Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Michael Jackson album by album

(Work in progress. I'm tidying up and updating links from YouTube to Spotify. March 2019. If you like the article, leave a comment or click on an advert - it helps the motivation! )

Michael Jackson was for a while the biggest music artist on the planet, and was responsible for some mega hits, and the biggest selling album of all time - Thriller. Thrust into the spotlight at an early age, and with an abusive father, Jackson did not communicate well outside of his music performances. His reclusiveness, odd behaviour, plastic surgery, and lack of familiar points of reference, such as a girlfriend (or even a boyfriend), his interest in children which prompted - and still does - allegations of sex abuse, gradually made a him a target of the press under the nickname "Wacko Jacko", and his music became slightly darker, self-absorbed, and less interesting. But at his peak he produced three great solo albums, and a host of catchy singles.

Michael Jackson emerged as lead singer with the Jackson 5, a vocal group composed entirely of the Jackson brothers. After working briefly with two small labels (Steeltown and Dynamo), the Jacksons signed with Motown. The Jackson's first single was "Big Boy", released in January 1968 on the short-lived Steeltown Records. The next single, the first with Motown, "I Want You Back", released Oct, 1969, went to No 1: a star was born! Second single, "ABC", released Feb 1970, knocked the Beatles off the top spot. I remember hearing that song at the time. Very catchy, but I affected not to like it as I was getting into rock, and this was clearly a bit of a girly song. The young Jackson is 11 years old at this point. The next two singles, "The Love You Save", May 1970, and "I'll Be There", August 1970, also reached No 1 (here's an acapella version). Jackson worked both as a solo artist and with the Jackson 5 from 1972 until 1984, when he left the group. His best work with Motown is the Jackson 5 singles - but they are Motown sounds. Indeed, as was Berry Gordy's way, he wanted to keep Michael and the Jacksons purely as a Motown product - singing Motown songs. But the brothers, especially Michael, wanted to do their own thing, so in 1976 the band signed with CBS Records (now called Sony Music) - all their new material would now be released on the Epic label. While the Jacksons continued to have some success with Epic, it did not really compare to their Motown output, and pales almost into insignificance compared to Michael's solo work.

Solo albums

Got To Be There
January 1972

The first solo album, Got To Be There,  is a mix of covers and Motown staff songs. Some of the songs were successfully released as singles: the title track, and "Rockin' Robin" in particular. The album shows the richness of Jackson's voice; impressive for a 13 year old, but he does sound young - in fact, younger than 13 at times. Not an offensive album, but only of interest to die-hard Jackson fans.

AllMusic:  5
Score: 3

August 1972

The second solo album, Ben,  contains the successful title single, "Ben", from the film Ben, about a rat called Ben,  and a lot of filler. For die-hard Jackson fans only.

AllMusic:  8
Score: 3

Music & Me
April 1973

Music & Me is another poor album. No songs by Jackson himself, and his voice is still too reedy and young for carrying a solo album. Jackson, like Wonder and Gaye, was becoming frustrated by the constraints of working within Motown. Fairly dire.

AllMusic:   6
Score: 2

Forever, Michael
January 1975

Forever, Michael is the last solo Jackson Motown album. His voice is developing, and the song choice and arrangement is moving to a more sophisticated soul sound that we can recognise as Michael Jackson. The best of the Motown albums.

AllMusic:  6
Score: 4

Off the Wall
August 1979

Off the Wall is Jackson's breakthrough album. His first with his new record label, Epic Its blend of rock, pop and soul creates a wonderful smooth yet energetic sound. Fresh, yet cool. Jackson picks up just at the point when Stevie Wonder is fading. A work of brilliance. This is the album that started modern R&B - its influence and importance is incalculable. This is probably Jackson's most important work (though Thriller would be more popular and commercially successful, and would be the album that sold modern/contemporary R&B to the public and to other recording artists). He and Quincy Jones developed a smooth rhythmic very danceable style of music that would become known as modern or contemporary R&B - quite possibly the most successful musical style of the 21st century. 

AllMusic:  10
Score: 10 

November 1982

Thriller continued what Jackson and Quincy Jones started with Off the Wall, though with more pop, and with much more success. Pretty much every track on this album will be familiar to almost every living person in the Western world. This is the best selling album of all time with sales of around 60 million. Just edges Off the Wall in terms of playability and familiarity, though I have more respect for that album. On reflection I think  Off the Wall  and Thriller are equally great and equally important.

Score: 10

August 1987

Bad is the third of Jackson's critically and commercially successful solo Epic albums. At this point he is the biggest pop star on the planet and rivals The Beatles and Elvis Presley in terms of global recognition and impact. This record is much funkier and darker than previous albums - though still has a bright fresh pop feel - it is a safe, cuddly and sweet bad.

AllMusic: 9 1/2
Score: 8

November 1991

Dangerous is another critical and commercially successful album producing a string of hit singles. The music on this is again harder, deeper, and more urban. A journey Jackson is taking away from the pop of Motown. Yet at all times keeping an eye on the pop market. There's much here that emulates Prince. It's funky, and interesting, but less appealing than his previous Epic albums.

AllMusic: 7
Score: 5

A image of a silver status that is wearing a military-like outfit and has its hair clipped behind its head. To the left of the statue the words "MICHAEL JACKSON" are written in white letters and underneath those two words are other words written in smaller white print. Behind the statue, a sky with clouds that are black and red can be seen.
July 1995

HIStory is a double album - the first on Jackson's own record label. The first disc is a hits compilation (always useful to have, and this is a decent enough compilation), the second is the original songs. The compilation disc is good, but the original songs disc is weary, self-indulgent, whining, and out of touch with reality. This is the point where Jackson was behaving oddly and the press were having a field day with him, calling him "Wacko Jacko". The album is supposed to be his angry response to that, but it isn't a well thought out response "Earth Song" was the big single - and its video, in which Jackson saves the planet by singing one of the crudest protest songs ever, turned even more people off him. Jarvis Cocker's wonderful response to Jackson's performance of the song at the Brits has gone down in legend.

