Rarely do we take a serious tone here at Midwest Swing but I think today is when we need to. As you all have heard, and probably prematurely thanks to doinks like TMZ and Perez Hilton (I side with the Black Eyed Peas bodyguard in that scrape) Michael Jackson had passed on to the big World Tour in the sky. He went into cardiac arrest, fell into a coma and has since passed on. Put your jokes aside about his personal life, the South Park impersonations and all that: he was America’s greatest living pop singer. And he was gearing up for another World Tour before falling ill.
He was bizarre. He had talent way ahead of his time. And he was the innovator of the music video. As I watch MTV do a marathon of videos of Jackson, the networks first bonafide star, it got me thinking: what is the best MJ music video of all time. as we usually do with point counterpoint counterpoint, each of us will present a point and then have time for rebuttal. As our honoree would say: SHAMON!!!!!
Josh: When people think of Michael Jackson videos the debate begins and ends with “Thriller.” I dig the video. It was landmark. It broke the mold. It was the first sign of the epics that he would later get into. But not my favorite. Ladies and gentlemen, the best MJ video of ALL TIME is “Beat it.”
This video had high fashion with the red leather jacket and history’s most legit jheri curl (sorry Rickey Henderson). It had knife fights … not actual knives were used but the dance moves alone are enough to gut your ass like a fish if you can’t keep up. Step your game up when Jacko is in the building. He only tolerates perfection. And it had Broadway-esque drama. Seriously, the video treatment was lifted straight out of West Side Story it seems. Plus it was just a better song than “Thriller,” which counts for a lot with me. The tune showed his crossover appeal with that all too familiar guitar riff played by Eddie Van Halen.
I’m sure I could try and narrow my video choices down and make this debate an all day event. But, for this guy, MJ videos will forever be measured against “Beat it” and not “Thriller” for me.
Andy: Poor Josh. Poor, poor Josh. You had it, you were so close — and then you blew it. It’s “Thriller,” it always was “Thriller” and it will always be “Thriller.” Sure, “Beat it” and “Billie Jean” were amazing music videos, but they just won’t hold up over time like “Thriller.”
The list of reasons is long, but it begins with Vincent Price and ends with one of the greatest dance sequences in music television history. Tell me, is there a more pervasive set of dance moves than Mike and the zombies? God knows, put a few cocktails in my belly and I will pull out the claws-to-each-side, slide-clap dance maneuvers in a heartbeat, an I don’t even have to be listening to “Thriller” to do so. And Vincet Price, “No mere mortal can resist, the evil of the Thriller.” [insert maniacal laughter]
Most importantly, “Thriller” is the best example of what Michael Jackson did for music videos — telling a story through the music and creating a three- to four-minute musical. Sure, “Beat it” tells the tale of a gangland fight between two stuggling gay dancers, but “Thriller” just tells its own story better.
Danny: Man, this is bullshit. Why do I have to go last? I have to agree with Andy here – “Thriller” is his best work. Not only were the dance moves unbelieveably awesome, particularly for a man with an affinity for little boys, but it was so revolutionary. It can’t be beat. But thanks to his wide range of awesomeness, there is some solid competition. Thus, solely in an attempt to raise a countererpoint, I’m going to cite the fine video that is “Black or White.”
It starts out with Macaulay Culkin rockin’ his parents’ faces off with a huge amp and some nice shades. Then, rather inexplicably, the video transports to Africa where they got lions and shit. Suddenly, his dad – oh yeah, it’s George Wendt, the fat dude from Cheers – is in the middle of the desert, surrounded by Michael Jackson and some African tribesmen shakin’ what their mamas gave ’em. Jackson continues bouncing between cultures for more air guitar, shrieks, crotch grabs with some cowboys and Indians, Muslims, Russians in a snow globe, white kids on a stoop dressed like Flava Flav (another Culkin sighting!), the Statue of Liberty, and some newfangled morphing technology that allows whites, blacks and Asians to turn into each other. “Thriller” isn’t the only revolutionary stuff Mike’s got going on! Plus, a young and hot Tyra Banks shows up – and don’t act like she wasn’t the hottest woman in the world in 1992.
Especially at a site like Midwest Swing where we embrace equality and making fun of everyone, no matter how awkward they look, “Black or White” is a great video that teaches us all a little something. And isn’t that what it’s all about, dammit?
Josh: Guys, I recognize the greatness of Thriller. And Paschen you would have made your point even greater if you had quoted the great Dave Chappelle skit when talking about if why he didn’t believe MJ molested those younglings. “He made Thriller, man. THRILLER.” (Andy: I’ve been quoting Dave Chapelle’s MJ stuff ever since he died. One of my favorites, is just plainly stating, a la Chapelle, when MJ comes up: “He’s a freak.”)
To me, “Beat it” is the hotness and likely will always will be. But I like Danny’s pick of “Black or White” since it’s the first MJ video that I remember being a big deal. It had a world premiere on a Sunday night on FOX, MTV and BET simultaneously. For you kids who don’t understand how big a deal Jacko was, that sentence right there should tell you something. After the Thriller album, MJ’s video had one common thread: they almost ALWAYS had celebrity cameos. So my second suggestion for great MJ videos: “Bad.”
Like the video for Thriller, it’s a mini movie. MJ is a kid from the streets named Darrell who is trying to better himself at private school. As he gets home for winter break he is quickly re-introduced to his old hoodrat friends, led by a pre-Willie Mays Hays/Sidney Dean (White Men Can’t Jump)/Blade Wesley Snipes.
Old Wes accuses Darrell of not being “down” or “Bad.” So he responds the only way he knows how: DANCE. A multi ethnic dance troupe straight out of Fame, an abandoned subway station and dude’s on roller skates make this video. I’m a sucker for any video where Mike shows his toughness via some hot dance moves. Plus who doesn’t love seeing Wesley Snipes getting punked out by a guy who probably cried when a button on his leather jacket snapped? I know I do.
Andy: In reality, you can’t go wrong with any of those videos, and unlike all of our other Point-Counterpoint-Countererpoint, I can’t claim resounding victory over you chumps. Most importantly, I want to remember Michael for these videos, and these videos alone. If you listen to a word he says outside of these videos, you instantly realize what a tragic figure (and what a freak) he was. It’s really, really depressing. So please, when you hear “I want you back” (possibly my favorite Michael Jackson song of all-time) or “PYT,” just remember that Michael was one of the greatest entertainers ever, nothing more, nothing less.
And if your Michael mourning has yet to pass, and you have an affinity for hip-hop music, I recommend checking out the mixtapes from Cookin’ Soul and my boy Rhymefest. Both are free, and both are a good time.