The death of Michael Jackson demands unexpectedly that we look back on his work as a retrospective. For me, his best work was 'Off the Wall' (1979). He was young enough to be hip and energetic - not yet idiosyncratic or distracted by his personal issues. But also old enough and experienced enough in the business to be authoritative and to produce a record that moved things forward while remaining solidly within the soul/RnB/pop tradition. There were no bad songs on that album.

I come back to one of my key thoughts about the pop music process, which is that it is always a team effort. 'Off the Wall' and 'Thriller' were great because of that perfect combination of producer (Quincy Jones) and performer - that writing, those vocals, that band, those grooves. Unlike, say, Madonna with William Orbit, Jackson's problem was never finding another producer that could replicate that sounds and provide him with the musical and technical support and innovation he needed. For me, so much of his later work was rewriting the same material, using the technology and the lyrics of the moment. He found his voice but never moved on from it. Like all good pop music, i can go back to that album again and again and it always makes me smile - is there such a thing as spiritual pop music, as this comes close?

I am saddened mainly because Jackson was such a great performer himself. I was willing him to move on, convinced he could somehow grow further into a different singer in his 50s, and produce a great autumn flowering. There was potential for such self-knowledge and he had been through such a lot, that a set of late songs would have been so exciting, as for example, as Joni Mitchell and most recently Mariann Faithful has done.

OK, so I accept that I am biased. There is something about the music we listened to when we were fifteen that has a special resonance for us. Let me know if I'm wrong ....

Charles BealeComment