This is the long-awaited second instalment of the “My Favourite Albums Of All Time” series, Michael Jackson’s 1987 album “Bad” – the first being The Game’s “Jesus Piece” album all the way back in 2015. When I originally came up with the idea it was supposed to be “My Favourite Albums of All-Time in April” where I would talk about an album that had a profound impact on me in some way, shape or form at any point in my life. I decided to shelf the idea because I had only just began to write more regularly; the idea of writing 30 articles in 30 days just sounded like more of a task than something I could gain some enjoyment out of.
I also think that I didn’t feel entirely confident expressing myself through writing, and trying to celebrate my favourite music through this medium seemed a little bit out of my depth. I didn’t want to do a disservice to the albums that I was talking about or make them sound any less amazing than they were because I lacked the vocabulary or technique. I think I’m ready to try again.
When you’ve released the album that redefined the possibilities of Black attainment in the entertainment industry, obliterated glass ceilings and kicked every closed off its hinges, there isn’t much room for ascension. By all definitions, it’s a job completed. What Michael Jackson did when he released “Thriller” was unleash a monster as imposing and unrelenting as the ghouls in the music video that bore its name. By the end of the year it came out it (1983) it became the highest selling album of all-time, selling 32 million units worldwide and then outsold every album again the following year. At the age of 26, Michael Joseph Jackson had the highest selling album of all-time.
Where do you go once you’ve reached the top of Mount Olympus? Is there a grass greener than that of the Garden of Eden? Do these places exist anywhere outside the confines of a delusional mind?
Michael Jackson answered all of those questions by delivering on the unthinkable. He made a better album.
The album starts like that. You’ve been gone for 4 years and the first words out of your mouth are “your butt is mine” – A declaration to the world that he’s coming to collect everything that he believed he was owed. That energy ebbs and flows right throughout the album and I love it.
There are certain things that people didn’t associate with Michael’s personality before the Bad album (aggression and ego are prime examples of this). That’s because as great as his music was before this album, it didn’t tell us much about him as a man; what he stood for, what he believed in, what he feared and what made him want to lash out.
I was born 8 years after this album came out (I’ll let you do the math on my age) and by this time the media fascination into Michael’s private life was in full force. There was no buffer for me, I was introduced to the artist and the art at the same time. Before Bad this wasn’t the case. Even though he had been in the spotlight since his days in The Jackson Five, all the world really knew was that Michael was an immensely talented singer/dancer with a deceased pet rat named Ben (RIP Ben). Not since Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon had anyone ever been thrust into epicentre of fame so rapidly and unanimously. It forced him to become a recluse, hiding in a prison of his own making at the Neverland Ranch. This inadvertently fuelled the perception that he was more of an exhibit and than a human being.
Bad was so much more personal than anything he had done up until this point because it had to be. The mounting questions about his change in appearance and eccentricities put him in a position where he needed to take the narrative back into his own hands. He needed to remind the world that he was a once in a generation artist and introduce them to the man they were yet to meet. Quincy Jones, the producer of his last two albums told him that Bad needed “more Michael” and that’s what we got. Michael’s pen was everywhere on this album with writing credits on 9 out of 11 songs.
This saw the emergence of a Michael Jackson who was a lot more expressive about his humanitarian ambitions and bigger views for world change; especially on songs like ‘Man In The Mirror’ and ‘Another Part Of Me’. But it wasn’t all Kumbayas and candy floss…
The softly delivered riffs were replaced by an aggressive growl, and the constant need to make his music relatable faded. “ABC”, the second song he ever released as a member of the Jackson Five, was literally about finding a common thread with his audience. By the time Bad came out his energy shifted dramatically and the spectrum of emotions that he was able to display through his music broadened. This album has some of the greatest songs love songs ever recorded and the irony is I’ll fight anyone who disagrees (“I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, “The Way You Make Me Feel”), but it isn’t all about love; there’s a lot of pain and anger, and the overbearing sentiment of detachment. “Leave Me Alone” is Michael at his most transparent, the lyrics are relatable but very much specific to him – he talks about people leeching off of his fame and attempting to pillage his wealth. When combined with the imagery in the video of tabloid pages and wild rumours, it becomes clear that this is man who has gone beyond the point of trying to appease people or make them love him (don’t come lovin’ me).
The lines between the truth and the alleged became blurred. Onlookers didn’t know what was true about Michael and Michael didn’t know what was true about the world – the outcome was paranoia. This theme would become a consistent presence in his later music.
‘Dirty Diana’ is the pinnacle of storytelling. It’s a masterfully crafted dissection of the obsessive super-fan phenomena. I consider it to be the spiritual successor to ‘Billie Jean’. There’s a darkness to it and a sexual maturity that hadn’t been explored as intimately in any of his prior work. The days of bubblegum soft jingles were well and truly over.
The song ‘Liberian Girl’ isn’t considered to be one of his greatest hits, but I’ve always had a special affinity with it – it’s my favourite Michael Jackson song. Being from Sierra Leone, a small country in West Africa, I didn’t grow up hearing songs that spoke about the beauty of my people, hearing a song about a Liberia was the closest that I’d ever come. When the rest of the world was telling women that the European standard of beauty was the only acceptable one and that the features of Black women weren’t desirable, Michael was singing about one changing his life. Liberian Girl, was and still is about ALL of our women. It was #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackGirlsRock before we even had social media.
Liberian woman Margaret Carson said in an interview with The Washington Times “When that music came out … the Liberian girls were so astonished to hear a great musician like Michael Jackson thinking about a little country in Africa. It gave us hope, especially when things went bad … . It made us to feel that we are still part of the world.”
He never performed it live, it only exists on this album. This makes it all the more special because it has an air of rarity about it. It calls me back every time.
The video itself is a satirical and stunningly accurate representation of what it meant to be Michael Jackson on any given day. The likes of John Travolta, David Copperfield and Whoopie Goldberg, all reduced to giggling school girls at the prospect of meeting Michael. The whispers of “where’s Michael?” and “have you seen Michael” punctuate the video. It’s obviously all done for comedic effect and whilst it is funny on the surface, it exposes a deeper meta-narrative when you dig a bit deeper. Even in Hollywood, surrounded by a sea of stars, the boy from Gary, Indiana would never feel normal.
Bad is less cohesive than Off The Wall and Thriller, and that could be because of the bloated gestation process – Michael originally recorded 30 songs for this album and had the intention of releasing it as a triple album, but was later talked out of it by Quincy Jones. I personally don’t put it down to having an excessively large pool of songs to choose from, but instead to the idea that Michael was trying to make moments.
These moments became bigger than the album itself and have gone on have full lives of their own. It was a trade off and I’d say that he made the right choice.
I’ve heard stories that Michael was obsessed with outselling Thriller; He would scrawl “100 million” in marker on the mirrors in his dressing room, and even reached out to Prince, Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin for collaborations (none of which materialised). Bad never outsold Thriller, but it didn’t need to. Its place in history is cemented as the album where Michael found himself.
My Favourite Album By My Favourite Artist.
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