60 things you may not have known about Michael Jackson
We unearth little-known tidbits of information about the King of Pop’s life, on what would have been his 60th birthday
1. He was born in Gary, Indiana. He remains the city’s most famous resident, with Gary never recovering from the loss of its factory industry in the 1960s. That said, it’s also home to Jesse Powell, Kym Mazelle and Sista Monica Parker.
2. His parents had musical ambitions of their own. Mother Katherine Jackson played the clarinet and piano, and aspired to be a country and western singer. Father Joe was a guitarist and made extra cash performing in local R'n'B bands.
3. His first public performance was in 1963. When he was 5 he sang Shirley Bassey’s Climb Ev’ry Mountain at a public event organised by Garnett Elementary School’s Kindergarten.
4. His father was the first to notice the talent in his children. He would invite music executives to the family home, where The Jacksons would audition in the living room.
5. James Brown was his major inspiration. The late Godfather of Soul inspired Jackson to hit the stage. Speaking at his public funeral in 2007, Jackson recalled how, “Ever since I was a small child, no more than like 6 years old, my mother would wake me no matter what time it was, if I was sleeping, no matter what I was doing, to watch the television to see the master at work.”
6. He made his recording debut at 9 years old. It was on Big Boy by The Jackson 5, which was released by a small label in January 1968. It didn’t sell in large numbers, but it was enough to notify the major labels that these kids had talent.
7. His love for books began as a young teen. His early favourites were Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving and The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. He reportedly amassed a library of more than 10,000 books.
8. His relationship with his sister La Toya was based on their love of practical jokes. His favourite was tormenting her with fake spiders and tarantulas. He would place a suspect creature on the phone in La Toya’s bedroom and would then call her and wait for her scream.
9. He began touring as an 8-year-old. As part of the first run of shows in America’s Midwest, The Jackson 5 supported soul legends Etta James, Gladys Knight and Sam & Dave.
10. He was never particularly fond of his voice during early recordings with The Jackson 5. Despite the acclaim, he would often lament the high pitch of his voice in later interviews, describing it as similar to that of Minnie Mouse.
11. It could have been The Jackson 6. Nearly 18 months before he was born, his mother gave birth to a set of twins, Marlon and Brandon. As a result of a severely premature pregnancy, Marlon survived but Brandon passed away 24 hours later.
12. Berry Gordy initially wasn’t a fan of Michael and his brothers. The star-maker and head of Motown Records dismissed the idea of signing them to his label, preferring to focus on Stevie Wonder. But he was eventually convinced to give them a shot and he signed them up in 1969.
13. You may not know her name, but Suzanne de Passe had a big role in his artistic development. She was assigned as a mentor and stylist to The Jackson 5 after they joined Motown. That relationship extended to Michael’s solo career, and she was the first one to see him rehearse the iconic dance The Moonwalk in 1983.
14. The Jackson 5’s global hit I Want You Back in 1969, was originally written for Gladys Knight and The Pips and Diana Ross. What’s unusual about the song is that the lovelorn lyrics are sung by Michael, who was barely in his teens at the time.
15. ABC is the first of Jackson's songs that 50 Cent recalls hearing. Speaking to NME in 2015, the rapper said the track was responsible for him becoming a fan. “I’ve always loved MJ, so I guess it was probably a good place to start music: right here, with the ABCs.”
16. He broke barriers from a young age. When he was a 12-year-old with The Jackson 5, the group became the first black male group to release four back-to-back chart-toppers with 1969’s I Want You Back and 1970’s ABC, The Love You Save and I’ll Be There.
17. There was solo life before Off the Wall. For many, Michael arrived with 1979’s Off the Wall, but he released his debut solo album, Got to Be There, in 1972. It was a solid collection of soul and pop, with covers of Leon Ware’s I Wanna Be Where You Are and Bill Withers’s Ain't no Sunshine.
18. He won his first and only Golden Globe in 1972. For Ben, a song he wrote for the 1972 horror film of the same name.
19. He always had his ear to the clubs. Jackson was a frequent visitor to the legendary New York City club Studio 54, where he was exposed to beat-boxing, which was an early harbinger to the upcoming hip-hop movement. He went on to incorporate the vocal technique into many of his future songs.
