I was asked to give a quote or two regarding the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson's Bad album. If you know anything about me you'd know this is virtually impossible. I have years of good things to say about this album and so I decided instead to write a blog about the record, from which I'll let someone else try to snip out a few relevant sentences!
Bad is without doubt my favourite Michael Jackson album of all time. It evokes such strong and bittersweet associations for me. While on one hand it was an astounding musical hurricane of smash hit singles and dazzling visuals - it also occupied that awkward space of being the album that had to follow up the biggest selling album of all time; an expectation I don't think even Michael himself could ever escape. It's a shame because the album WAS a phenomenal success. It spawned five Billboard Number One singles (a world record) and went on to sell in excess of 35 million copies - it ranks as the 5th greatest seller of all time. Still, it seemed to this fan that at the time, Bad was unfairly judged simply for not being Thriller. The irony is, I'm so glad it wasn't.
I didn't own Thriller at the time. Shock! Horror! But it's true. It was a matter of economics - we couldn't afford it. By the time I saved up enough money to buy Thriller, the massive moonwalking Grammy Award winning world dominating wave of three years had finally passed. So I waited patiently for the 'next' album.
By the time Bad started gearing up to crack open the sky - I was the prime age to appreciate music. The year was 1987 and I was 15 years old. On 31 August that year there was a massive pre-release hype for the entire project and the premiere of the music video was no exception. It was a prime time television event - 'Michael Jackson: The Magic Returns' and featured the full 17 minute Martin Scorcese directed video for the single Bad: Michael's 'sequel' to Thriller - the most successful music video of all time. No pressure! Granted, we'd already been treated to the ballad I Just Can't Stop Loving You - but that was not really the big first single. It was like a teaser. Almost a way to take the pressure off. In the business we'd call that a 'soft release'. No, the real event was the first big pop song and the accompanying music video for Bad. So the pressure was there! I even applied some as a fan.
What would it sound like? What would he look like? Most importantly - would I love it as I adored Thriller?
The answer was a big massive YES! Musically - the title track Bad, was FUN. It was up and energetic and I did not see the funk or soul coming. I did not expect Michael to look the way he did. I loved his androgyny and his new slick black leather and buckles image. His hair. His makeup. He was a proper pop star. A hero.
I was also being bullied quite badly at high school during that time so you can imagine the impact Michael's video for Bad had. His character was taunted and what did he do? He only shot up into the air and dropped down as a super hero in black leather and buckles. Then he danced up a storm and sang like an angel spitting out rhetoric and confidence.
When I finally got the album, listening to it was a religious experience. I still remember the paper stock of the album cover, the smell of the ink - the incredible liner notes and of course that amazing Matthew Rolston inner sleeve photo spread with Michael in black sunglasses and turtleneck and through a distorted lens as he contorted for the camera.
The sounds - well they were surreal. The percussion and aggressive vocals of The Way You Make Me Feel' in sharp contrast to the honey sweet harmonies of the backing vocals. The insanity of 'Speed Demon' - the joy of Stevie Wonder duet Just Good Friends and of course that goose bump inducing global anthem Man in the Mirror. It has the violence of Dirty Diana and finally the jewel of Bad's crown: Smooth Criminal. Forget Billie Jean, keep Thriller. I wanted to see a music video for this adrenaline rush of a song! As a collected works - the songs were a million miles away form the brilliant Thriller. Where Thriller was sparse and conservative in its punches, Bad was a techincolour of sound. Brooding, angry or sexy. Nothing on there sounding like a repeat of where he'd been before.
The rest of the campaign unfolded with equal amounts of mystery shock and awe. Who could have seen 'sexy Michael' on the horizon? But there he was in the video for The Way You Make Me Feel converting even my rock-loving sister into a fan. This previously harmless elfin like child man was suddenly the confident lead in his own West Side Story musical - puffing his chest and chasing the pretty lady down the street. Every music video was an event. MTV had just come to Australian television (albeit a two hour show three times a week late at night!). But I sat there for every single video premiere at midnight - fumbling with the controls for the VCR to record them so I could watch them over and over again. Studying the dance moves and obsessing over the details. Then there was the tour. Long standing fans of mine would know about the transformative experience I had seeing Michael live for the first time. Brisbane Entertainment centre - November 25 and 28 1987. Famously and rather embarrassingly, the Australian press launched a pretty aggressive negative campaign about Michael back then, informing locals that he would be performing behind a plastic screen to avoid catching germs from Australians. Ridiculous. But it worked: ticket sales virtually halted. MJ was supposed to play in stadiums but due to the poor ticket sales in my home town he was downgraded to arenas. Instead of one night in a 40,000-seat stadium he played two nights at a 9,000 seater. It's unfathomable now to imagine the King of Pop couldn't sell a concert ticket - but in that moment in time, that was the reality in my home town.
The tour book was extraordinary. It featured photographs of Michael in a mysterious white pin striped suit with a white Fedora. Had I missed something? What video was this from? I had to wait a year to find out (see the end of this story!).
I've written numerous accounts of this night but suffice to say I ended up almost front row by complete accident (my cheap seat field tickets for the stadium randomly exchanged for floor seats right near the stage) and the performance changed my life: it made me know what I wanted to do for the rest of mine. It was a spectacular show, and I managed to buy tickets to the seconc show as well - where I saw both Stevie Wonder perform a duet with Michael but also the debut of choreographer and local Brisbane resident Wade Robson as he made his debut on stage at five years of age, dancing with Michael during the encore.
During the course of the promo period for Bad, I had all the 12 inch singles on vinyl. For the record, Man In The Mirror was my favourite artwork - this incredible black and white portrait of Michael with silver ink and black. The boots from Dirty Diana were also fawned over and I may have worn a pair just like them complete with a Triumph motorcycle buckle belt to my high school prom that year ;).
Bad filled up two years of my life at high school. It saw me go from bullied teen with no allies to lead in the school musicals full of confidence and a purpose in life. It gave me a hero to look up to. Someone strange, marching to the beat of his own drum and someone proud not to fit into the mould.
By the time Bad promo finished up - and the magic felt like it was about to drain out of my world, I saw an ad in a movie magazine that stopped me in my tracks. Moonwalker - starring Michael Jackson.
There he was in that white pin striped suit in a movie poster reminiscent of a George Lucas or Steven Spielberg film. What did it all mean? I had to wait until the movie was released. Luckily because I worked part time in a record store - I managed to score tickets to a press screening and I marked the date on my calendar. Soon enough the mystery of the white suit was revealed - it was the outfit Michael famously wore in the music video for Smooth Criminal and I embarrassingly and proudly wore a replica version of it to the screening myself. I felt a bit of a fool catching a bus in the middle of a humid Australian summer day - in full white suit complete with suspenders and blue socks! I was one of two people dressed up. The other, the now six year old Wade Robson. He was in a perfect replica of the white gangster suit complete with identical dance moves. I said hello to him after the screening. No one else realised who he was but I said to him 'Are you the little boy who danced with Michael Jackson at the concert?'.
He looked up with his big wide brown eyes and smiled knowingly, 'Yes'. He and his family would eventually be moved to the US with Michael's assistance, and under Michael's mentoring, Wayde would grow up to be a choreographer for Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears. But back then, in 1988 he was still a baby. I said goodbye to him, and to the Bad era and caught the bus home with my own white fedora in my hand. Wayde was off to Neverland and I was off on a journey that would put me on stage at that same arena in my home town just 10 years later.
It was the best bus ride of my life.
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