The story of how the landmark album, which just turned 25 and will soon be re-released in a three-disc set, was forged by the "Wacko Jacko" backlash against the pop star
At the height of his fame, Michael Jackson disappeared.
In 1984, he seemed to be everywhere: on MTV and in Pepsi commercials, at the Grammys and the White House, on Rolling Stone and Time magazine, and all across the United States on the Victory Tour. The next year, however, besides a brief appearance in "We Are the World," he was nowhere to be seen. "The year 1985," wrote Gerri Hirshey for Rolling Stone, "has been a black hole for Michael watchers, who witnessed the most spectacular disappearing act since Halley's comet headed for the far side of the solar system in 1910." It was a strategic move from a performer who understood the power of anticipation and mystique. 1986 was much the same. Jackson was said to be a recluse "in hiding" and made few public appearances.
In his absence came a flood of fantastical stories about shrines, hyperbaric chambers, and Elephant Man's bones. Most of these were harmless (and actually amused Jackson), but there was a darker side to the media backlash. Jackson had become the most powerful African American in the history of the entertainment industry. Not only had he built an empire through his own record-shattering albums, videos and performances, he had resurrected the fortunes of CBS/Epic Records, surged life into MTV, and set the bar for live entertainment. He also smartly retained full ownership of his master recordings and with the help of his attorney, John Branca, actively acquired publishing rights, including songs by Sly and the Family Stone, Ray Charles, and of course, the crown jewel of popular music: the ATV/Beatles catalog.