On this day in history, January 11, 1984, Michael Jackson is nominated for a record breaking 12 Grammy’s. This article is posted to commemorate that event.
Source: NY Times – By Jon Pareles (Published January 14, 1984)
In the world of pop music, there is Michael Jackson and there is everybody else.
Earlier this week the singer-dancer-songwriter received 12 nominations for Grammy awards, the record industry’s equivalents of Hollywood’s Oscars. No one has ever received so many nominations, a reflection of the popularity of a performer who has stirred the kind of worldwide enthusiasm that recalls the Beatlemania of the 1960’s.
Michael Jackson has been doing more than just selling records, however. While his latest album, ”Thriller,” was selling better than any long- playing record ever made by a single performer, he also was breaking through the racially segregated programming policies of many radio and television stations. And although he has been singing hits since the 1960’s, when he was the child star of the Jackson Five, he has become a pioneering entertainer in the new technology of the music video cassette.
”Michael Jackson is mass culture, not pop culture – he appeals to everybody,” said Charlie Kendall, program director of the New York rock radio station WNEW-FM. ”No one can deny that he’s got a tremendous voice and plenty of style, and that he can dance like a demon. He appeals to all ages and he appeals to every kind of pop listener. This kind of performer comes once in a generation.”
Difficult to Categorize
Over the last year, Mr. Jackson’s songs have defined dance music. The arrangements on the ”Thriller” album mesh his piping voice with a muscular blend of real and electronic sounds, in rhythms that can’t be categorized as rock or funk or disco.
”Thriller” is now played on rock radio stations that cater largely to young white listeners as well as on urban dance-music stations that appeal largely to blacks. Before ”Thriller,” few entertainers were able to cross that subtle color line. A similar crossover has taken place on cable television, where Mr. Jackson’s video clips are shown on programs that rarely offer black performers.
Since its release just over a year ago, the ”Thriller” album has sold 20 million copies worldwide; it is now in its 25th week as No. 1 on Billboard’s chart of best-selling LP’s. Meanwhile, Mr. Jackson’s singles have been in the top 10 since November 1982, when ”The Girl Is Mine,” a duet with the former Beatle Paul McCartney, was released in advance of the”Thriller” album.
Five other singles from ”Thriller” have also reached the top 10 – an unparalleled number for anything other than a greatest-hits album. (America’s current No. l single, in fact, is ”Say Say Say,” a duet by Mr. Jackson and Mr. McCartney that appears on Mr. McCartney’s album ”Pipes of Peace.”)
At Ease in Video Clips
A major factor in these record sales is Mr. Jackson’s command of video. He is one of the few musicians at ease in rock video clips, song-length films that simultaneously promote and reshape a hit single and that have had a profound effect on mass entertainment.
Mr. Jackson also is one of the few pop performers who finances and owns his promotional video clips. These clips have not only been popular with television viewers, they have also become an industry in themselves.
”Making the Thriller Video,” an hourlong documentary of Mr. Jackson rehearsing and acting in his ”Thriller” short, was released as a home video cassette on Dec. 14 by Vestron Video, with a list price of $29.95. Its initial order – more than 100,000 copies – was the largest registered for a video cassette that had not been previously released as a movie.
In addition, ”Making the Thriller Video” became the first video cassette to be carried by many record stores, putting these outlets into the home-video business. (The clip will be broadcast on the MTV and Showtime cable television channels beginning Thursday.
Combination of Styles
One reason Mr. Jackson’s videos are so popular is Mr. Jackson’s tautly controlled dancing, which mixes moves from break-dancers and such entertainers as James Brown with earlier popular dance styles.
Michael Peters, a choreographer who worked on Mr. Jackson’s video clips, said that the entertainer had also studied the vintage routines of Fred Astaire and his contemporaries on video cassettes.
As a top song-and-dance man, Mr. Jackson draws large audiences to live concerts. A coming world tour by Mr. Jackson with the Jacksons (formerly the Jackson Five) is shaping up as one of the most profitable entertainment events in history. Pepsi-Cola will pay the Jacksons at least $5 million to become the sponsor of the tour, which will come to New York City in the summer.
Yet Mr. Jackson does not fit the rebellious image of the typical pop star. Indeed, he projects a personality of wide-eyed, vaguely androgynous innocence. He is a Jehovah’s Witness who lives with his mother and who is close to his family; his group, the Jacksons, includes four brothers and is supervised by his father.
Limited Press Relations
Michael Jackson, who has been in show business for 20 of his 25 years, never talks to the press unless he is in a carefully controlled public relations situation. The reclusive singer keeps such pets as a boa constrictor and a llama, and a recent visitor to the Jackson family’s home in Encino, Calif., saw a working popcorn stand and hot-dog cart in the yard, where outdoor speakers played themes from Walt Disney movies.
”I think he’s really Peter Pan,” said Mr. Peters. ”He is this constant dichotomy of man and child. He can run corporations and tell record companies what he wants, and then he can sit in a trailer and play Hearts for hours with a friend who is 12 years old. He loves fantasy, and when he writes about real life it’s a role for him, a fantasy – he sees it from his bubble.”
Marshall Berman, a professor of political science at City College-City University of New York, and the author of ”All That Is Solid Melts Into Air,” a study of modernism and popular culture, added: ”The time is right for Michael Jackson, because American culture has gotten better at handling sex and playing with gender roles. He gives you the sense that you can play with anything – with being man or woman, black or white, scared or scary, or some funny combination of all of them.”
An Early Hit in Gary
Mr. Jackson was a teen idol before he was a teen-ager. The youngster’s boy-soprano lead vocals and his assured stage presence made the Jackson Five the talk of their hometown, Gary, Ind., in the mid-1960’s.
After the group signed with Motown Records – the black-owned, independent Detroit label that created some of the most durable songs of the 1960’s with an ”assembly line” of staff songwriters, producers and singers – it had its first multimillion- selling hit with ”I Want You Back” in 1969. Two years later, the group became the subject of a popular Saturday-morning cartoon series on television.
In the 1970’s, the Jackson Five left Motown for the Epic Records division of CBS and began writing and producing some of its own material as the Jacksons.
Michael Jackson’s 1979 solo album, ”Off the Wall” (produced by the influential Quincy Jones), sold seven million copies. With the Jackson Five and the Jacksons, and as a solo performer, Mr. Jackson had already sold some 100 million records before ”Thriller” was released in 1982.
According to Frank Dileo, Epic Records’ vice president of promotion and the executive responsible for getting records played on the radio, ”Beat It” was the single that turned ”Thriller” from a hit album to a blockbuster.
”Beat It,” a tale of gang warfare, was released as the third single from the ”Thriller” album in February 1983. It was heard on Album Oriented Rock stations that, in recent years, had played fewer and fewer new releases and virtually no music by black performers.
Breaking the Color Line
”We never had A.O.R. people before for Michael Jackson,” Mr. Dileo said. ”It really made the difference.”
Mr. Jackson had broken through a color line.
”Of course,” Mr. Dileo added, ”the videos helped immensely, too.” Mr. Jackson has appeared in ever-more- elaborate video clips – a $60,000 production directed by Steve Barron for ”Billie Jean,” a song about a paternity battle; a $150,000 clip of ”Beat It” directed by Bob Giraldi, and the $1.1 million ”Thriller” short directed by John Landis, the Hollywood director who made ”An American Werewolf in London.”
”He’s the Al Jolson of the 80’s,” Mr. Berman said of Mr. Jackson. ”Like Al Jolson, he’s bringing black music to a white audience. And like Jolson, he shows that you can come out of the ghetto and if you have the energy, you can do anything. It’s the American dream.”