On this day in music history: December 7, 1991 – “Black Or White” by Michael Jackson hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 7 weeks, also peaking at #3 on the R&B singles chart on the same date. Written by Michael Jackson and Bill Bottrell, it is the twelfth solo chart topper (sixteenth overall) for “The King Of Pop”. Issued as the first single from Jackson’s eighth album “Dangerous” on November 11, 1991, the single is premiered on radio just days before its arrival in stores. The track is supported by an elaborate eleven minute long short film directed by John Landis (“Thriller”), also starring actors Macaulay Culkin (“Home Alone”), George Wendt (“Cheers”) and Tess Harper (“Tender Mercies”, “Breaking Bad”). The video also breaks new ground visually for the face morphing sequence created by Pacific Data Images, digitally morphing the actors lip synching the song seamlessly into each other. Among the people seen during the sequence include model Tyra Banks and actors Khrystyne Haje, Cree Summer and Jeffrey Anderson-Gunter. The clip has its broadcast debut simultaneously on MTV, BET, VH1, and the Fox television network on November 14, 1991, drawing a record breaking viewing audience. However, the extended dance sequence of the film draws controversy due to several scenes of Jackson rubbing and grabbing his crotch as well as destroying a car and breaking windows. The singer issues a statement the next day apologizing, stating that “the violent and suggestive behavior was an interpretation of the black panther’s animal instincts”. The controversy does not hurt the songs’ airplay or sales. It becomes the fastest rising single on the Hot 100 since The Beatles “Get Back” in 1969. Entering the Hot 100 at #35 on November 23, 1991, it pole vaults to the top of the chart two weeks later. Jackson also becomes the first artist in history to have number one singles in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. On the UK singles chart, it is the first single to enter the chart at number one since Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now Or Never” in 1960. “Black Or White” also tops the charts in seventeen other countries, and is ranked the top single of 1991 by Billboard Magazine. “Black Or White” is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: December 2, 1983 – “Michael Jackson’s Thriller” makes its television broadcast debut on MTV. Directed by John Landis (“National Lampoon’s Animal House”, “The Blues Brothers”), the nearly fourteen minute long short film based on the title track (written by songwriter Rod Temperton) to Michael Jackson’s blockbuster album becomes an immediate phenomenon. An homage to the classic horror film genre (particularly the Michael Landon film “I Was A Teenage Werewolf”, and director Landis’ “An American Werewolf In London”), the film stars Jackson with former Playboy model and actress Ola Ray. The films’ dance sequences are choreographed by MJ and famed choreographer Michael Peters (“Beat It”, “Running With The Night”), with make up and prosthetics designed by Oscar winning make up artist Rick Baker. Jackson’s signature red leather jacket is designed by costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis, the wife of Thriller’s director. Filmed in October of 1983 at a cost of $500,000, the clip takes the art of the music video to another level, becoming the most celebrated and honored in the medium. However, the video is nearly discarded by Jackson before it is seen by the public. A practicing Jehovah’s Witness at the time, two weeks before it is scheduled to air, Michael summoned to a meeting by elders of his church. They tell him that the video “promotes demonology” and that threaten him with being excommunicated. Upset by the meeting, Jackson calls his attorney and business manager John Branca, telling him to have the film negatives destroyed. Branca suggests that a disclaimer be added to the intro, stating that the film “did not reflect Jackson’s personal convictions”. Michael is satisfied by the suggestion, and the video is aired as planned. MTV pays $250,000 for the exclusive rights to air the video, with Showtime paying an additional $300,000 to air it exclusively on their network for a certain period. Its impact is immediately felt, sending the album back to number one over the Christmas holiday, spending another seventeen consecutive weeks at the top of the Top 200. The “Thriller” short film is also released on home video as part of a full length documentary titled “The Making Of Michael Jackson’s Thriller”. Originally released by Vestron Video, “The Making Of” sets video sales records (selling a total of nine million copies overall) winning a Grammy Award for Best Video Album in 1985. “Thriller” is inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library Of Congress in 2009 for its ongoing cultural and historic significance, making it the first time a music video has received an honor normally reserved for feature length films.
