This Week's Pick: "Beat It" by Michael Jackson (Year: 1982/1983)
"King of Pop" Michael Jackson died this Thursday, just two months before his fifty-first birthday, leaving the entire world in shock. There's no denying that Jackson became a bit of a polarizing figure during the last 10 to 15 years of his life — his reputation as "Wacko Jacko" overshadowed his musical accomplishments, while a combination of disturbing behavior and criminal allegations turned many against him. Even now in death, half the world seems to be mourning him while the other half is denouncing him.
However, it's a complicated situation. For all his fame and wealth, Jackson — who got his start as a child performer in the Jackson 5 — never had a very happy or normal life. And even though I was never actually a diehard Jackson fan myself, even I can't bring myself to judge the man. But I can, like many, remember him for his music and for his impact on popular culture. Because love him or hate him, Michael Jackson was a big deal whose music reached out to many generations throughout the globe.
My mother — who grew up in India, only a few years younger than Jackson himself — remembers hearing his hits with the Jackson 5. And I, an eighties baby who spent part of her childhood in the Middle East before coming here to the states, can still remember what a huge deal it was when a new Michael Jackson video or album was about to drop. I was vacationing in France when the news of Jackson's death hit, and I currently have a copy of a French-language paper that has "Le Mort de Michael Jackson" as its top story. It is clear that once upon a time, Michael Jackson meant something to everyone — and that's why so many of us care about his death.
So to honor Jackson's music, and to remember some of his more positive accomplishments, I am dedicating this week's Retrovideo post to him by focusing on one of his biggest hits, "Beat It." Featured on his classic 1982 album Thriller, "Beat It" — which is also notable for its Eddie Van Halen guitar solo — was released as a single in 1983. Its music video received a variety of accolades and was eventually inducted into the Music Video Producer's Hall of Fame.
The video was classic Michael Jackson with massive amounts of choreography and a plot drawn from West Side Story. Eighty gang members (and a few professional dancers) took part in the video, which wound up costing $150,000. While it didn't feature the special effects seen in later MJ vids, and while it isn't the epic "Thriller," the "Beat It" video definitely serves as an example of why Jackson's songs and videos excited so many people around the world. This is the musical legacy that Jackson has left behind.
Watch the video for "Beat It" here.