We were sitting at lunch over steaming bowls of ramen, trading story ideas, when “Thriller” came on over the restaurant’s speakers.
“Were you…um…born when this song came out?” I asked.
The young reporter seated across from me, just a couple years past college graduation, smiled and shook her head.
Damn. Still just 23, this Emma Stone lookalike was born in 1991, nine years after Michael Jackson released what became — and still is — the best-selling album of all time. “Thriller” sold more than 65 million records sold worldwide and won a record-breaking eight Grammy Awards in 1984, including Album of the Year. Seven singles released from the album all made the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. (Thanks. Wikipedia.)
Indisputably, that 1982 album cemented Michael Jackson’s status as the King of Pop. A singer, songwriter, dancer and all-around entertainer without peer.
Was he weird? Eccentric? A little creepy? Sure. (And I won’t go into his background here, other than to say he seemed like a boy in a man’s body, warped by the experience of going from child prodigy to the biggest pop music star on the planet.)
Was he talented? Incredibly, breathtakingly so.
Amazingly, November 1982 will mark 33 years since “Thriller” debuted. Songs like “Beat It,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” “Human Nature,” “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” and, most of all, “Billie Jean” still sound as fresh today as when I first heard them.
When Michael Jackson died in June 2009, at age 50, the world mourned. It was an amazing thing to witness, a deeply felt and spontaneous reaction to the loss of the most talented individual performer of our times. And when I say “our” I guess I can include my young reporting colleague. After all, Jackson went on to record four more albums after “Thriller” — 11 in all — en route to becoming a global icon with crossover, multigenerational appeal.
He was the King of Pop, for sure.