In the wake of the recent tragic death of the legendary Michael Jackson, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking of how to pay tribute to him. I’ve been thinking of how impactful “The King” was in my life and to the music world, as a whole. I’ve been thinking about what exactly it takes to launch an artist into an icon- the lofty status known as the “greatest of all time” ( because, though I am an artist myself, I’ve simply never thought about it). I can’t think of another career path that I could have chosen that would have been more fulfilling to me personally, but I simply want to spend my days creating music that makes people feel good. I want to make music that is appreciated and that society can use as an example or standard for what really “good” music is all about- oh yeah, and look really good while doing it (in my cousins voice). That’s all. It wasn’t enough that he came into this world a prodigy, (which already left him head and shoulders above his peers) but he wanted to take that to the next level… and then that to the next level, and then that to the next level and so on, and so on.
I remember as a young kid going to my very first concert. It was at the Fair Grounds Arena in Oklahoma City. I went to see none other than the Jackson 5. It was evident, although he couldn’t have been much older than 12, that he was of a rare breed. Writers of “Pop” music history as well as “Pop Culture” in general always say that it was “Off the Wall” that put Mike into the status of “Greatness”. BIAAATCH!! did YOU listen to “Never Can Say Goodbye”? What they mean to say is that this marked the moment that “white” people openly admitted that “Okay, okay, this guy is kinda good”. FUCK THAT SHIT!!! We didn’t then and still don’t need white folks to determine for us that we’re GREAT!! Those of us that came up on “I Want You Back”, “Ben”, “The Love You Save”, etc., etc., should be offended, extremely. Michael Jackson was as much a part of our growing up as proteins and carbohydrates. How dare MTV drag they’re feet and then grudgingly air Michael’s videos (or videos from black artist period). But they had to. Why? Because he was “Bad”!
Michael Jackson was “Bad” and worthy of the title “The Greatest Artist of All Time” simply because when he performed you just couldn’t take your eyes off him. The guy was mesmerizing. I remember playing Jackson 5 45’s (singles) on our family record player in our den and imagining that the whole group was in the room with me, only I was Mike. He was a huge influence on me. He was “Bad” because of the sincerity that was present in his voice that made you listen to what he was saying. Michael Jackson was “Bad” because of how he impacted people of all ages, races, cultures all over the world. He was probably the most recognized figure in the world, second only to Jesus Christ. You never saw Mike wear a jacket that you had in your own closet, which only added to the “you cain’t touch this” factor. Michael Jackson was “Bad” because although his unique style was a blend of artist that he was inspired by and had studied, there was not one single artist to come along after him that didn’t have an inkling of Michael Jackson in them.
On the evening of June 25th a little after 5 :00 e.s.t. I was walking west on 125th in Harlem with my daughter, while we were standing at the intersection of Adam Clayton Powell, my daughter overheard a cell phone conversation that got her attention, “what did you say?”, she asked. The news of his (at that time, possible) death had begun to circulate and over the next two blocks , we would hear his music blarring out of the store fronts, as well as, several more cell phone conversations and then we reached the Apollo Theater. While standing there and taking a brief photo op, we would hear a nearby street vendor whose radio was tuned to Michael Baisden’s show officially confirm for us that the Legend might no longer be with us. Within minutes everyone of the thousands of people that we passed in the blocks between Lenox Ave. and the Apollo Theater in Harlem was preoccupied and affected by the possible loss of Michael Jackson. It was surreal.
In the days immediately following his death, we spent our days rehearsing at Center Stage rehearsal studios in Burbank, as we prepared for the European run of music festivals that we just finished. There where, also, several other bands on the lot. Some were preparing for tours, others for the B.E.T. Awards. There were artist like Lionel Ritchie, Lil Wayne, as well as, others and I can’t help but remember the one thing that was typical of every band there; the beginning of their rehearsal was marked by a medley of Michael Jackson songs. And each time you’d hear this blasting from one of the rehearasal sites, a chill would come over the entire lot. Michael Jackson affected us all. He was “Bad!” He was simply, “The Greatest Artist of All Time!”
The thought of paying homage to this great artist provoked me to put together a list of my top 5 artist of all time.
1. MICHAEL JACKSON
2. BOB MARLEY Born Nesta Robert Marley, Marley’s posthumous release “Legend”, a compilation album that was released in 1984, three years after his death has been the most successful selling raggae album, 10 times platinum in the U.S. and selling over 20 million copies worldwide. Marley is known for having popularized Jamaican Music and spreading the Rastafarian movement.
3. RAY CHARLES The winner of 17 Grammy Awards, Ray Charles Robinson recorded albums in several genres from blues to country and pop. Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes called his rendition of “America The Beautiful” the definitive version of the song, an American anthem – a classic, just as the man who sang it.” Frank Sinatra called him “the only true genius in the business”. It was noted that as his own business man Charles was able to negotiate a record deal with terms that “even Sinatra didn’t have.” His 1962 classic ballas “You Don’t Know Me” is my personal favorite.
4. STEVIE WONDER Born Steveland Hardaway Judkins, May 13, 1950, signed with Motown at age 11 and continues to record and perform for the label. He has had ten number one hits on the Pop charts and twenty on the R&B charts and a total of 100 million record sales. His unique vocal style has influenced all R&B singers such as Joe, Justin Timberlake, Charlie Wilson. Further, he is one of the few artists who played all of instruments on his recordings.
5. PRINCE Born Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7, 1958, aside from the legend himself remains one of the most misunderstood, but highly revered artists. While many have wondered, if Michael was “black or white”, many have questioned whether he is “straight or gay”. He has written several hundred songs under his own name and along with many others. His music has crossed as well influenced artists from every musical genre.
Aretha Franklin She is the Queen of Soul, but “Greatest of All Time” means walking through some tall cotton.
The Beatles Their catalogue is so crazy that the “King” had to cop. Top 5? I don’t think so.
Elvis Pressley Hell naw! Let Little Richard tell it, he stole his swag from him.
Maddona ranked as the best selling female as the best female rock artist of the 20th century, and the second top selling female artist in the U.S. But top 5? Naaaa!!!!
Marvin Gaye Talk about make em throw their panties on the stage.
R. Kelly Simply put, “dude got hits!” A little bit too sexually overt for my taste, however.
Kanye West He once told me “I think I can be all things to all people” and judging by the sphere of his musical influence seems to be doing a good job of it. But I also heard him say how cool it was to ” take music and make it better (by sampling).” Note to Kanye: There’s no such thing as “better” Marvin Gaye.
U2 They’ve sold over 145 million albums worldwide and has won 22 Grammy Awards, more than any other band. But my heraring them doesn’t necessarily make my head bob.
The Rolling Stones 200 million albums sold worldwide, Damn!!! but uhhh… just not top 5, though.