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Man in the Mirror – Michael Jackson

michael_jackson_bad_1987I’m about to make a ridiculous statment. But stay with me a moment.

I believe that Michael Jackson’s untimely death today is the biggest celebrity death ever. It’s definitely the most documented in terms of words written about his life.

Bigger than John Lennon.

Bigger than Elvis.

Bigger than Pope John Paul II.

Even bigger than Princess Diana.

How is that possible? Just look at the numbers:

  • Jackson sold an estimated 750 million records worldwide (if you add the Jackson 5 it tops 950 million records)
  • Won 13 Grammy Awards
  • Released 13 No.1 singles
  • Inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
  • Thrillericon is the biggest-selling record of all time–with more than 50 million copies sold
  • Five of his solo albums are among the top-sellers of all time (Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad, Dangerous, HIStory)

To put those numbers in perspective, only The Beatles and Elvis Presley have sold as many records. Somewhere around 1 billion copies of their catalogs. Jackson achieved those numbers himself in an era when infinitely more musical choices were available to buyers.

AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Madonna, Mariah Carey and The Rolling Stones have sold 200 to 500 million records. Still huge numbers.

U2 and The Who have only sold 100 to 200 million records.

Bob Dylan and Def Lepard have only sold 50 to 75 million records. Nothing compared to Michael Jackson.

Jackson was and will likely always remain the undisputed “King of Pop.” Pop = popular and he was massively popular around the world. He is huge in India. He is huge in China. That’s 3 billion potential fans right there. He is popular in Europe, Africa, Asia. In fact, the country where he is possibly the least popular is America.

The Day Pop Music Died?

I remember when Kurt Cobain died. A crying twelve-year-old girl passed me on the street and when I asked her why she was sad she answered “This is the day the music died.” (Upon further questioning I realized she was unfamiliar with Don McLean or Buddy Holly and didn’t realize the line of “the day the music died” was well rehearsed by each preceding generation as their shining stars burned out). Alternative rockers lamented his passing. Most people over the age of 35 didn’t even know Cobain’s name.

I remember reading about Jerry Garcia’s death on an internet bulletin board. The ‘Deadhead” in my office burst into tears and rushed from the room crying. Deadheads held vigils and Grateful Dead members regrouped as “The Other Ones.” But the world kept spinning.

I remember the night I heard on the radio that John Lennon had been shot and killed. It was a big, big deal. Rock fans cried. More candlight vigils. But the world kept spinning. No media outlets devoted non-stop coverage to reporting his death. There was no internet to report the news.

Rumors of Jackson’s Death Overwhelm Twitter and Google

I read breaking news about Jackson’s cardiac arrest on the gossip site TMZ as I was looking for information about Farrah Fawcett’s death. I turned on CNN and they were reporting that Jackson may be in a coma. Meanwhile, and scooped all the major media outlets and announced that Jackson was indeed dead. It took 30 minutes before the news broke on “legitimate” outlets like the L.A. Times and the Associated Press. I looked at Facebook and people were already mourning his death. I tried to login to Twitter but the system was overloaded as millions of people tweeted the latest news about Jackson.

Iran went to hell a week ago and Twitter broadcast the whole thing. Today, Jackson was rumored to be either in a coma or dead and Twitter went dark momentarily. Too many simultaneous tweets.

According to a BBC article, Google thought the search engine was under attack due to the overwhelming number of searches about Michael Jackson that began at 2:40 and 3:15 PST. Many users received error pages during this time.

That’s how big Jackson is.

“Man in the Mirror”

I liked many Michael Jackson songs. Off the Wallicon was one of the first records I bought with my own money. But I quit paying attention to Jackson’s music at least 10 years ago. Sure he would pop up in the news. But always for strange, discomforting things. Never for his music. Which was sad because if you look objectively at his library, it’s packed with great pop songs. My favorite solo Jackson song is “Man in the Mirror” from his 1987 record Badicon. I’m a sucker for soaring choruses and gospel choirs in pop songs. “Man in the Mirror” is one of the best ever.

“I Want You Back” – Jackson Five

I’m also a total sucker for early Jackson Five songs. “I Want You Backicon” is my all-time favorite Michael Jackson song. It also has the greatest James Jamerson bass line ever dropped in a pop song (Jamerson was the studio bass player for countless Motown hits). Watch that kid sing. Pure joy. R.I.P. Mr. Jackson.

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I'm an obsessive music collector, cataloger, commenter and trivia nut. Sometimes I'm even a listener. One-hit wonders have always been a guilty pleasure.

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3 Responses to "Man in the Mirror – Michael Jackson"

  1. Matt Thurston says:

    Like you, I’m a big fan of Man in the Mirror too. It’s funny though, I always feel a little embarrassed to admit it. Maybe it’s the overtly sentimental lyrics, the fortune cookie advice. But I can’t deny it, the song hooks its obvious little claws in me every time I hear it. And I love the slow build of the verses to the chorus.

    So my five favorite MJ songs:

    1.) Man in the Mirror
    2.) Billie Jean
    3.) Rock With You
    4.) Human Nature
    5.) Smooth Criminal

    Ironically, Jackson’s death brought him back to us. For the past 15 years or so it felt like Michael had been kidnapped and replaced by an impostor. You couldn’t even listen to his back catalog of music without being reminded of what Michael had become. For the past 10-15 years, even Billie Jean and Beat It sounded tainted. Now the impostor has been put to rest, and we can all embrace our best memories or images of Michael. The music is somehow pure again. And his legacy is restored.

  2. Michael Waterman says:

    I completely agree with the notion that Michael had disappeared from our collective musical minds. Not his persona; just his music. Now it’s hip again to like Michael. In 15 years, I believe people will simply remember the music and the goofy legacy will be largely forgotten (America is a remarkably forgiving place and people around the world are remarkably forgiving).

    My top 5 MJ songs:
    1. Man in the Mirror
    2. Don’t Stop ‘Til you Get Enough
    3. I Just Can’t Stop Loving You
    4. Black or White
    5. Working Day or Night

  3. ToeJackRodeo says:

    You called it, Dog. MJ’s sad end seems to be turning into the mother of all celebrity deaths.

    So if I were to write my pop culture masters thesis today, it would go like this: Michael Jackson’s death is the Elvis death for a 21st century audience. Like a re-make of a 70’s movie where the plot is the same, but the effects are amped up for modern movie-goers. Bono said U2 loved Elvis because he represented everything good and bad about America.

    Good: Poor boy from Tupelo grows up to become the King of Rock. Bad: Too much King of Rock kills him. Perhaps he’s our best American metaphor. 30 years later and we’re seeing the re-make but for our TMZ times.

    Good: Poor black kid from Gary defies bigger odds to become famous younger, the King of Pop, and the most famous person in the world. Bad: Too much King of Pop kills him with an even more spectacular blaze of glory.

    Elvis, I’ll see your picture with Nixon and raise it a picture with Reagan. I’ll see your altered appearance in your later years, and raise you an even more altered appearance in mine. I’ll see your extra-marital affairs and, well, raise you there to. I’ll even marry your daughter. Elvis left us Graceland, but MJ left us Neverland . . . which has rides. Even Lisa Marie wrote on her blog the day after MJ died that he once said he thought he would die like her Dad.

    I’m just saying.

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