I’ve never done this before, delving into the Masterton archives for a near complete account of everything I’ve ever written about a particular artist. The death of Michael Jackson seems to be an appropriate moment to break that particular duck, so here then is the unexpurgated and unredacted parade of every piece I’ve written about a Michael Jackson single.
These pieces cover the tail end of the ‘Dangerous’ promotional campaign at the end of 1992, through his chart revival with the HIStory set, his reinvention as a dancefloor king in 1997 and the rather misfiring 2001 comeback. The pieces collected here were either written for usenet, or from the mid-90s onwards the various official chart commentaries for dotmusic and its successors.
5th December 1992
No. 3: HIGHEST NEW ENTRY. Michael Jackson – Heal The World.
Single No.6 off the album makes a startlingly high debut, given that the last couple only just scraped the Top 20. Always a cert for the Christmas single ‘Heal The World’ is odds on favourite to hit the top, but the fact that so many people already have the album with both the single and it’s b-side on it may well kill the sales of this well before the day itself.
2009 note – this was from something like the fourth chart column I ever wrote, with my style still to settle down from slight nonsense into the utter nonsense I generally write now.
27th February 1993
No. 6: NEW ENTRY. Michael Jackson – Give In To Me.
For Michael Jackson or indeed any other artist this is not a bad debut. For the 7th single off an album now 15 months old it is quite phenomenal. The success of this can bee attributed to a couple of reasons, the most likely of which being the TV showing in Britain last Monday of his interview with Oprah Winfrey which reputedly got more viewers than the BRITS ceremony. It’s a clever bit of marketing by Sony Music in a similar way in which the 7th single off the ‘Bad’ album ‘Smooth Criminal’ made No.8 in December 1988 by coinciding with the cinema release of ‘Moonwalker’. The second reason for the high entry may also be down to the fact that along with ‘Who Is It’ and ‘Black Or White’, Give In To Me is one of the few tracks on the album that represent Jackson at his very best and not stifled by machines. PS ‘Bad’ ultimately spawned 9 hit singles and the title track from ‘Dangerous’ has yet to appear on a 7" single.
10th July 1993
No. 11: NEW ENTRY. Michael Jackson – Will You Be There
Just grabbing the highest entry this week though is Jackson, and with it causing some debate over exactly what records he has established with this track. Very few albums produce large numbers of hit singles. The first to try this was Jackson himself with 6 from ‘Thriller’ – the first album ever to manage this. ‘Bad’ produced either 8 or 9 depending on your point of view (‘Leave Me Alone’ was only on the CD version yet peaked at 2 when released as a single in 1989) but one of these ‘Man In The Mirror’ peaked at 21. Therefore with the other 7 singles from ‘Dangerous’ making the Top 10 it becomes the first album ever to spawn 8 consecutive Top 20 hits, and a climb next week will make that 8 Top 10 hits. It’s a remarkable achievement, the only people to come close to this are Guns ‘N’ Roses with(so far) 7 hits from the Use Your Illusion set, although this does not really count as they have 2 albums to play with rather than one.
18th December 1993
No. 35: NEW ENTRY. Michael Jackson – Gone Too Soon
You can look at this two ways. Jacko’s third single of the year and the ninth hit from the album debuts at a place far lower than any before it. It could be down to the fact that the album is so old and this dirge of a tribute to his late friend Ryan White is one of the worst tracks from that album. The other factor could be the did he/didn’t he scenario regarding Jordy Chandler and whether it has harmed his record sales at all. Only time will tell really….
10th June 1995
No. 3: (–) Michael & Janet Jackson – Scream
It was always going to be the biggest hit of the week, the question was just how big. When the brand new track from the newly rehabilitated Michael Jackson was premiered to the nation in a massive operation a few weeks ago the reaction was mixed to say the least. ‘Scream’ turned out to be one of those Michael Jackson records that is a groove and little else, at least it appears that way on first hearing it. That factor alone may have affected its sales in this first week – certainly Sony were hoping for an instant No.1 and publicly expressed their disappointment when it fell short. In fact the single fell way short, outsold by Pulp by a margin of 2:1 and by ‘Unchained Melody’ by 4:1. Hopes rest now on the premiere of the video on Thursday’s ‘Top of The Pops’ which it is hoped will give it another boost. The reason for this apparent desperation on the part of the record company is simple – both the first singles from ‘Dangerous’ and ‘Bad’ were No.1 smashes and anything less than that from this new album will be seized by the press as an example of how the artist’s career has been wrecked by the recent spate of allegations against him. I would rather suggest though that any underachievement by the single is more likely to be centred on the fact that this single sounds like little more than a b-side filler, would not rate a second glance if released by anyone else and certainly does not bear comparison with some of the classics he has released in the past. Herein lies the rub – Michael Jackson’s whole superstar reputation it must be remembered, rests almost entirely on an album he made fifteen years ago and which probably means nothing to the generation of record buyers which has grown up since. More on this single, and its place in his overall chart achievements next week – whatever position it is at.
