:: Michael Jackson’s Bad turns 25 :: Martin Scorsese directed the title song’s film clip, Quincy Jones twiddled the knobs in the studio, Stevie Stevens lashed out dirty guitar licks and the core of what would become Eric Clapton’s touring band held the funk as close to the edge of nasty as Jones would permit.
The original video clips were epic cinematic moments, there was a feature film and a Sega game to tie it all together, while 9 of the album’s 10 songs were released as singles - 5 cracking the No. 1 spot in the US. And this was the follow-up to what had been 5 years earlier - and still is to this day - the biggest selling album of all time in Thriller.
To put this in context, Bad was released amidst a sea of era defining albums which saw the blending of pop music and rock into an arena event hybrid art form - for better or worse - the past and the future were going mainstream:
U2 were busy filming Rattle & Hum while Joshua Tree began its slow descent back down the charts after months of solemn and righteous sales; in a similar vein REM’s Document hinted at their stadium rock potential with the astute observation, that This is the End of the World As We Know It (And I feel Fine); meanwhile Appetite for Destruction launched the most tactile and shimmering heavy rock the pop charts had ever seen replete with the hair, that hat, the scarfs and tats (remember this was also the year of Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet and Def Leppard’s Hysteria - both of whom would go on to sell millions but never quite match the stirring iconography of the Gunners); Paul Simon was busy popularizing African music with Graceland; Whitney Houston emerged as a legitimate genre all to herself and would hold the mantle of the modern era’s first Diva for some time to come; the somewhat forgotten Australian Prince of Pop found middle age to truly be his price point with Whispering Jack still loitering on the charts after some 24 months; while Crowded House launched the most popular Beatlesque tribute to melody, wit and wisdom since… well, the Beatles. Perhaps as Prince noted in his release of that year, this convergence of commercial pop and rock gravitas was truly a Sign O’ the Times.
And sitting on top of all of this genius was Michael Jackson.
And what about Michael? Well, he wasn’t just bad - he was pissed off. As Tom Brelhan writes over at Stereogum, this was the feral sound of a jilted, spiteful lover, a paranoid angry young boy whipped up with the venom and clout of being a reluctant - yet definitive - global superstar:
“Listening to it now, Bad is obviously an excellent pop record, every song painstakingly crafted and work-shopped. 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.”
Meanwhile Spike Lee has just premiered a documentary, Bad 25, on the making of the album at the Venice Film festival.