He’s the third highest-selling artist of all-time. He is the creator of the best-selling album ever. He is probably the most widely known name in music history. You don’t get much bigger than Michael Jackson. And while most will refer to his 1982 effort Thriller as his best work (his magnum opus, if you will), it was actually the follow-up to that incredible album that for many established Jackson as the King of Pop.
Bad was released in August 1987, almost five years after the unfollowable Thriller, which garnered Jackson a record five Grammy Awards and has since sold over 100 million copies. For Jackson, conquering the world of music, breaking records and achieving seven consecutive Billboard Hot 100 top-tens was not enough: Bad had to somehow do more. This is why it is often overshadowed by Thriller: because it came out after Thriller. In the eyes of the public, there was nowhere MJ could go after releasing the best album ever; although the artist himself thought differently, and was determined to create something even more amazing and successful. And while Bad will never and can never replace Thriller as his ‘best work’, in many ways it is actually… better.
Thriller is an absolutely outstanding album; you just can’t argue with mammoth hits like ‘Beat It’, ‘Billie Jean’ and the Rod Temperton-penned title track – it’s almost impossible to believe they were all featured on the same album. And with surrounding tracks like ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin” and ‘Human Nature’, it is clearly an incredible piece of work. But for something to be called ‘the best’, it must be perfect. Now, I’m not sure this is a thought shared by everyone, but I think there are a large number of MJ songs released both previously and since that are better than ‘Baby Be Mine’ and ‘The Lady in My Life’. On Bad, however, every track is otherworldly. Pretty much every song from the album was released as a single, and it spawned an unfathomable five number-ones.
What is so incredible about the album is that every element which made Michael Jackson so great is present: you have the ballads (‘Man in the Mirror’, ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’. ‘Liberian Girl’), the aggressive rock songs (‘Dirty Diana’, ‘Speed Demon’), the legendary R&B influences (‘The Way You Make Me Feel’, ‘Smooth Criminal’), and the just plain awesome (‘Another Part of Me’, ‘Bad’, ‘Just Good Friends’). It’s a perfectly weighted album and shows off everything for which Jackson should be remembered – making outstanding music. And when Bad was released on CD, and as later reissues, it featured another equally incredible song: ‘Leave Me Alone’ was a straight-out, heavy-hitting cry for help, in a world where the media can completely change a person’s image, even when that person is the most successful musician in the world. An inspired inclusion, a brilliant track, and an interesting music video.
I could go through every track and explain why I love each one of them so much, but I feel that would be unnecessary; everyone has heard this album, and everyone knows just how brilliant it is. I would implore everyone to revisit Bad and try to understand why it is better than Thriller, with a clear mind and an objective view (forgetting that this followed the best-selling album ever). Michael Jackson was the best pop artist of all-time, and he reached his peak (in terms of singing, production and songwriting) on this 1987 album. Thank you, Michael.