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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Remembering Michael Jackson

Written by Jon Williams

It’s been nearly four years since the passing of Michael Jackson. The intervening years have done little to fill the void left by the silencing of his voice. On June 25, the fourth anniversary of his death, pop music stations will play his songs more frequently, if not all day, and his songs will emanate from car stereos and office cubicle CD players as fans celebrate the musical legacy the King of Pop left behind.

Born into a musical family in 1958, Jackson’s music career ostensibly began at age five when he began playing congas and tambourine for his brothers’ band. By the time he was eight, he was sharing lead vocal duties with his brother Jermaine, and the Jackson 5 was born. The family band signed with the prestigious Motown label in 1968, and their debut album, Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5, was released in December of 1969. The group’s first single, “I Want You Back,” hit #1 in January of 1970, and a bona fide pop sensation was born.

Michael’s career as a solo artist began with the release of the album Got to Be There (available now only as part of Hello World, the compilation that collects Jackson’s four solo albums for Motown) in 1972, when he was just thirteen years old. He continued to record and perform with the Jackson 5 as well, eventually becoming the group’s primary songwriter. He branched out in other ways as well, starring as the Scarecrow in 1978’s The Wiz, an African-American spin on The Wizard of Oz. Although the film performed poorly at the box office, it wasn’t a complete failure for Michael—it was during this time that he met Quincy Jones, who arranged the film’s score, and asked him to produce his next album.

The rest, as they say, is history. The following year Jackson released the Jones-produced Off the Wall. The album, released on the Epic label, was an evolution from his work with Motown, incorporating elements of rock and disco. Supported by five singles, the album went on to sell over 20 million copies, earned Jackson his first Grammy Award, and eventually became known as one of the greatest albums of all time. Following up such a massive effort would be no easy task, but in 1982, Jackson and Jones teamed up once again on Thriller, an album even more successful than Off the Wall. Known for its title track and the music video that accompanied it, Thriller won eight Grammy Awards and has become the bestselling album of all-time.

Jackson and Jones would team up one more time, for Bad, released in 1987. While it didn’t quite measure up to the standards set by Thriller—how could it?—it still won six Grammys and became the first album to produce five #1 singles.

Jackson recorded and released three more albums (Dangerous, HIStory, and Invincible) before well-documented personal scandals began to take a toll on his career. He was rehearsing for a series of comeback performances when he passed away in 2009. His death at age 50 was a seminal cultural moment, causing crashes of such major Internet sites as Google, Twitter, and Wikipedia as people streamed to the Internet for information.

His passing caused a resurgence of interest in his musical career, which had seen little new output since Invincible in 2001. Later that year, the film This Is It was released (with an accompanying soundtrack), documenting Jackson’s rehearsals for the concert series he had planned. Then, in 2010, the posthumous album Michael was released, consisting of material left unfinished when Jackson died.

Four years later, interest in Jackson’s life and music remains strong. Later this month, a new Cirque du Soleil production (separate from its 2011 Immortal World Tour) will pay tribute to Jackson and his music. In addition, rumors continue to swirl about a huge trove of unreleased music that has yet to (officially) see the light of day. It seems safe to say that the world has not heard the last of Michael Jackson.

Make sure your patrons have access to the wide range of CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, and audiobooks by and about this global music icon. Head over to our website and SmartBrowse “Michael Jackson” and “Jackson 5” to see everything we have to offer.

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