Michael Jackson’s musical career was about breaking records as well as making them.
His 1982 album Thriller has sold more copies, by a long way, than any other and in the digital download age, that is unlikely to change. And it wasn’t just about what fans could listen to. His visual appeal also made his music videos and concerts the most watched ever. In the words of Motown music label founder Berry Gordy: “Michael was and will remain one of the greatest entertainers that ever lived.” Gordy launched the career of Michael and his four brothers, making four albums with the Jackson Five. The renowned spotter of great talent knew 10 year old Michael was something special: “He always wanted to be the best and was willing to work as hard as it took to be that. We could all see that he was a winner at that age,” he says. 1979’s ‘Off the Wall’ was the first of a trilogy of albums with producer Quincy Jones that created a superstar. No-one knows exactly how many copies of ‘Thriller’ have been sold but estimates run up to more than 100 million. No other album has sold half that number. Influential music producer Nile Rodgers has worked with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Ben E. King and David Bowie. He believes Jackson belongs to a music elite: “It’s on the level of Elvis. It’s on the level of the Beatles. It’s on the level of Madonna, Streisand. I mean it’s just that superlative, it’s that rarefied air of just a handful of superstars. When you listen to Michael’s stuff, you can see that it was ground-breaking on many different levels. Imagine having a career over and over and over again and each time that career jump-started the next phase of his life. It sort of changed pop culture,” says Rodgers. ‘Bad’ in 1987 was Jackson’s last album with Quincy Jones. In the 1990s, the public eye in which he had always lived was to view him in a different light. But the musical legacy was already on record.