Michael Jackson Retrospective

Jun. 30 2009, Published 4:03 a.m. ET

Link to FacebookShare to TwitterShare to Email takes a look back at the King of Pop’s illustrious career highlights.

When Michael was just 11 years old, The Jackson 5 released their first single, “I Want You Back,” and fans were instantly captivated by the young lead singer’s dynamic stage presence and James Brown-inspired moves. The American public hadn’t been so fascinated by a child star since Shirley Temple, and Michael led the Jackson 5 to become the first group in pop history to see their first four singles top the charts.

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Soon Motown began grooming their star on the rise for a solo career. Sure enough, Michael’s first three singles were all in the Top 5, with his first solo Number 1 single being the title song from the film Ben, a children’s movie about a rat, which also earned an Oscar nomination.

It was his role as the Scarecrow – to Diana Ross’s Dorothy – in the somewhat unmemorable film The Wiz in 1977 where Michael met Quincy Jones, who produced his first adult solo effort, Off the Wall. The disco-pop album had four Number 1 hits and went multi-platinum, all while Michael was still the star of the Jackson 5.

In 1982, Michael and Quincy upped the ante with Thriller, which was packed with pop hits and soulful ballads, along with guest appearances by Beatle Paul McCartney on the first single, “The Girl Is Mine,” and guitarist Eddie Van Halen on “Beat It.”

The video for “Beat It” was the very first video by a black artist to be aired on MTV, and it was Michael’s trilogy of elaborate videos from this album—“Beat It,” “Billie Jean” and “Thriller”— that catapulted him to stardom in the MTV era, bringing more viewers to the channel and making Michael the first black artist to be championed in the video age. Thriller went on to have nine out of 10 of its tracks hit the Top 10, spending 37 weeks at Number 1 and selling 25 million copies in the U.S. and another 20 million in international territories, making the album the biggest-selling of all time.

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Following Thriller’s success, Michael made the Victory album with his brothers, which featured his duet with Mick Jagger on “State of Shock,” and toured with them for the last time in 1984. He also penned “We Are The World” with Lionel Richie and along with an all-star cast raised millions for famine relief in Africa. Michael dabbled in film, working on the 3-D flick Captain Eo, before releasing another Quincy Jones-produced album in 1987. Bad debuted and Number 1 and was the first album ever to have five singles go to Number 1—“I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” "Bad," "The Way You Make Me Feel," "Man in the Mirror," and "Dirty Diana”—but paled in comparison to Thriller, selling 8 million copies in the U.S. and 22 million copies worldwide, though the accompanying tour was the highest-grossing of all time.

For his next album, Michael parted ways with Jones in an attempt to update his sound. He worked with producer Teddy Riley on 1991’s Dangerous and became the self-anointed the King Of Pop when he demanded that MTV and BET announce him with the title when playing his $1.2 million video for the standout single “Black or White.” The album debuted at Number 1, and had two more Top 10 hits before being knocked off the top of the charts by Nirvana’s Nevermind the following year.

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In 1995, Jackson returned with the semi-retrospective two-CD set of new music and greatest hits: HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1.  The album debuted at Number 1 and had two big hits – “Scream,” a duet with his sister Janet Jackson, and “You Are Not Alone” – but did not match his previous successes. Two years later he released a remix album, Blood on the Dance Floor.

In 2001, Jackson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in the wake of September 11 he put together another all-star charity benefit single, "What More Can I Give” (which was later cancelled by Sony when executive producer Marc Shaffel’s work in pornography surfaced).

Later that year Michael returned with the more urban-sounding Invincible, which was his first studio album of all new material in a decade. The album debuted and Number 1 and went double platinum, though only one single, “You Rock My World” reached the Top 10.

In 2003, the retrospective Number Ones was released with one new song, "One More Chance,” and the following year the four disc box set The Ultimate Collection appeared with numerous rarities including the original demo for "We Are the World". In 2006, he released the two disc The Essential Michael Jackson, and another box set, Visionary, which featured 20 DualDiscs replicating 20 hit singles with their videos.

And though Michael’s plans for 50 comeback shows in London this month were cut short, today Thriller is still the best-selling album in the world, with sales upward of 100 million, and is only second to the Eagles' Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) as the biggest-selling album in America, though posthumously it will surely hit the Number 1 mark again.



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