In Memoriam: Michael Jackson 1958-2009

A musician’s perspective on the passing of the great Michael Jackson.

Michael Jackson - The Thriller Years
Michael Jackson - The Thriller Years

   The world has lost one of the greatest musical talents of the 20th century, the great Michael Jackson. There’s no way to underestimate the impact that Michael Jackson has had on popular music. If you have a career playing in a live band then you know that Michael Jackson was also one of the greatest live performers of all time.

   Michael Jackson has been surrounded by weird stories and scandals for the last couple of decades. His ever-changing physical appearance only added to the strangeness. There’s no question that these things have tainted his legend and at times overshadowed his amazing accomplishments. I don’t want to talk about his eccentricity and bizarre behavior. I am a musician, and Michael Jackson was a musician so that’s what I will remember him for.   

  Let’s face it, Michael Jackson was immensely talented and extremely blessed with the gift of music. If you listen to his performances both on record and live with the Jackson 5 when he was just a boy it’s apparent how amazingly gifted Michael Jackson was. His voice when he was a boy was truly off the charts as was his dancing. He knew how to command the stage when he sang and Michael was a perfect front-man for the group. I am truly inspired watching his performances with the Jackson 5.

   As Michael Jackson grew up, his talent seemed to increase. His songwriting on his solo albums just got better and better. I remember hearing “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” and thinking “That’s Michael Jackson?”. It was really a wonder to watch his talent explode with each successive album release from 1979’s ‘Off The Wall’ to 1991’s ‘Dangerous’.

   I remember when the video for his song “Thriller” was released. Watching that video wasn’t just a television watching session, it was an event! I remember MTV announcing the times they would play the “Thriller” video and gathering with my friends to watch the video. The first time we saw it, we watched it in silence and at the end we just went nuts talking about how amazing it was. It seems like every one of Michael Jackson’s music videos from “Billy Jean” on was a step better than the last. Michael really knew how to sell himself with a music video.

   What I want you to remember is that it wasn’t just his image, or videos, or his extreme skill at marketing his products. I want you to remember that the music was there! Michael Jackson had the goods to sell before he went out and sold them. Michael took the time to make sure the music moved people before he went to work on marketing. There are so many musicians struggling out there just to be able to make one complete, professional album. Michael did it again and again and again.

   I want to talk a bit more about one of my favorite Michael Jackson songs. That song is “Beat It” off the thriller album. Why is “Beat It” one of my favorite songs? Because Eddie Van Halen himself played the guitar solo in the middle of the song! Eddie was at the top of the Rock-N-Roll world that year and Michael, with his keen business insight, knew he would be able to sell more records if Eddie was on a record with him. He was right, that song convinced legions of guitarists that Michael didn’t just do ‘Disco’ music. He could also rock!

   Some of my other favorite Michael Jackson rockers are “Dirty Diana” and “Black Or White”. The punk band Alien Ant Farm also showed that a Michael Jackson song could rock with their cover of “Smooth Criminal”. As a guitarist, I always thought it was great when Michael would put the guitar front and center on some of his songs.

   As Michael Jackson’s bizarre life spun into stranger reaches throughout the 90’s his musical output seemed to be suppressed as well. It’s too bad that the craziness had to affect the music, but how could it not? You all know the stories and he wore the evidence on his face with every surgery. Still, it would have been so cool to see him make a comeback. Now, all we have is the memories.

   So, I am choosing to remember Michael Jackson as the great, great musician that he was. I will remember his skill as a singer, songwriter and performer. I will remember that he co-wrote the song “We Are The World” and united musicians and fans around the world. I will remember how brightly his star shown as a brilliant showman. R.I.P. Michael Jackson, we will remember you!!

Author: Live Musician Central

My name is Matt Rushton. I have been playing in bands for 27 years. I've been playing professionally for 21 years. I have opened for Sheryl Crow, Barenaked Ladies, Joan Jett, Little River Band, and Quiet Riot.

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