On this day in music history: November 30, 1982 – “Thriller”, the sixth studio album by Michael Jackson is released. Produced by Quincy Jones & Michael Jackson, it is recorded at Westlake Audio and Ocean Way Studios in Los Angeles, CA from April 14- 15, August – November 8, 1982. Issued as the long awaited follow up to the hugely successful “Off The Wall”, Jackson is highly ambitious in his quest to surpass the success of the previous album. Writing four of the nine tracks himself, producer Quincy Jones finds other songs for the project from other songwriters including Rod Temperton, Steve Porcaro, John Bettis, Michael Sembello and James Ingram. After reviewing dozens of potential songs, the final nine tracks are chosen for the album. However, the tight deadline in recording and mixing the album (as well as recording “The E.T. Storybook Album” at the same time) takes its toll initially. The final overdubs for “Thriller” are recorded on the morning the album is due to be mastered. When the team listens to the original cut of the album, they realize the running time is too long (for the time limits of vinyl) and that several songs require remixing before it can be handed in. In spite of CBS being angered by the delay (with the first single “The GirI Is Mine” (#1 R&B, #2 Pop) already released and climbing the charts), Jones, Jackson and engineer Bruce Swedien push ahead, remixing and editing the tracks. With the final masters handed over at last, CBS Records puts the album on a crash production schedule, halting the pressing of other records at their three US pressing plants to quickly manufacture the two million plus copies initially shipped to record stores. “Thriller” achieves unprecedented success, spinning off seven Top 10 singles, winning eight Grammy Awards (including Album Of The Year and Record Of The Year), becoming the largest selling album of all time. “Thriller” is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2008, and is added to the National Recording Registry by the Library Of Congress also in 2008. The album remastered and reissued on CD in 2001 with four additional bonus tracks, and interviews with Quincy Jones. It is remastered again in 2008 to commemorate its 25th anniversary with six bonus tracks and a DVD featuring the three original music videos and Jackson’s Motown 25 performance of “Billie Jean”. It is also reissued as a double vinyl LP set and picture disc. “Thriller” spends thirty seven weeks (non-consecutive) at number one on the Billboard Top 200 and R&B album charts, ninety one weeks within the Top 10, and is certified 33x Platinum in the US by the RIAA, earning a Triple Diamond Certification.
On this day in music history: November 26, 1991 – “Dangerous”, the eighth studio album by Michael Jackson is released. Produced by Michael Jackson, Bill Bottrell, Bruce Swedien and Teddy Riley, it is recorded at Ocean Way/Record One Studio 2, Larrabee North Studios in Hollywood, CA from June 25, 1990 – October 29, 1991. Months after wrapping up the extensive world tour in support of the album “Bad” in January of 1989, Michael Jackson begins working on material for his next album. Even after three highly successful albums with Quincy Jones that have come to help define the 80’s both musically and culturally, Michael decides to take his music in a new direction at the beginning of the new decade. Along with long time recording engineer Bruce Swedien, Jackson produces “Dangerous”, and another long time associate Bill Bottrell. Michael also enlists the assistance of songwriter and producer Teddy Riley of the R&B band Guy, whose New Jack Swing sound is prominent on several tracks. Consisting of fourteen tracks and running more than 77 minutes in length, it is a huge success both internationally and in the US, spinning off a total of nine hit singles including “Black Or White” (#1 Pop, #1 R&B, #2 Club Play), “Remember The Time” (#1 R&B, #3 Pop, #2 Club Play), “In The Closet” (#1 R&B, #6 Pop, #1 Club Play), “Jam” (#3 R&B, #26 Pop, #4 Club Play) and “Will You Be There” (#7 Pop), selling over twenty million copies worldwide. Jackson also supports the album with an extensive world tour, including a concert in Bucharest, Romania taped for broadcast on HBO that breaks pay-per-view records on the cable network. In addition to the standard CD, cassette, and vinyl (pressed in limited quantities) configurations, the album is also issued as limited edition CD package with the disc coming housed in a black hardbound cover (with minimal cover graphics) that opens to reveal the albums’ lavish cover artwork in three dimensional pop up form. The album which is released on a very limited basis as a double vinyl LP in 1991, is reissued on 180 gram vinyl in 2015. “Dangerous” debuts at number one on the Billboard Top 200, spending four weeks at the top, also topping the R&B album chart for twelve weeks (non-consecutive), and is certified 7x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: November 20, 1984 – Pop superstar Michael Jackson is awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. Presented by then Hollywood, CA mayor Johnny Grant and Hollywood Chamber Of Commerce President Bill Welsh, Michael Jackson receives the 1793rd star on the walk of fame. The star is located at 6927 Hollywood Blvd in front of the historic Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The singer is able to stay at the ceremony for only three minutes. With members of his family and more than 6,000 fans in attendance, it is one the largest crowds to show up for a star unveiling. Jackson’s safety becomes a major concern when the crowd begins to get out of hand after his arrival. It is actually the second time Jackson receives the honor, having been awarded a star as a member of The Jacksons in 1979. The event caps off an incredible year that seed Jackson sweep the 26th Annual Grammy Awards and earn a place in the Guinness World Book Of Records for having the largest selling album of all time for “Thriller”. After Jackson’s death in 2009, his star becomes one of the most visited by tourists and fans.