17th June 1995
No. 5: ( 3) Michael & Janet Jackson – Scream
Hmm, maybe the cynics were right. Whilst falling to No.5 after a Top 3 debut is no great crime, or ever very unusual, the fact that it is Michael Jackson doing so on a single currently unavailable on an album has caused many eyebrows to be raised. All of this of course has to be seen in context. Michael Jackson is still one of the all-time chart stars with 30 Top 10 hits to his credit – more than anyone else save Cliff Richard, Elvis Presley and Madonna; ‘Bad’ and ‘Thriller’ are two of the Top 5 biggest selling albums of all time in this country whilst ‘Dangerous’ became the first album ever to spawn 7 Top 10 hits. Despite all of this the knives are still out. Part of the reason for the single’s stall is the delay in the release of the multi-million dollar video which has still to receive a proper airing. It will feature on Top Of The Pops at the insistence of producer Ric Blaxill, thus breaking the age-old rule of the show that no single going down the charts is ever featured. Meanwhile over in America the single has actually broken records of its own by breaking a 25 year old record to become the first single ever to debut inside the Top 5 on the Hot 100, although by the looks of things even that record is not going to last with America set for its first ever instant No.1 hit…
2009 note – and with that I went legit, with all the pieces that follow being ones that were published officially on dotmusic.com
2nd September 1995
3 YOU ARE NOT ALONE (Michael Jackson)
Top 3 placing notwithstanding, ‘Scream’ was by all accounts a terrible cacophony of a record that looked almost embarrassingly out of place on an album alongside some of Michael Jackson’s past classics. The same can be said of many of the new songs from the ‘History’ album, save one. The R Kelly-penned ballad ‘You Are Not Alone’ probably ranks as one of the most beautiful songs Michael Jackson has ever recorded and so hot on the heels of becoming the first ever instant No.1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, the track smashes straight in to become a Top 3 hit over here. Aside from his Jacksons work, this is Michael’s 31st UK Top 10 hit.
9th September 1995
1 YOU ARE NOT ALONE (Michael Jackson)
The cynical view might be that this is as a result of some clever marketing, the release of another format to Michael Jackson’s hit giving it the impetus to claim Number One, but that should in no way detract from the achievement of this record. The superstar whose image appeared tainted beyond repair has not only made chart history in America but has now duplicated that feat over here and returned to the top of the charts with a record that ranks alongside any that he has made before. The R Kelly ballad becomes his fifth solo chart topper (and his sixth in all if you count the Jacksons’ ‘Show You The Way To Go’) following in the footsteps of ‘One Day In Your Life’ in 1981, ‘Billie Jean’ in 1983, ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’ in 1987 and ‘Black Or White’ in 1991. It also means he continues to be one of the few artists to have had at least one Number One single from a succession of albums, HIStory now joining ‘Thriller’, ‘Bad’ and ‘Dangerous’ on that list. It is by no means an unusual feat but it is one that few modern chart artists can emulate. It will now be interesting to see how long he can hold on to the top. None of his four previous chart-topping hits have remained there for longer than two weeks.
16th September 1995
1 YOU ARE NOT ALONE (Michael Jackson)
A second week at the top for Michael Jackson and by virtue of a strong surge of sales, by a slightly greater margin than the 800 copies that marked him out last week. Nonetheless his lead on the top remains slender and given the strong showing of several of the records below him he will face an uphill struggle to last another week and turn ‘You Are Not Alone’ into his longest running Number One hit ever.
2009 note – it didn’t, but his biggest UK chart single ever was just three months away.
