Jason King

“Michael Jackson: An Appreciation of His Talent”

Initially self-published at passthecurve.com; republished in Best Music Writing 2010 anthology, guest editor Ann Powers. Da Capo Press. | June 27th, 2009 | Published online here.


I initially wrote this essay as a blog post in June 2009, a few days after Michael Jackson tragically passed away. I casually sent it by email to a small cadre of friends, and it went "viral" pretty quickly. The essay was highlighted in Rolling Stone's posthumous magazine tribute issue on Michael Jackson, and the essay was selected for the Da Capo Press Best Music Writing 2010 compilation, guest edited by Ann Powers of NPR Music. It was a reminder to me that longform journalism still has a place in the world.

"Anyone who has reason to doubt Michael Jackson’s cultural importance in the wake of his untimely death from cardiac arrest on June 25th, take note: entertainment website TMZ.com reported that so many people around the world logged online Friday afternoon to get updates about the pop superstar’s status that the Internet itself nearly buckled.

Indiana-born Jackson had his first #1 hit in 1969 at eleven years old. No young singer ever sang, or has ever sung to this day, the way Michael Jackson sang on record. It is not an exaggeration to say that he was the most advanced popular singer of his age in the history of recorded music. His untrained tenor was uncanny. By all rights, he shouldn’t have had as much vocal authority as he did at such a young age. Had Jackson sounded mature by simply being gruff or husky, he would have remained a precocious novelty. But his tones were full-bodied clarion calls; his pitch was immaculate, and his phrasing impeccable. He had a fluid lyricism and plenty of range, and he could find emotional nuance in challenging pop-soul material. Listen, for instance, to the way he skillfully maneuvers those tricky, Bacharach-esque harmonics on 1971’s “Got to Be There."