Michael Jackson with the Boy Scouts of America (1990)
In September 1990 Michael was given the Michael Jackson Good Scout Humanitarian Award, named in his honor. “Michael Jackson is a good example to youth, helping us keep kids off the streets by supporting Scouting,” said Ray Martin, chairman of the board of Los Angeles Area Council Boy Scouts of America.
On this day in music history: November 7, 1982 – “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” (aka “The E.T. Storybook”) is released. Produced by Quincy Jones, it is recorded at Westlake Audio in Los Angeles, CA from June – August 1982. In early 1982, director Steven Spielberg and record producer Quincy Jones meet while Spielberg is in post production on the film “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial”. The director approaches Jones who at the time is working with Michael Jackson on “Thriller”, to record a song for an audio storybook version of “E.T.”. Inviting Jones and Jackson to see the film prior to its opening, they enthusiastically accept Spielberg’s offer. Quincy Jones pairs songwriter Rod Temperton with lyricists Marilyn and Alan Bergman to write “Someone In The Dark”, which is sung by Michael. Blown away by Jackson’s affecting and highly emotional vocal performance, Spielberg asks them to also record the narration, condensing the film into a forty minute long record for release on MCA Records. Though they are under a very tight deadline to finish “Thriller” for a pre-Christmas release, they work on both concurrently. When word gets back to CBS president Walter Yetnikoff, he is furious. Yetnikoff threatens to block the release, feeling that it is keeping Jackson from completing “Thriller” on time, and that MCA and Universal had not obtained permission for him to do the project. Jones’ friend and Tabu Records founder Clarence Avant acts as an intermediary, brokering a deal to allow E.T. to be released. MCA agrees to pay CBS $1 million to release the album with certain caveats. It is limited to a million copies manufactured worldwide, they are not allowed to release a single, and must wait until after Christmas of 1982 so as not to be in direct competition with either “Thriller” and its first single “The Girl Is Mine”, then climbing the charts. MCA agrees, then almost immediately violates the terms by not only releasing E.T. three and a half weeks before “Thriller”, but also issuing “Someone” as a promotional single to radio. The lavish boxed package list priced at $11.98 features a twenty page booklet, also comes with a 22" x 22" poster of MJ with E.T.. CBS is successful in having the album withdrawn from record stores shortly after its release, and does not re-appear again until nearly five years later when the label is allowed to sell off the remaining stock. CBS also winds up keeping the money MCA pays them, paying neither Jackson or Jones for their work on the project. In spite of this, the record is nominated for and wins the Grammy Award for Best Recording For Children in 1984. Of the eight Grammys Jackson receives that night, he states that the one for “E.T.” is the one he is most proud of. Though the storybook album has never been reissued, “Someone In The Dark” appears as a bonus track on the 2001 special edition release of “Thriller”, and on the 2004 box set “Michael Jackson – The Ultimate Collection”.
On this day in music history: October 17, 1987 – “Bad” by Michael Jackson hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 3 weeks, also topping the Hot 100 for 2 weeks on October 24, 1987. Written by Michael Jackson, it is the seventh R&B and pop (eleventh overall) chart topper for “The King Of Pop. The title track from Michael Jackson’s seventh album is originally conceived as a duet between pop superstar and Prince. Portrayed as fierce rivals in the mainstream media, Jackson and producer Quincy Jones conceives the idea of the two megastars collaborating together. Jones contacts Prince about the idea, but declines the invitation, feeling the song will be a hit without him. The single features a number musicians that have played on previous Michael Jackson albums including Greg Phillinganes, Michael Boddicker (synthesizers), John Robinson (drums), David Williams (guitar), Jerry Hey, Gary Grant (trumpets), Kim Hutchcroft, Larry Williams (saxophones) and Paulinho Da Costa (percussion) Veteran jazz organist Jimmy Smith adds the crowning touch to the track, playing the Hammond B-3 organ solo on the track. The song is also backed by an elaborate eighteen minute long short film directed by Martin Scorsese, debuting in a half hour long special on CBS on the albums’ release date of August 31, 1987. The film also features one of the first appearances by a then unknown actor named Wesley Snipes. Released as the second single on September 7, 1987, it is another immediate smash. "Bad” is parodied by comedian “Weird Al” Yankovic in 1988 as “Fat”, even parodying Jackson’s short film which wins Yankovic a Grammy Award for Best Short Form Video in 1989. The video is parodied a second time for the anthology film “Moonwalker” in 1988. Titled “Badder”, the clip features child actors and dancers filling the roles originally played by Jackson and the other actors and dancers in the original. The song is also used to hilarious effect in the animated film “Despicable Me 3” in 2017, in a sequence with supervillain Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) moonwalking on the water in swim fins. Michael Jackson’s original recording of “Bad” is also included on the soundtrack for the film.