful songs.

    What was depressing was this was someone younger than me.

  120. 121
    LondonLee on 29 Jun 2009 #

    I vaguely remember Danny Baker telling a story of him announcing the death of Elvis at a punk club and the crowd cheering which made him realize that punk was over because the scene had become full of sheep-like morons.

  121. 122
    Tom Lawrence on 29 Jun 2009 #

    LondonLee: the word “rockist” was invented for such people. Deploy with full venom! ;)

  122. 123
    viraj on 5 Jul 2009 #

    popular song

  123. 124
    punctum on 2 Oct 2009 #

    The child is turning into an adult, and doesn’t like it. All the spring and bounce of “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” has solidified into an air of petrified wariness. The ceaseless multirhythmic matrix remains in “Billie Jean” but now the rhythms and guttural punctuation whoops are all tensed, coiled, hunched into its thin, turned-up lapels. Whereas Jackson previously yelled out of exultation, now his gasps tremble in their own dread. Now the jagged guitar lines and cross-cutting percussion are like surfing barbed wire rather than waves of passion.

    But it was those waves of passion which led Jackson into his own shadow; here he is being pursued by someone whose child may or may not be his – and the tension is made uncomfortable (and therefore generated) by the knowledge that, despite his would-be assertive denials in the chorus, he suspects that he is likely to be the father; witness the anguished howl of “People always told me, be careful what you do!” or the quivering “oh no” which responds to “his eyes were like mine.” He is shitting himself.

    The surface, however, has to stay as smooth as possible; he moonwalks perhaps to avoid his bowels and bile spilling out onto the video’s neon Yellow Brick Road. On a musical level, despite Quincy Jones’ usual, sublime deployment of space and echo – and the string synth exclamation marks in the second and third choruses may betray an early Lexicon Of Love acknowledgement – “Billie Jean” is maybe the blackest of all Jackson’s number ones, and in all senses; its circumferential catwalk of a bassline, its forceful, decisive, dead-on beat, its recoiling handclaps present a new dynamic to pop sonics, but its primeval fear…and that tom-tom beat, buried amid the gloss but still at the song’s centre…connect it directly to “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” In addition, Jackson’s glaring, epileptic, wracked vocal is an exemplary portrait of someone on the crown point of falling apart.

    It’s always easy to get complacent about Thriller, but if you listen through the entire album, even for the three hundredth time, its hidden strengths repeatedly reveal themselves; it did get a bad press at the time of its release, probably because of not being Off The Wall, and because of the admittedly irredeemable “The Girl Is Mine” being its lead single, as well as the various hammy cameos, but go beyond all of that and rediscover the serene silicon bleeps of “Human Nature” or seldom-praised gems like “Baby Be Mine” and “The Lady In My Life”…Jackson at this stage still has a firm, acute and astute grasp on both soul and pop. Likewise, “Billie Jean” climbed relatively slowly up the chart (at least before the video was unveiled and the Motown 25th Anniversary performance witnessed) but it was a grower and is growing and electrifying still.

  124. 125
    thefatgit on 4 Dec 2009 #

    An aside, and at a respectful time since his passing, I personally feel BJ stands as his greatest achievement in pop. Enough has been said by others that more than adequately sums up my feeling of this record, and the album for that matter.

    But back to the aside…it must have been almost a year after BJ’s release that I came across a reggae compilation tape (the title of which escapes me) and on it was a track by Shinehead “Billie Jean/Mamma Used To Say”. It’s a stripped out halfway house between dub and ska. The 2 songs segued together over a simple drum machine and electric piano. Parenthesised by Shinehead whistling “The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly”, he sings a much slowed down version of both songs in a wonderfully haunting, melancholic way. It was the first time that I could distinguish all the lyrics from BJ. I never had that trouble with the lyrics from Junior’s track. For a while I wondered why Shinehead had chosen those 2 tracks, but then it struck me that both songs are based on received wisdom. The listener recieves MJ’s advice, and Junior passing on his own mother’s advice.

    Billie Jean, I have heard many times since. Mamma Used To Say, less so.
    But it’s the Shinehead version that gives me chills.

  125. 126
    josie oppenheim on 14 Dec 2009 #

    As a baby boomer I followed Jackson not much past “Beat It.” I thought he was a genius but just didn’t get too excited about “Thriller” and so lost track of his work. Through the tragic years of disfigurement and scandal I felt always sympathetic and I did not lose sight of what I thought was genius. Still I was not interested, particularly. When he died I was surprised at how little I felt. Then a cousin sent me a video of a live performance of “Billie Jean.” I was stunned; it was so extraordinary the most extraordinary performance it seemed I had ever seen. So began my current obsession. I stayed up night after night watching the proceedings on Larry King and I watched the videos. My sense of tragedy is now unsurpassed by any public figure that has died in my time. There have been great men who have died but genius is genius. Genius is understood by the primitive and emotional centers of the brain to be supernatural and godlike no matter how destroyed is the personal life of the genius. Geniuses do things we could never do, they are above us because they can do more than we can. Michael Jackson is neither the “king of pop” nor “the greatest entertainer that ever lived.” He was a genius. I think that is why prisoners and nuns line up to dance his dance and sing his songs as tribute. If you don’t watch the videos of “Billie Jean,” “Man in the Mirror,” “Dangerous” and “Smooth Criminal” you don’t know what it’s about. But once you see these videos and more you will have to acknowledge, it seems, that this boy who grew up with us is in fact someone to revere for his genius and to grieve for as if a personal loss has occurred.

