These last two months, I've been listening to a lot of MJ's music. I mean a lot. I've gone back and rediscovered so many musical gems that I had either forgotten about or never really paid attention to. Bad was always my favorite album because it was the one that was out when I was old enough to anticipate it. Thriller and Off the Wall were constants in my life when they were out, but I was so little, I didn't realize how important those albums were. But with Bad, I still remember the feeling of peeling the plastic off of the cassette and popping it in to the boombox for the first time. It was a revelation.
Bad also had the fortune of being complemented by the completely awesome and nonsensical Moonwalker movie. I still don't know what the thing was about. I only know that it was awesome! And within it contains, to me, hands down, Michael's greatest accomplishment on film, Smooth Criminal. I always hated that MTV always played the Radio Edit version of the video because the sped up, blurry effects obscured the single greatest thing about this video: that insane, anti-gravity lean. I don't care if it was a special effect. When MJ and his dancers hit that lean, hot damn!
My second favorite MJ video comes courtesy of the Dangerous album. The video itself is actually kind of silly. Magic Johnson's delivery of the line "I present to you the stick man!" is as awkward today as it was 16 years ago. The other cameos, Eddie Murphy and Iman, feel dated (but Eddie's still hilarious), but the reason this is second on the list, is strictly for the choreography. When MJ and the other dancers start tutting and the music breaks down, it's exhilaratinng dancing.
Number three on the list is a video to a song I don't even really like. Also from Dangerous, "Jam" isn't a particularly good song. In the pantheon of New Jack Teddy Riley compositions, "Teddy's Jam 2" by Guy is still better. Also, Heavy D's rap interlude is pretty terrible, and the Kriss Kross cameo really dates this as an early 90s ditty. Still, this vid makes the list simply because of the appearance by the other MJ that impacted my childhood: Michael Jordan. The moment where Jackson tries to teach Jordan to dance is priceless!
A Michael Jackson video list would not be complete without "Thriller." I don't particularly like zombies, and this used to scare the bejeezus out of me when I was a kid, but you don't get more iconic than this. I mean, when Filipino inmates are recreating your choreography in prison, you know your video has touched people's lives everywhere. Plus, werewolf Michael is always cool.
Lastly, I have to go with "Don't Stop til You Get Enough to round out my list. I realized in my immersion in all things Michael that my favorite era is actually the late '70s MJ. Tracks like "Enjoy Yourself," "Shake a Body" and "This Place Hotel" are beautiful songs. And it all culminated in Off the Wall. I started this post talking about why Bad was my favorite album growing up, but as an adult, it's Off the Wall hands down. Michael's voice has never been as pure as it was on this record. And as you can see in the video below, in which he's simply singing/dancing alone on a blue screened, there's an innocence and joy in the performance that was never really there again once he became a galactic megastar. When I think of MJ, the picture I'll always have is the Michael in his late teens/early twenties with the little fro and the huge bow tie. That's my Mike. May you rest in peace. And Happy Birthday.