Michael Jackson Artistry Through The Decades


Michael Jackson explored a variety of music genres, including soul, rhythm and blues, funk, rock, disco, post-disco, dance-pop and new jack swing. He did not write his songs on paper and instead dictated into a sound recorder. When composing music, he preferred to beatbox and imitate instruments vocally rather than use instruments.

Michael sang from childhood, and over time his voice and vocal style changed. Between 1971 and 1975, Jackson's voice descended from boy soprano to high tenor. His vocal range as an adult was F2-E♭6. He did not use the hiccup technique (somewhat like a gulping for air or gasping) fully until the recording of Off the Wall. Michael's feathery-timbred tenor is slides smoothly into a startling falsetto that's used very daringly. 

Cultural critic Joseph Vogel notes that Michael had a "distinctive styles is his ability to convey emotion without the use of language: there are his trademark gulps, grunts, gasps, cries, exclamations; he also frequently scats or twists and contorts words until they are barely discernible."

Michael popularized a number of complicated dance techniques, such as the robot and the moonwalk. He also transformed the music video into an art form, a promotional tool through complex story lines, dance routines, special effects, and breaking down racial barriers.

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60s

In 1964, Michael and Marlon joined the Jackson Brothers—a band formed by their father and which included brothers Jackie, Tito, and Jermaine—as backup musicians playing congas and tambourine.

In 1965, Michael began sharing lead vocals with his older brother Jermaine, and the group's name was changed to the Jackson 5.


From 1966 to 1968 the band toured the Midwest, frequently performing at a string of black clubs known as the "chitlin' circuit" as the opening act for artists. The Jackson 5 also performed at clubs, cocktail lounges, local auditoriums, and high school dances. In August 1967, while touring the East coast, the group won a weekly amateur night concert at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.


The Jackson 5 recorded several songs, including "Big Boy" (1968), their first single, for Steeltown Records (a Gary, Indiana, record label), before signing with Motown in 1969 and relocated to the Los Angeles area, where they continued to record music for Motown.


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70s

The Jackson 5 set a chart record when its first four singles—"I Want You Back" (1969), "ABC" (1970), "The Love You Save" (1970), and "I'll Be There" (1970).


Michael evolved from child performer into a teen idol. As he began to emerge as a solo performer in the early 1970s, he maintained ties to the Jackson 5 and Motown. Between 1972 and 1975, Michael released four solo studio albums with Motown: Got to Be There (1972), Ben (1972), Music & Me (1973), and Forever, Michael (1975).

The Jackson 5's sales began to decline in 1973, and the band members chafed under Motown's refusal to allow them creative input. 
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In June 1975, the Jackson 5 signed with Epic Records and renamed themselves the Jacksons. Younger brother Randy formally joined the band around this time, while Jermaine chose to stay with Motown and pursue a solo career.


In August 1978, the Jacksons released a disco-jazz song, "Blame It on the Boogie". According to Michael, Bobby Colomby, who was producing the Jacksons' Destiny album, brought the group "Blame It on the Boogie":

"It was an uptempo, finger-poppin'-time type song that was a good vehicle for the band approach we wanted to cultivate. I had fun slurring the chorus: 'Blame It on the Boogie' could be sung in one breath without putting my lips together."

The Jacksons released six albums between 1976 and 1984. Michael, the group's lead songwriter during this time, wrote hits such as "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)" (1979), "This Place Hotel" (1980), and "Can You Feel It" (1980).

Michael's 1979 album, Off the Wall, established him as a solo performer. The album helped Michael transition from the bubblegum pop of his youth to the more complex sounds he would create as an adult. With the arrival of Off the Wall, Michael's abilities as a vocalist were well regarded. 


Songwriters for the album included Michael, Stevie Wonder, and Paul McCartney. Off the Wall was the first solo album to generate four top 10 hits in the United States: "Off the Wall", "She's Out of My Life", "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and "Rock with You".


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80s

In 1981, Michael and Paul McCartney collaborated for song "Say Say Say", which released on 3 October 1983. The track was produced by George Martin for McCartney's album, Pipes of Peace.

George Martin, Paul McCartney, and Michael Jackson

The majority of the song's lyrics were written by Michael. Recording began at AIR Studios in London in May 1981. At the time, McCartney was recording Tug of War. Michael stayed at McCartney's home during the recording sessions.


McCartney played several instruments on "Say Say Say", including percussion, synthesiser, guitar, and bass guitar. The harmonica was played by Chris Smith and the rhythm guitar was played by David Williams. The song was engineered by former Beatles sound engineer, Geoff Emerick.

There is an amazing vocal performance of how close McCartney voice was to Michael voice. In an interview for diymag.com in 2015, McCartney told James Dean Bradfield (Manic Street Preachers’ frontman):
"When we were writing it, we were in this [launches into Michael Jackson impression] “oooh, yeah,” thing, that’s kind of how he sings anyway. I was just going along with that, I didn’t want to suddenly go [adopts deep, operatic voice] “say, say, say” while he’s doing this little voice. So I like doing that little voice as well, and we were very similar."

Listen "Say Say Say" here
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Michael recorded with Freddie Mercury from 1981 to 1983, including a demo of "State of Shock", "Victory" and "There Must Be More to Life Than This". The recordings were intended for an album of duets but, according to Queen's then-manager Jim Beach, the relationship between the singers soured when Michael insisted on bringing a llama into the recording studio. The collaborations were not officially released until 2014.