  126. 127

    piratemoggy and i determined by science — the science of watching telly — that the early stuff is quite halt and timid compared to the shock and awe of what was to come: we were insane raving born-agains by the time “earth song” began

  127. 128
    Glue Factory on 15 Dec 2009 #

    Re: 125 – that Shinehead track is fantastic. IIRC it was on one of the mid-80s Greensleeves comps.

  128. 129
    wichita lineman on 18 Jan 2010 #

    Re: MTV colour bar breakthrough, at a respectful distance… before Billie Jean, MTV showed videos by Eddy Grant, Tina Turner, and Donna Summer, with Musical Youth’s Pass the Dutchie on heavy rotation. At least, that’s according to this intriguing if slightly curmudgeonly piece:


    The tragicomedy, the fact the story of his life now begins with demise, the long twilight of the presciption drug hermit… I think Elvis much the greater figure but the Citizen Kane scale of the two lives and deaths are remarkably similar. The classic American pop life. As such, I’m another born again, fiendishly collecting all he post Off The Wall 45s I never bought at the time. .

  129. 130
    thefatgit on 22 Jan 2010 #

    Well if there’s a heaven,it might sound like this…..


  130. 131
    ciaran 10 on 5 Apr 2010 #

    Didn’t like this much when I was younger but now see it as the masterpiece that it is.
    Would give it 10 only for the annoying way jacko screams “but the kiiiiiiiddddd” during the chorus.9 is about right.

  131. 132
    MildredBumble on 7 Jun 2010 #

    Really belongs on the exquisite Off The Wall – that and this are by miles the best stuff MJ ever did. Thriller was gimmicky and musiclly over-rated ditto Bad and all.

  132. 133
    Jimmy the Swede on 23 Mar 2011 #

    Hey-ho, Liz Taylor’s just gone for a burton. I mention it here because the old gal was quite friendly with Michael and Bubbles, was she not?


  133. 134
    Cumbrian on 23 Mar 2011 #

    Totally overshadowing Fred Titmus’ death.

    Fuckin’ hell, it’s Liz Taylor (as Half Man Half Bisucit might put it).

  134. 135
    Erithian on 23 Mar 2011 #

    What a shame the Biscuits aren’t going to trouble Popular (unless of course they’d care to re-release “Fuckin’ ‘Ell It’s Fred Titmus” as a tribute – there’s plenty of profanity in the top 40 these days after all).

  135. 136
    enitharmon on 23 Mar 2011 #

    It’s a shame that Nina Simone doesn’t figure in our deliberations. Nina even gave the lass a name-check.

  136. 137
    swanstep on 24 Mar 2011 #

    @Rosie, there’s also that Bob Dylan track from Freewheelin’ which kind of dissolves into laughter where he speak/sings:

    I catch dinosaurs
    I make love to Elizabeth Taylor . . .
    Catch hell from Richard Burton!

  137. 138
    punctum on 15 Dec 2013 #

    For what it’s worth; TPL on Thriller: http://nobilliards.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/michael-jackson-thriller.html

  138. 139
    thefatgit on 16 Dec 2013 #

    Thriller made for fascinating reading. I’m still unsure if this is TPL’s full stop, or the ending of one chapter before the beginning of the next. I know one thing: as I read TPL’s latest entry, it felt like a huge wound had been opened and the blood, so much blood was draining out and pooling on the floor. All those vibrant colours faded. The vigour, the vitality and the life of the patient hung in the balance. The greying around the eyes, lips losing their rosy hue, eyes turning dull. But there is still a pulse, with each new entry, the chambers fill and the walls constrict pumping life through those narrow channels. The patient isn’t dead yet. Hope remains. A slim, maybe forlorn hope, but hope nonetheless.

    Long live Then Play Long.