20. His first venture into film was The Wiz. He starred as a scarecrow in the title role of The Wiz, an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz. The film was horrible, but it was here he struck up a life-changing partnership with Quincy Jones, who went on to produce his biggest albums.
21. Quincy Jones nicknamed him "Smelly". This was during their time on The Wiz. “I used to call Michael 'Smelly', because he wouldn’t say ‘funky’. He’d say ‘smelly jelly'.”
22. He broke his nose in 1979 during dance practice. He then consulted Hollywood favourite Dr Steven Hoefflin who reportedly performed Jackson’s first rhinoplasty.
23. He only worked with the best. In addition to enlisting Jones to produce the 1979 blockbuster album Off the Wall, the songwriters who helped him on the record included none other than Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder.
24. Unlike many of his peers, Jackson hated singing from a sheet. While recording Off the Wall, he spent the evenings learning lyrics and harmonies, and would arrive at the studio the next day singing them off by heart.
25. Prince visited him during the Off the Wall sessions. Speaking to The National, Quincy Jones recalled how Prince arrived “into the studio like a deer in the headlight – clothes and shirt off – but he was always competing with Michael”.
26. He was the only musical mind behind one of his biggest hits. Off the Wall was full of songwriting collaborations, but Jackson was solely responsible for one of its biggest tracks, Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough. He decided to write the song after constantly humming the melody at home.
27. The change on 1979 single Rock with You. It was originally called I Want to Eat You Up, but that was deemed too risque for Jackson’s heartthrob image.
28. Off the Wall was almost a hit for Karen Carpenter. The hit title track from Off the Wall was originally written for the late Karen Carpenter’s debut solo album. She declined to use it and Jackson made it a top 10 hit instead.
29. The tears in She’s Out of My Life are real. Jackson would break down in tears at the end of each studio take. “We recorded about - I don’t know - 8 to 11 takes, and every one at the end, he just cried,” producer Quincy Jones said. “I said, ‘Hey - that’s supposed to be, leave it on there.’”
30. Jackson surrounded himself with talent in both the studio and the boardroom. With Off the Wall he secured the game-changing royalty rate of 37 cents wholesale per sale. It went on to sell more than 20 million copies.
31. Thriller was a blockbuster fuelled by frustration. Despite big sales and critical acclaim, he was irked that Off The Wall didn’t win the Grammy Award for Record of the Year. “It was totally unfair that it didn’t get Record of the Year and it can never happen again,” he told manager John Branca. Thriller went on to win a record-breaking eight Grammys in 1984.
32. Billie Jean doesn’t exist. Despite being the subject of one of his biggest hits, the woman – who in the 1983 song admits she is carrying Jackson’s unborn son – is pure fiction. “The girl in the song is a composite of people my brothers have been plagued with over the years,” Jackson wrote in his memoir Moonwalker.
33. Billie Jean was the first video by an African-American artist to air on MTV. The video revealed Jackson's new look of a leather suit, pink shirt, red bow tie and his signature single white glove. It was a style copied by kids throughout the United States. It caused one school, New Jersey’s Bound Brook High, to ban students from coming to class wearing white gloves.
34. Jackson introduced his famous Moonwalk in 1983. It was during a live performance of Billie Jean for the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever concert special. He was taught the move by veteran dancer Jeffrey Daniel, who went on to be hired as Jackson’s co-choreographer.
35. Jackson was a music investor from 1983. He bought the rights to select music from funk pioneers Sly and the Family Stone, and the iconic Dion DiMucci songs The Wanderer and Run Around Sue, before landing the rights to the 4,000 song catalogue of ATV Music Publishing, which included the lion’s share of The Beatles’ songs.
36. Jackson’s Beat It was a fiery single … literally. When Eddie Van Halen recorded his blistering solo, the sound of his guitar caused one of the studio speakers to catch fire.
37. The gritty music video for Beat It was a landmark production. The lavish production cost US$100,000 (Dh367,250) at the time. It was set in Los Angeles’ Skid Row and featured up to 80 real-life gang members from the notorious street gangs the Crips and the Bloods.
38. Toto were heavily involved in the making of Thriller. Keyboardist Steve Porcaro co-wrote Human Nature, and Steve Lukather contributed rhythm guitar on Beat It.
39. Thriller was almost Star Light. The lyric “thriller” in the track of the same name was originally “star light”. The decision to change it was down to marketing appeal.
