Many wouldn’t think of the self-proclaimed “King of Pop” as anything more than a vestigial pop sideshow act in his latter days, but the truth of the matter is he represented a subtle, if only sought-after, form of rock and roll which is unparalleled in the modern catalog.
His unique blend of vivacious basslines and falsetto vocal wranglings represent a reach into a rarely achieved realm of “ultimate rock” – one which transcends particular tastes and styling in the genre.
Take the guitar riff for “Beat It”, or the melody line for the pop classic “Smooth Criminal”. Here we are entranced by lines which Eddie Van Halen would have died to write; and Alien Ant Farm coveted so much that they decided to reinvent the rock and roll cover itself entirely to enter into the rare airs of the ethereal abode of Jackson’s established pop supremacy.
Look at MJ himself. Garbed in fedora and zoot suit, creating the smoothest and most genteel of choreographic dance steps in the cladding of an outdated but untouchable level of “cool”.
“Billie Jean”, with a few more distorted guitar power chord accompaniments could easily rival any of Bryan Adams’s more intimacy-heavy grit-rock ballads, if only a given singer had a penchant for unbeatable bass riffs and snazzy vocal hooks. In short, Michael Jackson not only invented the modern (and ultimate) pop star precedent, he reinvented the category of rock star itself, taking it to new realms of genre-bending transformation and pop-fantasy realization.
He never failed to continue producing timeless melodies and undying hooks, however his general personal and off-the-wall “machismo” may have interfered with public interest in the last decade of his career.
His death, however, is proof of his immortal and boundary-breaking soul and legacy of public-indebting grandeur. We need only reminisce on some of the Jackson Five’s greater compositions to realize that the ultimate musical limelight prodigy realized every arc of a supremely auspicious career – with all the ups, downs, and ultimate glory it could encompass.