From a music history standpoint, Michael Jackson really had two careers: a child singing star who stole the spotlight among his brothers early on as part of the Jackson 5; and his emergence as the “King of Pop” in the 1980s. This week’s rewind, “Billie Jean,” the second single from 1982’s breakthrough album Thriller, is one of the songs that helped propel Jackson’s second career into megastardom.
Ironically, “Billie Jean” almost didn’t make the track list for Thriller, as producer Quincy Jones didn’t feel the song was strong enough (proving that even Quincy Jones can make a mistake). Nevertheless, it seemed the song was destined to be a game-changer in the pop scene. Audio engineer Bruce Swedien reportedly mixed the song a whopping 91 times attempting to heed Jones’ instructions to create a never-before-heard drum sound. And even after becoming a worldwide hit, “Billie Jean” became a ground-breaker in another way, as Jackson used it to unveil his signature “moonwalk” dance move on national television. Appearing on the 1983 TV special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today and Forever, Jackson broke out the move only twice during his performance—a few seconds’ worth of television footage—but those few seconds launched a global phenomenon as millions of young people began attempting to copy the move.
Today, “Billie Jean” remains one of the best-selling singles of all time, and the Motown 25 performance has made many lists as of the all-time most powerful moments in television history. Below is the official video for “Billie Jean,” along with Jackson’s appearance on Motown 25. Enjoy!
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