Here we are! The date of May 11, 2014 has finally arrived after a long wait. Why is this date so important to me? It’s the date I chose to feature Michael Jackson and to discuss his posthumous album release Xscape May 13, 2014. Sure I knew about the planning for the album a few months ago. Some may ask why not discuss it at that point? True, at that point many other media outlets announced the albums future release, but I wanted to discuss other aspects of the album. At this date, right before the release of the entire album, there is plenty of Michael Jackson buzz as we are hearing songs on the radio and remembering the King of Pop. Just about every time I turn on the television, listen to the radio or surf the internet, I see or hear something about Michael Jackson. No question Jackson was one of the greatest entertainers of all time. He produced music that sold like no other popular recordings, and continues to sell worldwide. Similar to so many artists who have died suddenly, there remains a great deal of Jackson’s music that was never released to the public. Understandably there would be large demand for what we would consider new music. However, in the case of Michael Jackson’s music, the decision was made not only to release the music, but to modernize it. Should the music have been updated by some of the best music producers of our day? Before trying to answer that question let’s take a look at the collective works of Michael Jackson and why he continues to receive honors.
In my opinion, one important factor that sets Michael Jackson apart from so many other performers is not only the length of his career, but that we have witnessed his life played out on stage. Young Jackson started performing with his brothers at the age of six. Before he reached his teenage years Michael Jackson and his brothers were stars. From this time down until his death I don’t remember him taking any lengthy break from performing and/or recording.
Of course, some albums and singles were more popular than others, but along the way there were some truly historic songs and performances. The most outstanding was the Thriller album released in 1983. It became the best-selling album of all time in the United States and the best-selling album of all time worldwide, selling an estimated 65 million copies. As I listen to Thriller today it seems more like a greatest hits album because of all the successful singles included. A defining point in Jackson’s career took place on March 25, 1983, when Michael reunited with his brothers for a legendary live performance, which was taped at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, for Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, an NBC television special. The show aired on May 16, 1983, to an estimated audience of 47 million viewers, and featured the Jacksons and other Motown stars. According to Rolling Stones reporter Mikal Gilmore, “There are times when you know you are hearing or seeing something extraordinary…that came that night.” Berry Gordy said of the performance, “from the first beat of Billie Jean, I was mesmerized, and when he did his iconic moonwalk, I was shocked, it was magic, Michael Jackson went into orbit, and never came down.”
Michael Jackson’s humanitarian efforts were also on another level. Do you remember “We Are the World?” Released worldwide in March 1985 to aid the poor in the United States and Africa, the song earned $63 million for famine relief, and became one of the best-selling singles of all time, with nearly 20 million copies sold. “We Are the World” won four Grammys for 1985, including Song of the Year going to Jackson and Richie as its co-songwriters.
In March 2009, Jackson held a press conference at London’s O2 Arena and announced a series of comeback concerts titled This Is It. The shows would be Jackson’s first major series of concerts since the HIStory World Tour finished in 1997. Jackson suggested possible retirement after the shows; he said 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. After Jackson’s death, a documentary film about the concert rehearsals titled Michael Jackson’s This Is It was released on October 28, 2009. Even though it ran for a limited two-week engagement, it became the highest grossing documentary or concert movie of all time, with earnings of more than $260 million worldwide. After I viewed the documentary, it provided insight into Michael Jackson the musician which highlighted his work ethic and control over his performances. It showed Jackson to be a wonderful person with whom to work.
Michael Jackson is gone but certainly not forgotten. Can you believe he has been dead for almost five years? On March 31, 2014, Epic Records announced that an album of eight songs of unreleased material culled from past recording sessions would be issued under the title, Xscape. Its release is scheduled for May 13, 2014.
As stated in BBC News, “The track listing was chosen by Epic Records chairman LA Reid, who trawled through four decades of Jackson’s demos and off-cuts. The tracks were then updated by the likes of Timbaland, who works with Justin Timberlake, and Stargate, who have produced Rihanna and Beyonce. Reid called the process of reworking the songs ‘contemporizing‘”. “Michael left behind some musical performances that we take great pride in presenting through the vision of music producers that he either worked directly with or expressed strong desire to work with,” said Reid. “We are extremely proud and honored to present this music to the world.” John Branca and John McClain, co-executors of Jackson’s estate said: “Michael was always on the cutting edge and was constantly reaching out to new producers, looking for new sounds. “He was always relevant and current. These tracks, in many ways, capture that spirit. We thank LA Reid for his vision.”
There are others who are either critical or question the judgment of the project. Some ask, “if the songs should have been released without ‘contemporizing‘ the tracks?” The Guardian called the album “lumpy” and “schlocky”. Rolling Stone magazine noted: “He (Jackson) would not have released anything like this compilation”. All interesting opinions indeed, nevertheless, we’ll soon have the album released to Michael Jackson fans worldwide. All of us can then listen and judge for ourselves if the project was a good idea.