Michael Jackson was truly the founding father of my love for taste in music “with a beat.” I always have been—and always will be—a lyrics junkie. I love to know “what a song is about,” primarily because I love a good story. Most songs lack much of a plot or storyline (“she broke my heart and I’ll never love again,” or “he’s a cheater, watch out for playas”), but I also appreciate a good political commentary and admire creative plays on words (e.g. Eminem). This is where MJ came into play. He was the first artist for which the lyrics—although I did listen to them—simply didn’t matter. The beat and effect of the music was so infectious, I had no desire to criticize it for “having no original message.”
My father was the one who introduce me to MJ. I’m not entirely sure why that was the artist who “stuck”—he also loved The Beatles, Aztec Two Step, and Spiro Gyra—but he recorded me a copy of my first MJ cassette tape, “Off the Wall,” when I was eight years old. I listened to it so much, I received “Dangerous” for Christmas that year.
”Dangerous” was the true start of my obsession with MJ. Two of the neighbor girls, E___ and K___, would come over nearly every day to play with my sister and me. I would force them to listen to “Black and White” over and over again while we set up board games and fought over what to play next. I owned an extensive Barbie collection, so we played with that a lot, and after I received that album, the Barbies began having a lot of music-related events built into their storylines (we played with Barbies like we were writing a soap opera)—there were clubbing excursions, ice skating competitions, gymnastics competitions (in which every event, not just the floor routine, was set to music), and anything else I could imagine that would incorporate “Jam,” or “Why You Wanna Trip On Me.”
Soon after receiving “Dangerous,” my parents presented me with “History: Parts I and II,” also as cassette tapes. This ruined my official MJ fan-ness, because from this point onward, I would never know which songs belonged to which album. (They were all mixed together on “History,” so I had no way of knowing that “The Way You Make Me Feel” belonged to “Bad,” while both “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” belonged to “Thriller.” Luckily, the songs “Thriller” and “Bad” themselves were pretty obvious.”) However, it expanded my repertoire and, consequently, love for the artist tenfold. Is there any song that makes you want to get on a motorcycle and feel that rumble beneath your body and wind whip through your hair more than “Bad?” Is there a more foot-stomping, head-tossing song than “Beat It?” Does anything make you want to skip freely, swinging your arms to the world, more than “The Way You Make Me Feel?”
If I ever have children, I will probably try to play MJ for them. And as I did with most of my father’s music, they will probably nod politely and then turn up their noses and walk to the other room. But I have to try. Because this man shaped my love of pop into what it is today, and his music deserves to live on in the hearts and ears of future generations.