Few artistes are as divisive to their audience as the King Of Pop, what with his personal life pitted against his professional. But back in 1987, Michael Jackson could still do no wrong. Thriller broke all kinds of records, and placed him on the highest plane in the pantheon of pop. But Bad was no slouch.
Nine songs, from the album’s 11 tracks, were released as singles, and five of them hit the top spot on the Billboard charts. That’s a staggering return for an album deemed inferior to Thriller. Ultimately, though, the music did the talking.
Bad wasn’t just an aural experience – its music videos killed! And not many can trump the title track’s. From the campy college kid during the Thriller years, Jackson had metamorphosed, and suddenly, peering from the TV screen was a rugged version of himself, albeit, still a campy one. The image violated the senses initially, but this was clearly a revamped MJ. And if the video needed star touch, producer Quincy Jones made sure he got it by enlisting buddy Martin Scorsese to direct it. The rhythmic rumbler of a tune even had Hammond organ high priest Jimmy Smith playing a smoking solo.
The Way You Make Me Feel makes for a near anthemic track, his inimitable falsetto unravelled right at the end to rapturous effect. Again, the video was another nugget, depicting Jackson wooing a girl with his slick dance moves in an alley, with moral support from his posse.
An overlooked gem on Bad is the Stevie Wonder duet, Just Good Friends. It was one of two songs Jackson didn’t write, but was a great inclusion for the flow of the album. Wonder’s blinding synth lines completely crank up the potency of this breezy number.
This was Jackson at almost 30, and many of the lyrical subjects reflected that of an older artiste’s. Man In The Mirror is right up there with Imagine in the power of its pop and message, Jackson sounding as honest as Lennon in his hope for a better world.
If Beat It hinted at how he could do rock, Dirty Diana was the full realisation of Jackson going guns ablazing. And in the same vein where a guest rock guitar player became a feature, Steve Stevens did an Eddie Van Halen with some blistering fretwork on the song’s centrepiece solo spot.
Arguably the biggest track on Bad though, was Smooth Criminal. From the cutting bass line in the intro, down to the stuttering rhythm guitar at the end, this was pure gold. The drama in the song was easily matched by the visual spectacle that was the video. Anyone would be hard pressed to name three greater landmark music videos, and what about the whole dance sequence? Simply dynamite. And 76 million views on YouTube must be the sign of some kind of legend.
Jackson made some poor decisions in his life, and paid the price dearly for it, turning himself from icon to caricature with one swoop of his mighty gloved hand. However, he left us with some of the most memorable music in our lifetime.