9th December 1995
1 EARTH SONG (Michael Jackson)
At the start of this year, who would have thought it? Michael Jackson was apparently having to restart his career from the ground up following the scandals of recent years and was doing so with ‘Scream’, a noisy mess of a single that did little for the musical reputations of either him or sister Janet. The ‘HIStory’ album was not walking off the shelves in the manner expected either, until the release back in September of ‘You Are Not Alone’ which shot to Number One and reminded us that when it all boiled down, Michael Jackson was simply a superstar. Now the story takes on a second twist as he scores his second chart-topper of the year, shouldering the near-duopoloy of Coolio and Robson/Jerome out of the way as he does so. The towering gospel track gives him his sixth solo career Number One and indeed marks the first time he has had two chart-toppers from one album. This is despite his propensity for milking albums dry for singles – of the record-breaking seven Top 10 hits from ‘Dangerous’ which charted, only ‘Black Or White’ hit the top, despite several others coming close. The success of ‘Earth Song’ has also turned the betting market for Christmas Number One upside down. The track had featured in the running but was nowhere near one of the favourites. All that has changed now, the track is favourite with the bookmakers and with the appeal of the song far-reaching enough to enable it to hang on for another 3 weeks until the all-important Christmas chart. Having said that, speculation of this kind fails to take into account the release this week of ‘Free As A Bird’ – a single which, despite what any critic says about the way it sounds, is still virtually guaranteed a phenomenal sale. Much more about the Beatles record next week, I’m sure, but it does mean that the race for Christmas Number One is still far from over.
16th December 1995
1 EARTH SONG (Michael Jackson)
Michael Jackson almost died this week. Such a blunt and to the point statement may not be the most tactful thing in the world but could go some way towards explaining why the star has just pulled off what is without question one of the chart feats of the year. Although before this week he was the clear favourite to ultimately become the Christmas Number One, the release of the new Beatles single this week was expected to be too big a challenge to hold off. As it turns out figures released throughout the week indicated that the race for the top slot was too close to call and a final surge gave Jacko the edge. His health crisis during the week certainly caused a bit of a stir, especially given the truth behind the old adage that death is very commercial. If the reports are to be believed, at one point he was close to death, something that would have prompted an enormous surge for both album and single and blown any speculation about the Christmas Number One clean out of the water. Even so, having held off the Beatles, Jackson now has few serious competitors for the crown over the next two weeks. Certainly this week sees the vast bulk of the competition debuting far too low to mount any serious challenge. Due for release in the next week or so are singles by Queen, Corona, Robson and Jerome and of course the Mike Flowers Pops all of which could still pose a problem – it’s not over yet.
2009 note – wow, how spookily prescient was that? The details of his December 1995 health scare are all lost in the mists of time, but it was no exaggeration to say that the reports at the time suggested he was indeed at death’s door at one point. Incidentally I think it was this column that prompted one irate fan to get in touch and take umbrage at my constant reference to his idol as “Jacko”. That’s not his name apparently and it was “disrespectful”.
23rd December 1995
1 EARTH SONG (Michael Jackson)
Christmas -1. No real surprises here as Michael Jackson hangs onto the lead he had as of last week and spends a third week at the top of the charts. He is still very much the odds-on favourite to notch up a fourth week next week and thus become the Christmas Number One, especially now that the Beatles single appears to have peaked and is sliding down this week. His main challenge could come from a rather unexpected source. I rarely speculate about hitherto unreleased records but this one in particular is causing such a stir that it deserves consideration here. The record in question is Mike Flowers Pops’ version of ‘Wonderwall’ which has reportedly notched up over 200,000 advance orders, enough for the bookmakers to make it second favourite to top the chart next week. It should be pointed out here that advance orders mean very little as they still do not guarantee people will actually hand over their money for those copies. Nevertheless it does mean that the race for the title is far from over and the eyes of the world will be on the computer terminals at Millward Brown come Christmas Eve. It is too close to call.
2009 note – now in one of those bizarre moves that presumably made sense at the time, dotmusic didn’t actually publish in the week of the Christmas chart 1995 so I never had the chance to write up on the two-way battle between Jacko, I’m sorry, Jackson and the Mike Flowers Pops. By the time everyone returned to work in the new year, everyone had moved on and the talk was all of the singles that were going to replace him. Rather than reproduce that irrelevant piece, we’ll move on ourselves instead.
20th April 1996
Michael Jackson appears to be a walking controversy magnet at the present. Not only did his attempt to ‘cleanse’ himself during his Brits awards performance backfire spectacularly thanks to a Mr J. Cocker of Sheffield but the shooting of the Spike Lee directed video for this new single was dogged by allegations over the way the slum areas portrayed in the film were benefitting from the exposure. ‘They Don’t Care About Us’ was also the track from HIStory which had to be re-edited after complaints about the supposedly anti-Semitic lyrics. Muck-raking aside, where does that leave us? Answer: Jacko with the biggest new hit of the week and yet another Top 10 hit as he continues the most successful chart run of his career, following up the Number One smashes of both ‘You Are Not Alone’ and ‘Earth Song’. His public relations staff may be making a balls up at every turn at the moment but the music shines through regardless.
