This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #439: Beat it by Michael Jackson.
He was known as The King of Pop. He had over 350 million album sales over the course of his career. His album, “Thriller” is the biggest selling album of all time in any genre. His 13 #1-ranked singles place him first of all time. He is rightly credited with helping to legitimize music videos as performance tools and helped solidify MTV as an entity when it was first launched. Michael Jackson transcended all racial boundaries when it came to the universal appeal of his music. It is fair to say that, for awhile in the 1980s, he was the single-most electrifying performer on the planet!
“Beat it” was one of those 13 #1-ranked hits for Michael Jackson. It came from his album, “Thriller” which also included the title track, “Billie Jean”, “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”, “Human Nature” and “The Girl is Mine”. Prior to the release of “Beat It”, Michael Jackson was more known for songs that lay in the Pop, Funk or R & B genres. His producer, Quincey Jones, thought it would be prudent for Jackson to expand his repertoire and try something with a little more of a Rock edge to it. Therefore, he requested the help of another child musical prodigy, Eddie Van Halen. Van Halen performed the solo free of charge for Jackson. Legend has it that Van Halen’s initial attempt at the solo was so fierce that one of the studio speakers caught fire! Over time, Van Halen’s guitar solo was edited down so as not to overpower Jackson’s vocals nor his personality. Whatever the studio magic was that they used, it worked! “Beat It” was a #1 hit for three consecutive weeks and was awarded the 1984 Grammy for “Song of the Year”.
“Beat it” happened at a time when Michael Jackson was at the height of his fame. As we all know, his career and his life did not hold up under the pressure that comes from living in the fish-eye lens, as RUSH would say. One can only imagine how unreal an existence it must have been to have been Michael Jackson at that time. But, whatever the case, his descent into the bizarro world of endless facial reconstruction surgeries, the fairyland world of The Neverland Ranch and, of course, the criminal charges of child molestation levelled against Jackson, effectively sullied his legacy beyond any repair. We are definitely at the point where, in order to appreciate the Art, we must separate it from the artist. As it turns out, a music stage was Jackson’s safest place. His songs, his showmanship and his ability to create magical moments on stage were second to none. I was actually watching TV the night he moonwalked for the first time. That remains one of the most amazing TV experiences I have ever had…..and I was just a skinny, pimply-faced white boy, at the time! But, I knew I was witnessing history, of a sort. It seemed almost miraculous. It was dancing of a breathtaking kind. For that, I am able to appreciate Jackson, the performer. He was an innovator, a showman of unprecedented skill and a dancer with magnificent flair and daring. In his heyday, he was simply as good as they come. So, without further delay, here is, “Beat It” from the best selling album of all time, “Thriller”. Enjoy.
The link for the music video to Beat It by Michael Jackson can be found here.
There is an official Michael Jackson website that can be accessed by clicking on the link here.
Thanks for KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. A link to their website can be found here.