Michael went on to record the single "State of Shock" with Mick Jagger for the Jacksons' album Victory (1984). Mercury included the solo version of "There Must Be More To Life Than This" on his Mr. Bad Guy album (1985).
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In 1982, Michael combined his interests in songwriting and film when he contributed the song "Someone in the Dark" to the storybook for the film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. 

More success came with the release of his sixth album, Thriller, in late 1982. The dance and rock tracks in Thriller are aggressive. With Thriller, Michael developed his association with the subliminal theme of paranoia and darker imagery. 


"Billie Jean" is about an obsessive fan who alleges he has fathered a child of hers. While "Beat It" decried gang violence in an homage to West Side Story. "Thriller", a song with supernatural theme, utilizes cinematic sound effects, horror film motifs, and vocal trickery to convey a sense of danger.

In addition to the album, Michael released "Thriller", a 14-minute music video directed by John Landis, in 1983
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On 25 March 1983, Michael reunited with his brothers for a live performance taped at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium for Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, an NBC television special. The show aired on 16 May 1983 and featured the Jacksons and other Motown stars.

The show is best remembered for Michael's solo performance of "Billie Jean". Wearing a distinctive black-sequined jacket and a golf glove decorated with rhinestones, he debuted his signature dance move, The Moonwalk
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Michael's 1987 album, Bad, produced five singles which reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100: "I Just Can't Stop Loving You", "Bad", "The Way You Make Me Feel", "Man in the Mirror", and "Dirty Diana".

In the 19-minute music video for "Bad"—directed by Martin Scorsese—Michael began using sexual imagery and choreography not previously seen in his work. He occasionally grabbed or touched his chest, torso and crotch. 

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90s

In 1991, Michael released his eighth album, Dangerous. In the United States, the album's first single "Black or White" was its biggest hit, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and remaining there for seven weeks. In the UK and other parts of Europe, "Heal the World" was the album's most successful song.

In final half of the 14-minute version of "Black or White" music video, it featured scenes construed as having a sexual nature as well as depictions of vandalism

In 1995, Michael released the double album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I. The first disc, HIStory Begins, is a 15-track greatest hits album (later reissued as Greatest Hits: HIStory, Volume I in 2001); the second disc, HIStory Continues, contains 13 original songs and 2 cover versions.

The first single released from the album was "Scream/Childhood". "Scream", a duet with Michael's youngest sister Janet, protests the media, particularly for its treatment of him during the 1993 child abuse allegations.

"You Are Not Alone" was the second single released from HIStory. "Earth Song" was the third single released from HIStory, and topped the UK Singles Chart for six weeks over Christmas 1995.

The track "They Don't Care About Us" became controversial when the Anti-Defamation League and other groups criticized its allegedly antisemitic lyrics. Michael quickly released a revised version of the song without the offending lyrics.

In 1997, Michael released Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix, which contained remixes of hit singles from HIStory and five new songs.

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2000s

Michael's tenth solo album, Invincible, released in October 2001. Invincible was Michael's first full-length album in six years, and was the last album of original material he released in his lifetime. Invincible spawned three singles, "You Rock My World", "Cry", and "Butterflies".

However, sales for Invincible were lower than Michael's previous releases, due in part to the record label dispute, the lack of promotion or tour, and its release at a bad time for the music industry in general.

In November 2003, Sony released Number Ones, a compilation of Jackson's hits on CD and DVD. Throughout 2006, Sony repackaged 20 singles from the 1980s and 1990s as the Michael Jackson: Visionary series, which subsequently became a box set. Most of those singles returned to the charts as a result. 

In 2008, Michael and Sony released Thriller 25 to mark the 25th anniversary of the original Thriller. This album featured the previously unreleased song "For All Time", an outtake from the original sessions, as well as remixes, where Michael collaborated with younger artists who had been inspired by his work.

Two of the remixes were released as singles with modest success: "The Girl Is Mine 2008" (with will.i.am) and "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' 2008" (with Akon). The first single was based on an early demo version, without Paul McCartney. The album was a commercial success. In anticipation of Michael's 50th birthday, Sony BMG released a series of greatest hits albums, King of Pop.

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This Is It

In March 2009, Michael held a press conference at London's O2 Arena to announce a series of comeback concerts titled This Is It. The shows would be Michael's first major series of concerts since the HIStory World Tour finished in 1997.

Michael suggested possible retirement after the shows, saying it would be his "final curtain call". The initial plan was for 10 concerts in London, followed by shows in Paris, New York City and Mumbai. The concerts would have commenced on 13 July 2009, and finished on 6 March 2010.

Michael rehearsed in Los Angeles in the weeks leading up to the tour under the direction of choreographer Kenny Ortega. Most of these rehearsals took place at the Staples Center, owned by AEG.

Less than three weeks before the first show was due to begin in London, with all concerts sold out, Michael died after suffering cardiac arrest.

On 28 October 2009, a documentary film about the rehearsals, Michael Jackson's This Is It, was released.


The film was accompanied by a compilation album of the same name. Two versions of "This Is It" appear on the album, which also featured original masters of Michael's hits in the order in which they appear in the film, along with a bonus disc with previously unreleased versions of more Michael hits and a spoken-word poem, "Planet Earth".