Number Ones: #113


  • Week Ending 10th October 1987
  • 2 Weeks At #1


September 1987 was all about one album. Bad, the long-awaited follow-up to Thriller, the album which of course saw Michael Jackson become the biggest star on the planet. To say expectations were high would be slightly understating it, as the world of pop had inevitably moved on apace while Jackson spent his time constructing a private playground (Neverland), befriending exotic animals, joining forces with his brothers for a so-so record and tour (Victory), and though few perhaps realised it at the time, most significantly suffering severe burns during an ill-fated Pepsi commercial shoot.

Chartwise, the void had been partially filled by old Motown outtakes (Farewell My Summer Love, Girl You’re So Together), and the lead single from the aforementioned Victory project, a duet with Mick Jagger (State Of Shock) that was apparently intended to feature Lord Frederick Of Mercury (and kind of makes more sense that way). All of these were in 1984, the same year as Thriller‘s final 45, P.Y.T (Pretty Young Thing) which somehow topped my personal chart (see #10 in this list).

Nothing in 1985 (save for his co-writing credit on USA For Africa’s ghastly We Are The World), and nada in 1986 either (the year little sis Janet broke through as a major success with her own groundbreaking Control). As each year passed, the rumours grew more outrageous about his private life (in terms of pure weirdness; the darker aspects had not yet been revealed) and the public appearances grew ever stranger and more detached from normality. So, when the prospect of a brand new studio album first became a reality in the summer of 1987, the question was….what on earth would it be like? And….inevitably…what on earth was he going to look like?!

Epic Records sold us all a dummy with the lead single, choosing an unremarkable, saccharine ballad that had no promotional video. I Just Can’t Stop Loving You was technically a duet with Siedah Garrett, but the pair’s voices are so similar that it’s often impossible to tell them apart. The single went to #1 simply because of what it was, the first new Michael Jackson record in almost 5 years, rather than its own musical merits.

Just over a month later, came the launch proper for Bad. A longform black-and-white music video for the title track, directed by Spike Lee, aired the night before the album’s release in the UK. Aside from the very visible signs of cosmetic surgery-in-progress, it was all a bit heavy-handed in its attempts to be “down with the urban kids” and make some sort of social commentary about inner city America.

The centrepiece of it all, when Michael Jackson eventually gets down to what Michael Jackson is best at (ie dancing to a cracking pop/funk/R&B number), was also a little ludicrous, frenetic choreography notwithstanding. Mercifully, the music itself was a snappy, slick workout; okay, maybe not much of an actual song, but it sounded like a million dollars (and probably cost at least that to create).

Originally conceived as a duet with Prince (imagine that!), Bad was the opening song on the album, and its second single.  It surprisingly failed to make #1 here in Britain (possibly because the album was breaking all sales records, or maybe the song wasn’t strong enough to grab a wide enough audience), but had no such problems in the US.

I’m actually surprised it hit #1 on my own Top 40, but I hadn’t been immune to the hyperbole surrounding Bad‘s release, and – initially, at any rate – I enjoyed the majority of its tracks. It was no Thriller, that much was obvious from the very start, and it would have been folly on Jackson’s part to try and make an album that evoked it. But it lacked something, beyond truly memorable songs.

The production is astounding at times (take a listen to the 1987 compact disc, on headphones), but the material betrays the compromises that Jackson was forced into both by the record label and Quincy Jones. And it does rather have the feel of an album designed to be successful, as opposed to one that becomes successful because it’s fantastic and captures the zeitgeist.

Still, Bad was a success….for many years it was among the Top 3 biggest-selling albums in UK history, and it yielded a sequence of singles that incredibly lasted into not only 1988 but well into 1989. In fact, one of the two tracks which never became a hit – Speed Demon – happened to be my favourite moment on Bad (there are promo copies of it, as part of a planned release somewhere in the world). Had they ever chosen Speed Demon, then there’s a good chance it would have joined the title song as a personal chart-topper.





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