This week two idols of the industry were honoured for their very different contributions to the pop landscape, Getintothis reflects on the flawed greatness of Michael Jackson and the Manic Street Preachers.
I always tell people that my fascination of music began with Prince. But this isn’t strictly true.
I started to understand the complexities and multi-faceted pleasures of music through Prince’s genius, but it was the simple fun translated through Michael Jackson‘s pop that got me hooked in the first place.
Jackson’s 1987 record Bad, along with greatest hit compilations by the likes of Status Quo, ELO and Bananarama, were perhaps the biggest rotators on my cassette walkman as a seven-year-old.
But it was Jackson who was the indisputable King. He wasn’t just a pop star – he was an event.
I, like many other kids, was as equally attracted to his unique star quality as to his inimitable style and near-flawless music in the early to mid-80s.
There was something otherworldly to Jackson – long before he transformed into something truly interplanetary.
Bad was my undeniable favourite but Thriller, which has this past week celebrated the release of its 25th Anniversary Special Edition – Thriller 25 – a close second.
From the former, a staggering nine tracks were lifted as singles while seven were taken from Thriller, an LP which is – and by some distance – the highest selling record of all time.
But Jackson’s appeal was about far more than music.
His cinematic videos accompanying those singles meant Top of the Pops became the day’s ‘not-to-miss’ family gathering, with friends invited round to huddle in front of small television sets as fingers hovered at the ready to press the huge red record button on Betamax videos, so we could re-watch in earnest his latest delving into the spectacular.
News clips of his tours were eye-poppingly ridiculous; like somekind of musical magician he’d disappear in an instant from one side of a stadium to the other leaving audiences wowed by his ingenuity. And that was before you mentioned his bone-breaking dance manoeuvres.
It’s almost incredible to believe he actually graced Aintree Racecourse with his presence during the Bad sold-out world tour on September 11, 1988. A staggering 125,000 were there to witness that one-off. I’m told the day was farcical, lacking in organisation and poor sound quality – but just imagine if he attempted to do the same again today!?! It would probably be impossible – it’s bad enough on National Day.
Years later I infrequently dip in and out of his catalogue, with Off The Wall my particular favourite largely thanks to Quincy Jones‘ slick disco-funk orchestration.
Having revisited Thriller 25 it’s impossible to ignore the influence Jackson has had on today’s musical climate, with opener Gotta Be Startin’ Somethin’ a particular tour de force, infusing the electro of Daft Punk and the chrome-honed hip-hop of Dre and even Kanye West, who features on the assorted remixes and bonus tracks on Thriller 25.
By the release of Dangerous, I was still a fan and remember receiving the cassette along with Prince‘s ‘Symbol‘ and The Shaman‘s Boss Drum on Christmas Day 1991 – but my musical tastes had broadened significantly. And while Jackson’s music was still good in patches his erratic behaviour and the perpetual circus that accompanied him always overshadowed any musical significance.
And by then that’s what mattered more to me. Not his fading star.
Like Jackson, The Manic Street Preachers – who this week are to collect a Godlike Genius Award at the NME Awards – also stamped an indelible mark on how I grew to love music. However where Jackson meant all-out fun as a boy, the Manics represented all-out carnage and revolt as a teenager.
Having grown my hair, and cut it all off again when grunge shot its load in April 1994, the summer of that year saw two hugely influential records released on August 30; Oasis‘ Definitely Maybe and The Manic Street Preachers‘ Holy Bible.
Contrasting in almost every aspect, the only obvious characteristic they share is that they’re incredible guitar records made by feisty, working-class men determined to make a difference.
While Oasis opened eyes to a world of sex, drugs and rock & roll, the Manics painted sinister pictures of despair, desolation, corruption and genocide but channeled their beliefs through life-affirming rock. Where Oasis brought the party, the Manics were the sobering afterthought.
I’d taken only a fleeting interest when The Holy Bible reared its menacing head that summer, but it’s inescapable power proved an instant hit.
And what a hit – again, like Jackson, The Manics made their presence felt by way of a jaw-dropping performance on Top of the Pops of lead-off single Faster, as James Dean Bradfield sported a terrorist-style balaclava with his name emblazoned across it, while the rest of the gang dressed in military regalia. And as the Beeb rushed to cope with record numbers of complaints, teenagers across the land were left awestruck by a group of pin-up rockstars, swaggering and unashamedly literate obliterating your senses with impassioned tales of anorexia, self-harm, serial-killing and political injustice.
In 1994 The Manics were the complete package: two effeminate dandies in bassist Nicky Wire and ‘guitarist’ Richey Edwards shooting from the hip with lyrical verbosity backed by lead guitarist and vocalist Bradfield and his powerhouse drumming cousin Sean Moore.
But while they exuded uber-cool they didn’t need to rely on image to get their message across, here was a band whose LP release was accompanied by a mammoth-sized poster given away in the NME, with not your stereotypical band photo, but of Jenny Saville‘s iconic Strategy triptych from the Holy Bible front cover featuring a hideously obese woman accompanied with every excruciating lyric from Richey’s tortured soul.
Such was The Manics’ mixture of iconic image with a distinctly punk ethos they attracted a rabid following unparalleled by any of the leaders of the Britpop revival – forget Oasis, Blur, Pulp et al, Manics gigs acquired an intense ferocity led by glam fashionistas, goth-hardcore and all-out nut-jobs intent on losing themselves by any means necessary.
This approach was adopted quite literally by Edwards who infamously proved he had to be taken seriously when etching ‘4 Real’ into his arm with a razor blade after journalist Steve Lamacq dared to question the band’s authenticity.
I saw them around half a dozen times during this period and standing on top of the merchandise table in Manchester’s Academy with a catsuit-wearing groupie watching the hurling glass, mass of flailing bodies and rivers of smudged eye-liner while James roared the anthemic You Love Us was a sight and sound that will live with me forever.
And despite Edwards’ disappearance on February 1 1995, there is no doubt their recorded output up until this point is nothing short of heroic.
Their debut Generation Terrorist is a rollercoaster of abandon containing several classics while the criminally underrated Gold Against The Soul pushes The Holy Bible for their creative zenith, containing the holy trinity opening salvo of Sleepflower, From Despair To Where and La Tristesse Durera.
Indeed, their single EPs from this period also shine with a playful cover of The Happy Mondays‘ Wrote For Luck (from Roses in the Hospital) one of many standouts.
It may be the biggest clichÃÂ© in popular UK rock history, but post-Richey Manics mattered little to me. Everything Must Go wasn’t a creative failure, but inevitably this enforced change led to a polished, orchestrated togetherness appealing to stadiums and Volvo drivers alike.
And while I hung in there til This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, one burst of You Stole The Sun From My Heart quickly resulted in a breaking of mine.
Come Thursday when the trio pick up their Godlike Genius Award, I’ll be sure to tune in and remember a band who provided many great memories to a teenager searching for something to believe in.
Top 5 Michael Jackson songs:
1. Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough (from Off The Wall)
2. Dirty Diana (from Bad)
3. Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ (from Thriller)
4. Rock With You (from Off The Wall)
5. Beat It (from Thriller)
Top 5 Manics tracks:
1. Of Walking Abortion (from The Holy Bible)
2. Sleepflower (from Gold Against The Soul)
3. La Tristesse Durera (from Gold Against The Soul)
4. Faster (from The Holy Bible)
5. You Love Us (from Generation Terrorists)
Michael Jackson’s 25th Anniversary Special Edition – Thriller 25 is out now on Sony BMG