Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

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M. Jackson and E.M. Wylie: Movin’ On Up (New York, 1966)

P. Oliver: Mahalia Jackson (Milan, 1968)

H.C. Boyer: ‘Contemporary Gospel Music: Characteristics and Style’, BPM, vii (1979), 22–58

D. Donloe: Mahalia Jackson (Los Angeles, 1992)

J.V. Schwerin: Got to Tell It: Mahalia Jackson, Queen of Gospel (New York, 1992) [incl. bibliography and discography]


Jackson, Michael (Joseph)

(b Gary, IN, 29 Aug 1958). American pop singer, songwriter and producer. He first achieved fame, aged 11, as the lead singer of the Jackson Five. Michael was the focal point of the group, with a vocal style and dance moves heavily indebted to James Brown. His precocious mastery of soul singing is fully evident on the group's first Motown release, I want you back (1969), in which he displays an infectious sense of uptempo timing and an impressive range of vocal resources, effectively showcased on a finely crafted tune. In 1971 Jackson released his first records as a solo artist, revealing a predilection towards ballads. Like those of the Jackson Five, his early solo recordings were remarkably successful.

However, Jackson's solo career did not progress until the late 1970s. In 1978, while working on the film of the musical The Wiz, he met Quincy Jones. The two collaborated on Jackson's next album, Off the Wall (Epic, 1979), which outsold his previous solo efforts and garnered favourable critical notices. Jones and Jackson successfully updated Jackson's sound, presenting him as a mature artist capable of appealing to dancers and top-40 radio programmers alike. Jackson's voice had deepened somewhat, but retained its trademark flexibility, rhythmic drive and melodic sensitivity that perfectly fit the album's combination of funk, pop and disco. Jackson's next album, Thriller (Epic, 1982; again produced by Jones), became an international phenomenon, breaking all sales records, and selling approximately 45 million copies. Thriller successfully synthesized aspects of pre-existing styles: soulful, middle-of-the-road ballads (‘The girl is mine’, sung with Paul McCartney), slick funk-disco (‘Billie Jean’) and funky heavy metal (‘Beat it’). This stylistic blending enabled Jackson to transcend boundaries between audiences that music industry experts believed were unassailable. Furthermore, aware that MTV had become the most effective tool for promoting recordings, Jackson began conceiving his songs in relation to video presentation. The videos for Billie Jean, Beat it and Thriller were mini-films, small narratives with relatively huge budgets. Billie Jean, released first, was not played much on MTV due to the channel's de facto colour policy; Beat it, however, because of its funk-metal fusion, was repeatedly shown on the video channel amid rumours of pressure from Walter Yetnikoff, the head of CBS/Epic. Jackson's understanding of how to employ his singing and dancing skills within the rhetoric of videos enabled him to exploit his abilities as a performer rather than as a musician per se. Viewed in this way, the magnitude of his success is inextricable from the age of music video.

On his next albums, Bad (Epic, 1987) and Dangerous (Epic, 1991), Jackson struggled to match the critical and commercial success of Thriller. Although they both sold over 20 million copies there was a sense in which Jackson was repeating himself (the formulaic funk of Bad) or groping for new ideas (the attempts to incorporate aspects of new jack swing in Dangerous). In terms of video, Jackson also appeared to be repeating himself, returning over and over to the street-gang, West Side Story-style, mise-en-scène of Beat it. An exception to this is the Afro-centric, Egyptian fantasy of ‘Remember the Time’ from Dangerous. Although he had devoted much effort to humanitarian causes throughout the 1980s and early 90s (including co-writing We are the world (CBS, 1985) with Lionel Ritchie for USA for Africa), by the mid-1990s his career was in danger of being overshadowed by tabloid-style scandals and his brief marriage to Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of Elvis.

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