16th November 1996
4 STRANGER IN MOSCOW (Michael Jackson)
Jacko, or "Dad" as we should get used to calling him, notches up his third hit of 1996, following on from ‘They Don’t Care About Us’ and his collaboration with 3T ‘Why’. Lifted once more from HIStory, it makes a comfortable Top 5 debut, aided somewhat by the collection of dance remixes that accompany the single. It stretches to six his current run of Top Ten hits that dates back to the release of ‘Scream’ in June 1995, the best run of his long and distinguished career. In his entire chart career he has now had 35 Top Ten hits, helping him to maintain his fourth place in the all-time list just behind Madonna for whom ‘You Must Love Me’ was her 37th.
3rd May 1997
1 BLOOD ON THE DANCEFLOOR (Michael Jackson)
It may have seemed inevitable, but believe it or not the concept of Michael Jackson being a certain candidate for Number One is a fairly recent innovation. Indeed it was not until September 1995 when ‘You Are Not Alone’ made a triumphant climb to the top that Jacko’s status as a genuine chart-topping star was re-established. That single of course was written by R Kelly and now Jacko returns the favour with a slight kick in the teeth by deposing him from the top of the charts. ‘Blood On The Dancefloor’ is a brand new track taken from the forthcoming ‘History Revisited’ collection of remixes and is nothing more, nothing less, than a typical full-on Jackson dance workout that fortunately gets the balance of groove over melody exactly right. It is his first Number One single since ‘Earth Song’ was top of the charts for Christmas 1995 and is the seventh solo chart-topper of his career. That total puts him level in a curious tie with both Madonna and George Michael, the two acts whom you would pigeonhole with Jackson as the biggest stars of the last decade. Of course if you delve further into Jacko’s past you can add the Jacksons’ ‘Show You The Way To Go’ to his list of Number One hits which would give him 8 – the same as er…Take That. Whether he can hang on for another week will be interesting as there is now a brief window in the release schedules with few major new releases on the horizon – at least for a few weeks until we all start doing the MMMBop.
19th July 1997
5 HISTORY/GHOSTS (Michael Jackson)
There is no doubting Michael Jackson is on a roll right now with the decision to release a remix album clearly one of the best moves he has made for years. In the same week that his world tour rolls into this country the now two year old title track from his Greatest Hits collection crashes straight in to give him his eighth consecutive Top 5 hit. When you consider that the normal marketing strategy of endlessly mining albums for singles normally results in ever low chart placings this is nothing short of incredible. Indeed together ‘History’ and ‘Blood On The Dancefloor’ have produced three Number One hits and some of the biggest chart smashes he has had for years. Following on from the Number One success of ‘Blood On The Dancefloor’ the remixed ‘History’ further halts Jacko’s early-decade slide into self-cliche and instead presents him as the master of the late 90s pop record. Whatever the rumoured state of his nose, the man is, and will remain, Superstar.
20th October 2001
2 YOU ROCK MY WORLD (Michael Jackson)
So let us take a few minutes to consider the story so far. The last time
we saw Michael Jackson in the singles chart was in 1997. At the time his career back in America was on rather shaky ground, the History album had not produced either the sales or the smash hit singles everyone was expecting and it was clear that his days of being able to trade on the reputation of the Thriller album (recorded back in 1982 lest we forget) were numbered.
Britain was actually a different story as not only had You Are Not Alone and Earth Song topped the chart in 1995, his Blood On The Dancefloor remix album had turned into a major success, producing yet another Number One hit in the shape of the title track. Wacko Jacko had potentially rediscovered himself as a club icon and the future looked bright. Then of course he vanished for four years, embedding himself in a quagmire of perfectionism whilst at the same time emerging every so often to set up strange charities, perform one-off concerts and break a few limbs along the way. Jackson the slightly strange celebrity was back, his music almost an afterthought.