AllMusic:  6
Score: Compilation disc: 5    New material: 2

October 2001

Invincible is Jackson's last album. It's a cleaner, lighter, and more balanced album than HIStory, but most critics didn't like it. Almost all felt it was too long.  While not offensive or dull, there's little here of interest to the general reader. The Motown solo albums, while weak, are more listenable.

AllMusic:  6
Score: 2

The Jackson 5 / The Jacksons albums


Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5
 (Dec, 1969)

A bright and breezy debut, though it sounds a little dated. Contains "I Want You Back", a sulty bluesy version of Smokey Robinson's "Who's Loving' You", and, interestingly, a Motowned version of Sly Stone's "Stand!" (Sly's original version). Stone's funk influence would emerge later after the Jackson's left Motown. 
Rating: 4

ABC (May 1970)

A typical Motown album, same writers, producers and musicians as the other albums by other Motown artists - differentiated only by the young Michael's piercing voice. Contains ABC, a decent cover of Stevie Wonder's "Don't Know Why I Love You", and - interestingly - another cover of an early funk song - Funkadelic's pyschadelic "I'll Bet You" done in a Norman Whitfield Motownstyle of Psychedelic soul (Funkadelic's original version). A listenable record, though not as strong as the debut. 
Rating: 3

Third Album (Sept 1970)
A random mix of upbeat rock ("Going Back to Indiana"), psychedelic soul ("Can I See You in The Morning") , and funk ("How Funky is your Chicken"). It's harmless stuff. Also contains the hit "I'll Be There".

Rating 3

Christmas Album (Oct, 1970)
Christmas albums were common with Motown. This is one of the worse. No redeemable factor at all. Unlistenable.

Rating: 1

Maybe Tomorrow (April, 1971)
Contains "Never Can Say Goodbye", but otherwise there is nothing interesting here, just background music.

Rating: 3

Lookin' Through the Windows
(May, 1972)
Just going through the motions. Lacks excitement.

Rating: 3

Skywriter (March, 1973)
Inoffensive, but why bother?

Rating: 3

Get It Together (Sept, 1973)
Contains the funky hit "Dancing Machine". The album is less poppy and lively than the early Motown albums - more funk and disco focused. "Hum Along and Dance" gets into a groove, but is rather childish when heard next to The Temptation's original version.

Rating: 3
Dancing Machine (Sept, 1974)
More plodding disco funk. The album is built around the success of Dancing Machine from the previous album, and repeats that track here. It's a listenable album, but doesn't hit any sweet spots.

Rating: 3

Moving Violation (May, 1975) 
Aiming at the growing disco market, the album contains the near 7 minute opener "Forever Came Today", but otherwise doesn't excite interest.

Rating: 3

The Jacksons (Nov, 1976)

Rating: 3

Goin' Places (Oct, 1977)

Rating: 3

Destiny (Dec, 1978)
Contains "Blame it on The Boogie" and "Shake Your Body".  Overall a tight and enjoyable disco record, with some moments of pleasure.

Rating: 5

Triumph (Sept, 1980)
Contains "Can You Feel It". Listenable, but not as strong as Destiny.

Rating: 3

Victory (June, 1984)
The final album the Jacksons made with Michael.  A little crude, but does contain the pleasant slow ballad Be Not Always, though also has the leaden State of Shock with Mick Jagger.

Rating: 3

As a soul and pop voice it's amazing - very fluid and attractive and sweet, and Jackson adds to it with his hics, squeals, oohs and ahs, which have been much copied.  While there is tenderness in the voice, it lacks emotional depth and it lacks range, but for what Jackson does it's perfect

Not great. He went from a child to a wacky adult with only a brief moment at the time of Off The Wall when he had the potential to be cool. While people enjoy his music, he's not taken seriously, even among music critics aware of his influence in the area of commercial funk.

They work but he's not saying anything interesting. Words strung together to go with the music. Best lyric is possibly "Billie Jean", but that's more because of the curiosity as to what is going on.

His strength is partly his voice and partly the music. This is funk music and smooth soul married to middle of the road pop. It's elegant and pleasant and very commercial without being pap. Yes, it hasn't got the edge of true funk or the sophistication and groove of the best of smooth soul, but it's damn fine pop music.

He had a global reach and while he mostly had a poor image, for many youngsters his dance moves and his dress sense were very attractive. While he simply absorbed and copied other music styles, he was influential in making funk very commercial, and in paving the way for the popular acceptance of hip hop. His approach to music videos and his use of choreographed dance has been much admired and copied.

Global popularity. Making black music accessible and commercial. Videos and dance moves.

Hugely popular. One of the best selling artists of all time. Possibly third best selling.

Star quality
A star. Not taken as seriously as he deserved for his talent, appeal, and commercial sales, but a star.

Emotional appeal
He had tenderness in his sweet voice. But his appeal was mainly in the overall sound and the rhythm.

He is likely to be remembered for his global popularity, and for being a bridge between commercial pop and  rhythmic black music, paving the way for the acceptance of harder black music styles such as hip hop.

Total: 63/100

Wikipedia article on Michael Jackson
Wikipedia article on the Jackson 5
Official Michael Jackson website
Official Jacksons website
BestEverAlbums Michael Jackson
BestEverAlbums The Jacksons
BestEverAlbums The Jackson 5

Michael Jackson / Jackson 5 / The Jacksons
Best ever albums

Top 10 Michael Jackson songs

Kitchen Table Music Blogs
Best Of The Best
72: 13/03/2019

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