First, in reference to yesterday's story, Pops sends along this correction:

enjoyed the michael jackson piece. only thing is i remember your mom as loving that album. shortly after it came out we drove to atlanta. we wore that tape out. and knew most of the lyrics by the time we got there. i haven't spoke to her but that's my clear memory.


Heh, I remember that trip. We drove from Baltimore to Atlanta, for some book conference. When you're young, your sense of time is all screwy. I remember feeling like the trip was taking forever. I don't remember Thriller, so much as Joan Armatrading. But I trust Dad's memory more than my memory on that one.

Anyway, I wanted to pick up on a debate that we started in on yesterday, and that being where Michael Jackson stands in terms of the old schoolers like Jackie Wilson, Aretha, Etta, Big O, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye etc.

Now, I realize that all these cats had different styles, and were working in different subgenres. Peter Guralnick would say Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, were more classic soul. He would throw James Brown in there too. But others would see James Brown as the beginning of Funk. I don't want to get bogged down in that debate, because I don't think there's a real answer, nor do I think it much matters. I'm more interested in the celestial place that these singers occupy, and whether there's any sense that Mike belongs up there with them.

Thriller came out at an interesting time. Bands were really losing out, as folks figured out they could do replace a horn section with a keyboard. There's this sense now that anything that came out of the disco era, and the post-disco era is essentially awful. As a kid, I had some of that. We nominally hated R&B and thought of hip-hop as the harder, "truer" form. Later we came to see hip-hop as the child of funk and soul, and 80s R&B as a corrupted, corporate, step-child.This is obviously simplistic, and not only do I not subscribe to it now. (Marvin's "Give It Up" is classic.) I don't know how much I subscribed to it then. (Dig the Lisa-Lisa clip below.) But the question is where does Mike fit into all of that? It's easy to dismissĀ  him, just on the basis of his success, and the qualitative decline of his later work. That second part is true of almost any musician, though.

From my perspective, Mike has earned an honored place in the black music canon. Quincey Jones obviously deserves credit, but citing him to discredit Mike is like citing Steve Cropper (or Issac Hayes) to discredit Otis Redding. It's wierd to think of Mike in that tradition, given his mega-success. But I don't know how you cut him out.

Then again, maybe I'm not the best person to ask. I love Smooth Criminal, after all. I remember coming to school and fools being like, "Yo, did you see Mike hit that lean!" My whole childhood revolves around Mike's--Jackson, Tyson, Jordan...

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