By Hillel Italie
The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — In the brief, electric prime of Michael Jackson, millions danced to “Billie Jean,” “Beat It” and other songs so propulsive it almost didn’t matter what they actually said.
But the lyrics — whether Jackson’s or others’ — could be as disturbing as the music was liberating. Sealed in the grooves were tales of deceit, paranoia, violence and victimization. Even before his life broke apart and the tabloids bore down, Jackson sang like a boy-man under attack.
“You try to scream but terror takes the sound before you make it,” he warns on “Thriller,” the title track to his all-time selling album and written by Rod Temperton. “You start to freeze as horror looks you right between the eyes/You’re paralyzed.”
Jackson was almost 21 when his first “adult” record, “Off the Wall,” came out in 1979. He had survived the childhood beatings and insults by his father and had already lived at least one life in show business, as the smiling, spinning prodigy fronting his brothers in the Jackson Five.
“Off the Wall” sold millions and shed the catchy, but impersonal persona of his child star youth. The title track, written by Temperton, was a lighthearted introduction to what would become Jackson’s truest subjects: his strange life and the stolen innocence he wanted back. “The world is on your shoulder,” the song advises, but “life ain’t so bad it all/If you live it off the wall.”
He would soon fire his father as his manager and vow that his next record, “Thriller,” would make him the biggest star in the business — a promise met like few others. “Thriller” sold more than 20 million copies initially and sales now top 50 million. It earned him the title he bestowed on himself, “The King of Pop,” and offered the first full take from the throne.
By Hillel Italie
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