Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rock of Ages: Michael Jackson - "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin" (1983)

There is no doubt that Michael Jackson is one of the greatest performers in pop music history. Along with Elvis and The Beatles, MJ helped pave the way for black R&B artists unlike anyone else and created an empire of devoted fans and in the meantime wrote some of the best pop music of the 80's and 90's. Thriller is considered the greatest album of all time selling 28 times Platinum, which is kind of ridiculous. But nothing could stop the Michael Jackson phenomenon from skyrocketing to the top. Picking a song from Thriller is tough. With gems like "Billie Jean" and "Beat It", it's hard to narrow it down. Since I've first heard Thriller ages ago, soemthing about the lead off track "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin" always affected me. The first track on any album is important to the structural integrity of the rest of the album. Much like his funk/R&B predocessor in James Brown, this track has a static rhthym and beat that carries it throughout. Constantly changing and shifting with layers of horns, synth beats, backing vocals and guitar riffs that just come in and out to accompany Jackson's fast paced groovy lyrics. It's a song that is immediately captivating and builds to an amazing ending filled with the classic "Ma Ma Se Ma Ma Sa, Ma Ma Coo Sa" repeated. It's a sing a long funk jam with a discoey back beat.

With Michael Jackson's recent passing, we are luckily left with a legacy of fantastic songs. Even if the latter years of MJ were dotted with scandal, health problems, conspiracy and everything else, there is no doubt that his music will never die and never get old. He's timeless even if he's moved on from this mortal coil. Proof positive of "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" being a kick ass catchy tune is the use of the final repeated gibberish phrase in Rihanna's "Please Don't Stop the Music." The infectiousness lives on. Thriller is still selling millions upon millions of records and captivating audiences young and old, rehashing memories of fans who may have moved on and reigniting MJ's large fanbase once again. "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" is blaring out of your local bar or club right now and I can't imagine you aren't dancing to it.

Up Next: U2's 1983 Opening Track

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