10th July 2009
The title "King Of Pop"
by Mike Scott
In the wake of his death, I see constant references to Michael Jackson as the "King of Pop". I remember when this term was first used. Michael's PR handlers enforced it in 1993, warning journalists and magazines that they had to use it to describe Michael otherwise they wouldn't get access to him.
This is an unusually crude way of conferring a title on a star, and while it would have been an appropriate title for Michael during the years when he really was the "King of Pop" (1982-3, the era of Thriller's dominance of the world's charts), by 1993, when his handlers insisted on it, he was nothing of the kind; more like a king of shadows, or of wierdness.
The throne of "King Of Pop" is a revolving chair, and no one artist has a claim on it. And several have a greater claim than Michael, based on the breadth of their work and the longevity of their heyday.
Frank Sinatra was the King of Pop in the mid 1940s; perhaps the first bearer of the crown.
Elvis Presley was King of Pop from 1956, when he exploded like a supernova onto world consciousness, until 1960, when he emerged from the army and began his fade into a routine of bad Hollywood films.
The Beatles were the Kings of Pop longer than anyone, towering over the worlds of music, youth culture and fashion from their arrival on the TV screens of the USA in early 1964, till their split six years later, and it's arguable that as solo artists both Lennon and McCartney - and even George Harrison during the global success of All Things Must Pass in 1970-1 - continued to occupy the throne for a year or so afterwards.
Marc Bolan and David Bowie were consecutive Kings Of Pop in 1970s UK, Bowie for longer, while David Cassidy was briefly King Of Pop in the USA in the early '70s.
Michael Jackson's ascent to the throne came with "Beat It" and "Billie Jean", his fantastic 1982 singles. I still remember how Michael's very name, during those two years, stood for a lighting-sharp energy, a fusion of incredible singing and supernatural dancing.
But then Prince trumped him in 1984, releasing Purple Rain and displaying equally outrageous dance moves, equally exquisite singing, and a prodigious armoury of musical and arrangement skills, not least of which was the most soulful lead guitar playing since Jimi Hendrix. Prince's name replaced Michael's as that synonymous with brilliance and sharpness, and he occupied the throne till 1988, when Lovesexy failed to maintain the standard of the previous four albums.
Since then Kings Of Pop have come and gone with increasingly rapidity (and some might say with increasing vapidity), but Michael Jackson hasn't been among them. He deserves to be remembered as a superlative talent, but he was only truly the King Of Pop for two years in the early '80s.