It is against this background that one of the most expensive albums in history is about to be released, its arrival preluded by the first single. After all the hype people were expecting something quite spectacular. What they got in the shape of You Rock My World is nothing out of the ordinary. Sure it is a fine record, one which seems at times to hark back to the days of the Off The Wall Album in the late 1970s. As a retro single it works fine but as an advert for the new, innovative and still relevant Michael Jackson it is actually a bit disappointing. That still didn’t stop everyone expecting it to charge to the top of the listings with ease, but as already documented a certain Australian pop star has rubbed his brand new nose in it. Once more a note of moderation must be sounded. I’m reminded of the time in June 1995 when Scream became the long-awaited first single from History. Just like You Rock My World it wasn’t as good as everyone was hoping and it only made Number 3 in this country, outsold in the week of release by Pulp’s Common People and Robson and Jerome’s rendition of Unchained Melody. His next two singles were much better received and both topped the charts.
Hence the headlines about the charts this week should not really be about how Michael Jackson has failed to hit Number One and has instead been humiliated by Kylie Minogue. Instead they should be detailing how this is his 20th solo Top 3 hit, one which proves that the four years in the studio has done his overall appeal no harm at all and one which suggests that there are far bigger gems lurking in the grooves of the forthcoming new album. Write him off at your peril.
2009 note – not long after the above piece was published, I received an email from a student newspaper asking if they could reproduce it in full, the editor regarding it as the best summary of the state of Jackson’s career and his prospects for the future. I’d quite forgotten the “Kylie humiliates Jacko” headlines that abounded after ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ beat him to Number One.
22nd December 2001
25 CRY (Michael Jackson)
Back in October when I wrote about Michael Jackson’s big comeback single You Rock My World I received a pleasantly large number of emails from dedicated fans of the superstar who were very appreciative of what they saw as a fair and balanced writeup. A writeup you may remember which speculated that there were better singles to come from the album and that all he needed was another R Kelly ballad to give him a genuine smash hit. I confess to not having a clue how to approach this one.
Let’s have a go anyway. Cry was the track highlighted by most reviewers as the standout track on the rather underwhelming Invincible album. It is indeed an R Kelly song and clearly intended to be another I Believe I Can Fly or You Are Not Alone. As a Christmas single release it was the perfect choice and was touted in some places as an outside bet for the seasonal chart-topper. Instead the single has done spectacularly badly. Forget the Spice Girls missing the Top 5, this is a Michael Jackson single, the second one from a long-awaited new album and a great song at that. For it to chart at Number 25 is unthinkable. Not that he hasn’t had hits this small in the past but on those occasions excuses could be made. When Man In The Mirror peaked at Number 21 in February 1988 it was while he was on tour on the other side of the world and did not even have time to make a proper video for the track. Gone Too Soon made Number 33 in December 1993 but it was the ninth single from the two year old Dangerous album and was released on the back of the Jordy Chandler scandal. Cry has no such excuses available to it. This is a flop single.
If you want reasons, try once again referring back to what I wrote in October. To maintain his supposed status as the biggest recording star on the planet, Michael Jackson has to deliver something new and spectacular every time. With this album he hasn’t, just a series of tracks that are quite good but still a bit same old, same old. For all the way sister Janet is releasing records that sound a mess, she is at least attempting to innovate and push back some boundaries. That, I suspect, is why this week she is at Number 13 and big brother is at Number 25.
6th December 2003
5 ONE MORE CHANCE (Michael Jackson)
Let us deal with the facts here as they stand.
- Michael Jackson’s last chart appearances were with the two hit singles from the disastrous Invincible album. You Rock My World made a creditable Number 2 in October 2001, the followup Cry was a resounding flop when it made Number 25 in December that same year.
- Since then he hasn’t had the best of times PR wise, what with his complaints that Sony records were deliberately stifling the promotion of the album (possibly because it was crap), the Martin Bashir interview and oh yes that small matter of those charges that led to his arrest just last week.
- He has a new Greatest Hits collection on release which topped the chart last week.
- This brand new single is taken from that self same set.
- Brand new singles from artists of Michael Jackson’s calibre tend not to chart at Number 5. When You Rock My World failed to top the charts two years ago it was a huge shock. This chart performance will be treated in the same light. Some or all of the above points may be connected although it isn’t my place to join the dots here.
Incidentally One More Chance is co-written by R Kelly. There is a joke in there somewhere.
2009 note – in retrospect that was actually a little harsh on One More Chance which stood out as a much needed return to form and the smash hit ballad that Cry should have been. Sadly that was also the last original release from Michael Jackson, his only other chart entries since being the poorly received Dualdisc re-releases during 2006. This weekend I’ll get write about many of his old hits all over again – possibly for the last time ever.