Michael Jackson - Bad

An important thing to realize about Michael Jackson’s Bad, a really great album that turns 25 today: Pretty soon after it came out, Warner Bros. spent $22 million making Moonwalker, a full-length film vehicle with a plot that absolutely defies comprehension; it involves Jackson turning into a claymation rabbit and a killer robot and a spaceship. And everyone agreed that this was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, since the movie did, after all, string together a whole bunch of songs from the album. Here’s another important thing: This movie’s release led to a Sega Genesis video game of the same name, one in which you controlled Jackson while he rescued children and fought mobsters with his dance magic. Again: Perfectly reasonable, since the game strung together 16-bit bleep-bloop approximations of Jackson’s songs. This was the hold that Jackson had over the kids of the world in the late 1980′s. I know this because I was one of them.

Bad was the first album I ever bought with my own money, and god knows that there are probably tens of millions around the world who can say the same thing. I might’ve been using tooth fairy money, or maybe it was the first thing I ever saved up allowance money to buy; I can’t remember which. I do remember walking into Woolworth for weeks before I finally had the money to buy the thing, seeing the racks and racks of vinyl copies and cassettes and longbox CD cases, all with that picture of Jackson staring back at me, thumbs hooked in his too-tight black jeans, and just wanting to own that album. Beyond a vague idea that I should maybe start paying attention to pop music, I don’t know why I felt like I needed to own Bad. But when I finally got it, I just played the shit out of it, wore the tape out. My little brother bought his own copy, too, since he didn’t like the idea of me owning it and him not. Every last one of my friends owned a copy. If you were a kid then, that was just what you did. Not liking Michael Jackson would’ve been unthinkable.

Listening to it now, Bad is obviously an excellent pop record, every song painstakingly crafted and workshopped. It’s quite evidently the work of a pop star and an expert producer, both of whom know exactly what they’re doing. But there’s a real ferocity and anger at work in it, too. Jackson’s work had been radiating a heavy sort of paranoia for years; it’s what drove “Billie Jean.” And on “Bad,” he didn’t sing so much as emit a series of wild, feral tics — pushing against the rhythm, finding sharp angles, panting out percussive sounds on his own internal time. Love songs like “Another Part Of Me” sounded like get-the-fuck-away-from-me songs. Even on ballads like “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” the yips and grunts and moans said as much as the actual words. “Dirty Diana” is grimy hair-metal ire not that far removed from Appetite For Destruction. “Speed Demon” is a tricky rhythmic oddity that only sounded like pop because Jackson had a way of making everything sound like pop. And “Smooth Criminal” remains my favorite Jackson song because it’s the purest example of his jittery synth-funk ferocity.

Jackson wore that leather jacket on the cover and hired Martin Scorsese to direct the video for the title track because he wanted to come across tough, to catch up the the rap music and Prince records that were just starting to threaten his pop primacy. But instead of sounding tough, he sounded more weird and fragile and angry than ever — more like a kid who knew he had no control over his life and who was pissed about it. Jackson’s complete lack of healthy childhood was, of course, an enormous factor in his life taking the weird turns it did. But it might’ve also made him so irresistible to kids like me in the first place. To the extent that being a kid sort of sucks, Jackson and his voice just made sense. “Leave Me Alone” was a bonus track that wasn’t included on my copy of the album, but its sentiment hangs over the entire album. This was the planet’s dominant pop star making an album about how pissed off and restless he was with his life and his dominant-pop-star status, and making it as such perfect pop music that nine of its 10 tracks ended up as singles anyway. It’s a pretty amazing thing.

Let’s watch some videos below.

Comments (26)
  1. It’s about time you guys did a feature on a Weird Al record!

  2. I love Bad, personally it’s my favorite era of Michael Jackson. It’s not his best record (though it does contain my favorite single in “Smooth Criminal”), but I feel like it’s the most representative of his true feelings. Under pressure to replicate Thriller, he sort of waved off Quincy Jones a bit to really take the helm on it. It IS very personal, it is almost petulant, it’s enormous, and it’s pop gold. And he really wouldn’t make another record like it again. Since it didn’t perform to Thriller’s standard (which is humanly impossible), he felt pressured to give the reigns back on Dangerous (then to Teddy Riley) and so on and so on. I sort of respect HIStory in that regard as well, but it was unfocused. He was purely angry, spaced out, and maybe on painkillers. But he did have a joint with Biggie, so fuck it.

  3. Every Michael Jackson joke I know has been played out, so I’m just going to say that this is an excellent album among many, and that he will be sorely missed.

    • the imdb synopsis:

      A movie that starts out with the “Man in the Mirror” music video, it then changes to a montage of video clips of Michael’s career. Next comes a parody of his Bad video by children, and then Michael is chased by fans in a fantasy sequence. 2 more videos are shown, and then a movie in which Michael plays a hero with magical powers. In it he is chased by drug dealer Mr. Big and saves three children

  4. Growing up I loved “Off The Wall” and “Thriller”, but I remember going to my local record store and seeing the poster for “Bad” and it was almost comical to me. IMO Prince had obliterated pretty much everything in popular music and was releasing more adventurous material(“Erotic City”, the Shelia E. album, etc…) than anyone else. I was still somewhat excited when the album came out but it was still hard to get past that album sleeve and suit(Prince would later one up him with the ridiculous cover of “Lovesexy”). Anyway, “Bad” always seemed to slick for me. I think “Dirty Diana” with Steve Stevens was a smart move, but only “Man In The Mirror”(which he didn’t write) stands out. Personally, I thought “Dangerous” was a far superior release that showcased the best of what MJ could do. “In The Closet”, Who Is It”, “Give In To Me” are brilliant songs. I know “Bad” sold a lot but I think if “Dangerous” would have followed “Thriller” he would have been even bigger, if that’s even possible.
    Spike Lee said he was doing a documentary on the album. I do look forward to that.

  5. I owned Bad on cassette; to my young ears, “Man in the Mirror” was the jam. I also remember viewing Moonwalker and being horribly confused – all I can recall is Joe Pesci being villainous and a tarantula or soemthing. Apparently Sean Lennon is in this thing too – which is totally crazysauce.

  6. Dude, MJ’s Moonwalker was fun as fuck. Like seriously one of the best games on the Genesis. I get more nostalgic hearing the 16-bit version of “Smooth Criminal” than I do hearing the original.

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  8. Michael Jackson creeps me out. Yes, he made some great music. But his whole mythology is just really unsettling; this album cover especially, being that it highlights his nosejob and increasingly pale skin.

  9. Calling bullshit on that way you make me feel video. There is no resisting Michael’s sultry gyrations, he is a veritable tsunami of dancey seduction

  10. It’s not a leather jacket on the cover. It’s made out of canvas.


  11. ‘dirty diana’ is reeeeaaalllly fucking far removed from appetite for destruction.

  12. hmmmmmm, that’s not how i remember the “speed demon” video going……

  13. so we’re supposed to care about some child molester who was so ashamed of being black he turned white?

  14. Please quit having children write for your blog. Princes’ ‘Purple Rain” came out n 1984. More than a threat in 1988, don’t you think? I would pick Purple Rain over Thriller any day of the week… but then the first cassette I ever bought with my own money was in 1985, and that was the fucking Sex Pistols. Yes, MJ was trying to toughen up, yes Dirty Diana is one of the best songs on there thanks to Steve Stevens amazing riffage (if you don’t know SS then you REALLY should not be writing here). And yes you could not find an ssue of Bop or Teen Beat without a picture of MJ (and fortunately also not without a much better pop sensation, Duran Duran). There was one king, Elvis.

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