Back to top

Michael Jackson 1958-2009

I was not a fan of Michael Jackson. I didn't hugely go for his music. I found his persona and general behaviour in adult life to be repugnant. He was either a pedophile, or dangerously and recklessly naive in his attitude to children.

However, his impact on late 20th century culture was undeniable. I don't doubt the sincerity of the grief shown for him today, even if I am not a part of it myself.

What made him great? It was, essentially, his ability as a dancer. Think the likes of Gene Kelly and Rudolf Nureyev. Add the rhythms of western Africa, the production genius of Quincy Jones. And replace the classical ballet or Hollywood musical with a new medium: the made-for-cable-TV music video.

The dance was the thing. His voice was nothing special once he hit puberty. But would the "Thriller" LP have sold even one-tenth of the records without the video to push it?

And was there ever, prior to 1983, the fulfilled anticipation that went with the first screenings of that video - directed by John Landis, choreographed by Michael Peters, song composed by Rod Temperton, music produced by Quincy Jones. From Jackson Five to Team Jackson.

Yes, I'm cynical about the legacy of Michael Jackson. I write this neither to bury him nor to praise him, but simply to attempt to think through my own reflections of his life and work.

In an online poll on the ABC Newsradio website today, I voted for "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" as my favourite MJ song. (Currently it's a close third to "Thriller" and Jellie Bean "Billie Jean".) Arguably, it's the only Jacko track that I've ever really liked. But I'm going to end this obit with a great cover version of one of the lesser songs off the "Thriller" album.

"Human Nature", music by Steve Porcaro (ex-Toto), lyrics by the prolific John Bettis, brought to life by Quincy Jones - covered here in an instrumental version by another African-American musical giant, Miles Davis: