Michael Jackson Biography and Profile

Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson. Photo by Jean-Marc Giboux / Hulton Archive

The Jackson 5 and Early Career

Michael Jackson is one of the most successful and influential pop recording artists of all time. Born in 1958, he began his career as a member of the Jackson 5 recording for Motown with four of his brothers. They hit #1 on the pop singles chart with "I Want You Back" in 1969. It was followed by three more consecutive #1 hits. They were the first recording artists to hit #1 on the pop singles chart with their first four chart hits.

The group's popularity faded in the mid 1970's, but, after moving to the CBS record label and calling themselves simply the Jacksons, they consistently hit the charts in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Among their hits in that era were "Shake Your Body (Down To the Ground)" and "Can You Feel It."

Michael Jackson Becomes an Adult Artist With Off the Wall

Michael Jackson hit #1 on the pop singles chart as a solo artist in 1972 serenading a rat with the title song from the movie Ben. He hit the top five with two other early singles. 1971's "Got To Be There" went to #4 and 1972's "Rockin' Robin" hit #2. Michael Jackson didn't near the top of the charts again until seven years later with the release of the album Off the Wall in 1979 produced by Quincy Jones. It was simultaneously a last gasp of disco and an R&B classic that ushered in the 80's. The album peaked at #3 on the album chart, sold over seven million copies and included four top 10 pop singles.

The singles "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and "Rock With You" went all the way to #1 on the pop singles chart. "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" won a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal.

Thriller

In 1982, three years after Off the Wall, Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson collaborated once again and created Thriller, the bestselling album of all time.

It was preceded by the single "The Girl Is Mine," a collaboration with Paul McCartney, which reached #2 on the pop singles chart. A month after the album hit stores, the second single "Billie Jean" was unleashed, and the masterpiece that is Thriller began to unfold. Ultimately, 28 million copies sold in the US and Thriller became the first album to launch seven singles into the pop top 10. "Bille Jean" and "Beat It" both hit #1 and the music video for "Beat It" tore down barriers for African-American artists at MTV. 

The music from Thriller generated a phenomenal eleven Grammy Award nominations. The album took home the award for Album of the Year and "Beat It" won Record of the Year. "Billie Jean" was named Best R&B Song.

Bad

It was almost five years after the release of Thriller before Michael Jackson's next album appeared in 1987. Bad was Michael Jackson's third album co-produced by Quincy Jones. The single "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" preceded the album and hit the top of the pop singles chart. Ultimately, Bad became the first album to include five #1 pop singles. That record stood until Katy Perry matched it with her Teenage Dream album in 2010-2011. Bad sold over eight million copies in the US.

The #1 charting singles were "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," "Bad," "The Way You Make Me Feel," "Man In the Mirror," and "Dirty Diana." Music from Bad earned five Grammy Award nominations. The album was nominated for Album of the Year, and "Man In the Mirror" earned a Record of the Year nomination, but Bad won no awards.

Dangerous

By 1991, four years after the release of Bad, some critics wondered whether Michael Jackson was still relevant in the pop world. He signed a 15-year six album deal with Sony Music, and recorded Dangerous with new jack swing pioneer Teddy Riley and Bill Botrell as producers. The album was another major success selling seven million copies, topping the album chart, generating four top 10 singles and spending over two years on the album chart.

The release of the debut single "Black or White" was a worldwide television event.

An estimated 500 million viewers watched the John Landis directed clip. The song was released to radio stations two days in advance and was added to playlists on 96% of Billboard's reporting pop radio stations on the first day of release. The music video for "Remember the Time" was a massive production as well directed by celebrated film director John Singleton. It included guest appearances from Eddie Murphy, Magic Johnson, and Iman among others. "Black Or White" earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal.

Michael Jackson's Controversies

Michael Jackson's career and life had their fair share of controversies. In the mid 1980s he was the subject of widespread tabloid stories including tales of sleeping in an oxygen chamber to slow aging, bleaching his skin, and undergoing multiple rounds of plastic surgery. In the early 1990s Michael Jackson was accused of sexually abusing a child in a case ultimately closed for lack of evidence. In 2005 Jackson was put on trial for allegations of sexual molestation. He was acquitted on all counts.

Commercial Decline

In 1995 Michael Jackson released his first compilation album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1. It was a two-disc set and sold over three million copies in the US as well as earning a Grammy Award for Album of the Year. However, an all-new studio album did not appear until 2001. Invincible became the first significant commercial disappointment for Michael Jackson since the 1970s. It sold only two million copies and did not include any #1 hit singles.

Only "You Rock My World" hit the top 10.

Top Michael Jackson Hits

  • 1979 - "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" (One week at #1)
  • 1979 - "Rock With You" (Four weeks at #1)
  • 1983 - "Billie Jean" (Seven weeks at #1)
  • 1983 - "Beat It!" (Three weeks at #1)
  • 1983 - "Say Say Say" with Paul McCartney (Six weeks at #1)
  • 1987 - "Bad" (Two weeks at #1)
  • 1987 - "The Way You Make Me Feel" (One week at #1)
  • 1988 - "Man In the Mirror" (Two weeks at #1)
  • 1991 - "Black Or White" (Seven weeks at #1)
  • 1995 - "You Are Not Alone" (One week at #1)

More details about each song in Top 10 Michael Jackson Songs.

Top Michael Jackson Videos

More details about the videos, and a complete listing, in the Guide to Michael Jackson Videos.

Michael Jackson's Comeback Efforts

In 2008 Michael Jackson released Thriller 25, a 25th anniversary re-issue of his bestselling album Thriller that included re-recordings of some of the tracks by top contemporary pop stars including Fergie and Kanye West. It also included one new song "For All Time." Remixes of "The Girl Is Mine" and "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" were released as singles. The latter climbed to #2 on the dance chart.

In March 2009 Michael Jackson announced that he would perform a series of concerts in London at the O2 arena over the summer.

What was originally announced as 10 shows was later extended to 50 that were planned into the year 2010. Rehearsals commenced under the direction of choreographer Kenny Ortega.

Michael Jackson died unexpectedly June 25, 2009 at the age of 50 less than three weeks before the first London concert was scheduled to take place. A public memorial service included performances of his songs by a wide range of top recording artists. A feature film built around rehearsal footage from the planned concert tour titled Michael Jackson's This Is It was released in October 2009. A posthumous studio album titled was released in December 2010. Michael Jackson earned a posthumous Grammy Award nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal for the song "This Is It."  In 2014 a second posthumous album with previous unreleased material titled Xscape appeared under the direction of L.A. Reid. It included the top 10 pop hit "Love Never Felt So Good."