Monday 3 August 2009

Michael Jackson lived too long

The world needed another blog post about Michael Jackson. A Google Blog search turned up only 37,223,127 hits. We need one more to hit an even 37,223,128; so I will provide it:

Many blog posts about Jackson since his recent death will recall his enormous impact on the music industry and popular culture, and lament the gong-show that his life later became. Few will go so far as to suggest that he lived too long. Fewer still will take the extra step of suggesting when he actually should have died. Since we at the Peanut are not bound by good taste, we will endeavor to fill that gaping void in the bloggosphere ...

So... where do we start? Let's start with the albums:

Obviously, the peak of Jackson's career was Thriller, released in 1982 when Jackson was 24. As you all know, Thriller was by far the best selling album of all time, racking up sales in the neighbourhood of 110 million units. The next two albums -- Bad and Dangerous, released when Jackson was 29 and 33 respectively -- sold around 30 million units. Still very good, but a big let down by Thriller standards. His last two albums sold 20 million and 10 million respectively.

Clearly Jackson's post-Thriller success was riding the wake created by his landmark album. I mean, let's face it: Jackson could have released a blank disc as a follow-up to Thriller and it would have sold millions. Not that there was no redeeming value in those albums ... I kind of liked "Dirty Diana" ... but the music quality and uniqueness decreased. basically, Bad and Dangerous were sort of take-it-or-leave-it type albums. The next two were definitely leave-it.

Looking at the music, the sweet spot seems to be somewhere in the 24-33 range. I'm going to cut to the chase and throw out an age: 27

27 is a proven age for music icons to die at. Jim Morrison died as a 27 year old, as did Kurt Cobain. Ditto Jimi Hendrix and Janice Joplin. Could all of them be wrong? There must be something to it.

As a 27 year old, Jackson was at his musical peak, as we have seen. He was riding the high of Thriller, but had not yet disappointed people with his later albums. He did "Say Say Say" with Paul McCartney in 1983, which was a fun song, and he co-wrote "We Are The World" in 1985 when he was 26. He could do no wrong, and for the most part, the weird stuff had not yet began.

Jackson turned 27 in August of 1985. In 1986, he started to hit the tabloids like only Wacko Jacko could: he bought Bubbles the chimp, he was rumoured to have bought the elephant man's bones, and he ramped up the surgical assault on his facial features to a whole new level. 1986 saw the debut of his cleft chin, among other "enhancements". ... And it all went down hill from there, with allegations of pedophilia, fake marriages, child endangerment, money troubles; and the continued physical transformation into an androgynous salamander-like alien being.

Jackson in 1985:

Jackson in 2003:

His first 27 years weren't all peaches and cream -- it included the infamous Pepsi hair spray debacle for instance -- but it generally includes most of the good stuff and excludes the vast majority of the weirdness. If Jackson had passed away as a young 27 year-old, he would have been remembered by all as an icon, and not a freak show.


Gord said...

Good point. I had also thought Jackson's overall impact would have been more positive if he had died earlier. I just hadn't aken the initiative to identify exactly when that should have been...

Really? Jopin, Cobain, Morrison...all 27? Mysterious coincidence?

Great post, thanks for your thoughts.

cherenkov said...

Thanks for the comment, Gord.

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