40. PYT (Pretty Young Thing) was never performed live by Jackson. Despite being a well-received single from the Thriller album, the star never featured the song in any of his live sets.
41. Thriller was included in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry. The music video for the title track was also placed in the National Film Preservation Board’s National Film Registry of “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant films”.
42. It was with his seventh album, 1987’s Bad that Jackson really came into his own as a songwriter. He wrote nine of the 11 tracks and co-produced the album with Quincy Jones.
43. The title track for the Bad album was supposed to be a duet with Prince. But the latter walked away from it due to the opening line “Your butt is mine”. “Now, who is going to sing that to whom? Cause [he] sure ain’t singing that to me, and I sure ain’t singing it to [him],” Prince said in a TV interview with American comedian Chris Rock.
44. The smooth 1987 ballad I Just Can’t Stop Loving You is a duet with singer Siedah Garrett. She was the third choice after Barbra Streisand and Whitney Houston rejected the offer.
45. The Way You Make Me Feel was his mother’s request. Jackson wrote this track after his mum asked him to write something with a “shuffling kind of rhythm”.
46. Man in the Mirror is one of the few music videos he is hardly in. Other than appearing at the end standing in a crowd, the video is a montage of major events and historical figures.
47. His Superbowl XXVII half-time show in 1993 was game-changing. His pyrotechnics-laced four-song set was watched more than the game itself. It has set the standard for half-time shows ever since.
48. Michael Jackson’s 1991 album Dangerous was hot property. Five days before its release, three armed men broke into a music warehouse in Los Angeles and stole 30,000 copies.
49. The explosive video for Black or White was directed by Hollywood stalwart John Landis. It starred an 11-year-old Macaulay Culkin fresh from his starring role in Home Alone.
50. The music video to Scream was, at the time, in 1995, the most expensive ever produced. It had a US$7m budget. The menacing and arty video starred Jackson and his sister Janet.
51. Even when he wasn’t trying, Michael Jackson broke records. His album Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix, released in 1997, remains the bestselling remix album of all time, with more than six million copies sold, after virtually no promotion.
52. Jackson consistently mixed music with charity work. He was behind a series of Michael and Friends concerts in Germany and Korea, which featured performers such as tenors Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli, as well as rockers Slash and The Scorpions. The money raised went to the non-profit organisation War Child.
53. Jackson’s final studio album Invincible was the bestselling album of 2001, despite moderate reviews. It features the song Unbreakable, which had, until then, the un-released vocals by slain rapper The Notorious BIG.
54. After years of scandals and court cases, Jackson re-emerged on the music stage by announcing his final live tour This Is It. The first 10 shows alone, to be held at London’s O2 Arena in the summer of 2009, would have netted him £50m (Dh236.49m). The residency was extended to 50 shows, but the tour was cancelled following his death on June 25, 2009.
55. This Is It was his first posthumous release. With the This Is It tour abandoned after Jackson’s death, the tour’s title track became the first of many posthumous releases. The song was originally written in the 1980s by Paul Anka.
56. The secrecy of Xscape. Michael Jackson’s second posthumous album, released on May 13, 2014, was such a big deal that journalists were invited to secret listening sessions around the world days before its release. The session for this region was held at Dubai’s now-closed Qbara restaurant.
57. The life and times of Michael Jackson were discussed in detail at the inaugural Dubai Music Week in 2013. It featured a sold-out special panel session on Jackson’s career featuring producer Quincy Jones and other collaborators, the late Rod Temperton (via live video feed) and singer Siedah Garrett.
58. Abu Dhabi and China were discussed as possible sites for the world’s first Jackson family-themed hotel called Jermajesty. Speaking exclusively to The National in 2013, Jermaine Jackson said he was looking at Yas Island as a possible site for the hotel, which would be filled with Jackson family memorabilia. Nothing has been built as yet.
59. To celebrate Michael Jackson’s 60th birthday today (August 29), a large street party was held in New York City last Saturday to celebrate his life. It was organised by the director, and his collaborator, Spike Lee.
60. It is only fitting that the Apollo Theatre in New York is hosting its legendary Amateur Night today. It was on the same stage that, in 1967, The Jackson 5 launched their career.
Updated: August 29, 2018 03:15 PM