During the glory days of MTV, when DJs sounded a little less practiced and videos more inventive, there were artists who lived by the music video and those who died by it. But, every once in a great while, an artist would step on the scene, surpass all expectations and mark a generation.
When the video “Thriller” debuted on MTV, I was old enough to appreciate what I was hearing and young enough to be afraid of the yellow eyes that pierced the screen at the end of the video while Vincent Price’s chilling laugh echoed in the background. On the Michael Jackson: The Ultimate Collection timeline, my introduction to the King of Pop started on Disc 2 of this four-disc collection. Running from Jackson’s time fronting the legendary Jackson 5 to his most recent effort, Invincible, this 57-song collection takes the listener through the ups and downs (mostly ups) of Jackson’s sprawling career and reminds us exactly why we still refer to him as the King of Pop.
Starting with pop standards like “ABC,” “I Want You Back” and “I’ll Be There,” the first disc of the collection takes the listener back to Gary, Ind., and the five-piece that started it all. With the heavy thumb of a controlling father on the back of the five brothers, Jackson’s star begins to shine, but only later, when he was out on his own, would the depths of his talent be realized. The first disc finishes up with tracks from Off the Wall: “Don’t Stop Til’ You Get Enough” and “Rock With You”-a quick start to Jackson’s musical catalog that would only improve with the next few albums.
The material from Discs 2 and 3 are the best songs of Jackson’s catalog. Every listener knows the songs on these two discs and they contain some of the most well-crafted pop songs ever made. Aside from the amazing beats and rhythms, the production in songs like “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin” and “Smooth Criminal” display the layering that marked most of the good pop music to come out of the ’80s, a la Prince and the Revolution and early Madonna. Another highlight is the “We Are the World” demo. On Disc 3, the last few songs are still considered hits, but they are a little less impressive. Jackson hit his peek with “Thriller” and “Bad,” but songs like “Black or White” and “Remember the Time” start the King of Pop’s steady decline.
The final disc of the collection makes fans of Jackson shake their heads and wonder, “What happened?” It’s crap. His career up to this point was nearly flawless, with the exception of the occasional duet with one Sir Paul McCartney. But, we can’t expect perfection, even from the King of Pop. This collection contains rarities like “PYT” from the PYT demo. These four discs chronicle the steady rise and plateau of a legend at the top-and later, the fall.