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Perhaps the most salient sign of Michael Jackson's musical legacy is simply this: the day he died, his music was everywhere. Pumping out of car radios, blasting across local bars, wafting through open windows. You know these songs: "Thriller," "P.Y.T.," "Billie Jean," "Smooth Criminal," "Off the Wall," "Rock With You," "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," and so many more smashing, fantastic singles and songs. Hordes of fans will get their last chance to see Jackson this week in the posthumous documentary This Is It, directed by longtime Jackson compadre (and High School Musical helmer) Kenny Ortega.
To celebrate this star's musical legacy, we reached out to the Tribeca community to reminisce about Jackson's greatest hits.
Four of us road tripped from Fredericksburg, Virginia (Mary Washington College) to see Jackson and his brothers in DC at RFK Stadium for what we didn't know then was The Jacksons’ final tour. It was September 1984 and a perfect night to drive to the city. With no map and no good sense of direction, it was a miracle we made it. We wore our matching silver loafers, which I continued to wear for a few years post-concert. I remember one thing, mainly—THE SCREAMING!! It was really crazy. We were 20 years old, but we screamed like 8-year-olds covered in spiders. I couldn't believe how much I screamed, but the energy and magic of his presence just took over. It really was the best concert in our lives, in terms of sheer excitement and, of course, the music, which is now timeless.
I do remember with the "Thriller" video itself, not only sitting around with my buddies to catch the premiere (and all the talk that ensued in the following days), but reserving a copy prior to release at the local video store. On laser disc, no less, a disc that was the size of a tire and weighed as much as well. I watched that thing about 200 hours straight, learning the moves. I was sooooooo smooth back then. I did get the moonwalk down pretty well, though!
I remember rooming at Weber's boarding house in Lake Placid, NY. My room was downstairs under the TV room. Every hour—when MTV would play the John Landis "Thriller" video—you would hear a stampede of people rushing to watch it.
I remember being fascinated by the lyrics of "Billie Jean." Here was MJ, singing about how someone was NOT his lover. Was this a reaction to something that happened in real life? And was someone accusing him of being some kid's father? If not, how did he come up with the idea for the song? Who was Billie Jean? Perhaps I needed to get a life, but this provided hours of speculation. There was also a guy named John Johnston (!) at church camp in North Carolina who sang "PYT" to me constantly, which made me swoon.
When I was around seven or eight my friends and I would rent the Thriller video and play it constantly whilst pretending to be zombies in my living room. When Moonwalker was released, I watched it every single lunch time for about two months! I clearly remember the world premiere of "Black or White" and "Remember the Time" as my family congregated in the sitting room to watch the spectacle. I also recall watching Michael sing Gone too Soon at Bill Clinton’s inauguration and the TV broadcast of the Dangerous concert. I can’t imagine a childhood without Michael Jackson, he took entertainment to a whole new level and made me feel I could achieve anything! I still have the glove and the Billie Jean jacket and my precious autograph. My most treasured memories are of watching him perform live. What a unique talent and what an immense loss. I miss him so much.
—Kelly Anne B.
I remember waiting with my middle school friends for the premiere of the "Thriller" video on MTV. When it finally aired, we thought it was the greatest thing we had ever seen. I also remember the day my father came home from work (at Pepsi) with tickets to the Victory tour! Seeing that helicopter land at the NJ Meadowlands on a hot summer evening was an incredible way to start the concert. I was blown away by the fireworks at the end of the show—I had never before seen such a spectacle!
1972: I had to have his first solo album—made my Mom's life miserable until she bought it for me. It was my first LP. Played “Got To Be There” a million times.
1972 or 1973: Giggling with my friend Lisa Adams in the back seat of my Mom's Ford LTD when the new MJ single, "I Wanna Be Where You Are,” came on the radio. Told my Mom that I was going to marry Michael Jackson.
Fall 1983: In the dorm TV lounge at Mount Holyoke with 15-20 other girls who all were screaming when MJ threw his hat across the stage during “Billie Jean” on the Motown 25 special. I'll never forget it—we were screaming like those old clips you see of girls during the Beatles shows. I don't know what I had for lunch two days ago, but I still remember that moment.
Summer, 1984: My high school friends and I slept outside overnight in Knoxville, TN, for tickets to the Victory tour. Beer & Krystal burgers at 11:00 pm and Krispy Kreme doughnuts at 5:00 am. (If I tried that now, I'd be in the emergency room.) The concert was amazing—it was the year after Thriller, so all of those hits, plus the old Jackson 5 tunes. I didn't sit down during the entire concert.
Fantastic memories from back in the day...