  139. 140
    punctum on 13 Mar 2014 #

    “These bloody people,” he shouted. “Why won’t they let me be?” http://nobilliards.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/michael-jackson-plus-jackson-5-18.html

  140. 141
    mapman132 on 29 May 2014 #

    Guess what just re-entered the Hot 100 at #14? Yep, a viral video is responsible as usual, apparently this time by a high schooler in California. Ironically, in June 2009 when MJ tunes were all over the radio and the iTunes charts, none of them appeared on the Hot 100 because of a policy against old songs. Apparently due to the egg on their face at the time, Billboard soon revised the policy to allow old songs in the top 50 under special circumstances. Apparently those circumstances include a teenager dancing on your song on Youtube. Whatever…

  141. 142
    hectorthebat on 7 Nov 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    Beats Per Minute (USA) – The Top 100 Tracks of the 1980s (2011) 1
    Blender (USA) – Standout Tracks from the 500 CDs You Must Own (2003)
    Blender (USA) – Top 500 Songs of the 80s-00s (2005) 1
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Consequence of Sound (USA) – The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time (2012) 42
    Dave Marsh (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989) 85
    Michaelangelo Matos (USA) – Top 100 Singles of the 1980s (2001) 58
    NPR (USA) – The 300 Most Important American Records of the 20th Century (1999)
    Pause & Play (USA) – 10 Songs of the 80’s (2003)
    Pause & Play (USA) – Songs Inducted into a Time Capsule, One Track at Each Week
    Pitchfork (USA) – The Pitchfork 500 (2008)
    PopMatters (USA) – The 100 Best Songs Since Johnny Rotten Roared (2003) 5
    Popdose (USA) – 100 (+21) Favorite Singles of the Last 50 Years (2008) 24
    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (USA) – 500 Songs That Shaped Rock (1994?)
    Rolling Stone & MTV (USA) – The 100 Greatest Pop Songs Since the Beatles (2000) 5
    Rolling Stone (USA) – 40 Songs That Changed the World (2007)
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years (1988) 22
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 50 Best Michael Jackson Songs (2014) 1
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 58
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 58
    San Antonio Express-News (USA) – Rock ‘n’ roll timeline (2004)
    Slant (USA) – The 100 Best Singles of the 1980s (2012) 1
    Steve Sullivan (USA) – Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings (2013) 101-200
    Swellsville, Chuck Eddy (USA) – The 100 Best Singles of the 80s (1990) 31
    TIME (USA) – The All-Time 100 Songs (2011)
    Treble (USA) – The Top 200 Songs of the 80s (2011) 2
    VH-1 (USA) – Nominations for the 100 Greatest 80s Songs (2006)
    VH1 (USA) – The 100 Greatest Songs from the Past 25 Years (2003) 2
    2FM (Ireland) – Top 100 Singles of All Time (2003) 15
    Freaky Trigger (UK) – Top 100 Songs of All Time (2005) 19
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    Mojo (UK) – 80 from the 80s: Our Fave 45s for Each Year, 1980-1989 (2007) 1
    NME (UK) – The 100 Best Songs of NME’s Lifetime (2012) 13
    NME (UK) – The 100 Best Songs of the 1980s (2012) 18
    NME (UK) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2014) 57
    New Musical Express (UK) – Classic Singles (magazine feature 2006-2007)
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 150 Singles of All Time (1987) 24
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 63
    Q (UK) – The 1010 Songs You Must Own (2004)
    Q (UK) – The 80 Best Records of the 80s (2006) 1
    Uncut (UK) – The 100 Greatest Singles from the Post-Punk Era (2001) 22
    Wanadoo (UK) – The 20 Best Songs of the 80s
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 22
    Theater van het Sentiment, Radio 2 (NL) – Top 40 Songs by Year 1969-2000 (2013) 5
    Musikexpress (Germany) – The 700 Best Songs of All Time (2014) 50
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The 500 Best Songs of All Time (2004) 53
    Zounds (Germany) – The Top 30 Songs of All Time + Top 10 by Decade (1992) 38
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Rolling Stone (France) – The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years (1988) 18
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – The Top 150 Songs from the 20th Century (1998) 50
    Cameron Adams (Australia) -The Best Songs from the 100 Must Have Albums (2013)
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Rolling Stone (USA) – Singles of the Year
    Village Voice (USA) – Singles of the Year 1
    Face (UK) – Singles of the Year
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 1

  142. 143
    mapman132 on 19 Nov 2014 #

    Slowly making my way through the Popular archives, I was surprised to encounter my own comment two spots above. Forgotten I had posted about that. Anyhow, I wouldn’t necessarily consider “Billie Jean” the best single of the 80’s, but it’s possibly the most iconic. It got me thinking about which records would be considered the most iconic from each decade. Of course the answers would probably differ on different sides of the Atlantic, but from my US-centric perspective: 1940’s: “In The Mood” (technically 1939 – close enough), 1950’s: “Rock Around The Clock”, 1960’s: “Satisfaction” (or maybe “She Loves You”), 1970’s: “Stayin’ Alive” (at least in the US – BoRhap in the UK perhaps??), 1980’s: “Billie Jean”, 1990’s: “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, 2000’s: can’t decide, 2010’s: too soon.

    Also, that’s got to be one of the biggest Critic Watch postings I’ve yet seen. 9/10 from me.

  143. 144
    swanstep on 20 Nov 2014 #

    @mapman132. Your attempt at a ‘most iconic per decade’ list reminded me of this XTC skit.

  144. 145
    Gareth Parker on 3 May 2021 #

    100% with Tom here. I also find Billie Jean to be a disquieting, troubling record. I love it, but it’s a 9 rather than a 10 for me.

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)

If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page