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Writer(s): Michael Jackson (see lyrics here)
First charted: 22 January 1983
Peak: 17 US, 16 CB, 11 UK, 9 AC, 19 RB (Click for codes to singles charts.)
Sales (in millions): 2.5 US, 0.87 UK, 5.6 world
Radio Airplay (in millions): 1.0 Video Airplay (in millions): 78.98
Review: With its “insanely catchy melody atop an insistent beat,” BB100 “this fabulously funky slice of disco-pop” BBC is “the single that made Jackson the biggest star since Elvis.” RS500 The Thriller album, from which this was the second single, became the best-selling album of all-time with a record-breaking seven top ten pop singles.
Michael sings of a supposedly real life situation in which a woman claimed that he was the father of one of her twin sons. In his Moonwalker autobiography, though, Michael described the situation more as the “kind of thing has happened to some of my brothers.” KL On the surface, the song may have been about a paternity suit, but it hinted at something more – the struggle of a major musical star being a target for the public.
Regardless of its inspiration, the song’s game-changing quality is in what it inspired. The video for “Billie Jean” was revolutionary for breaking the dominance on MTV of videos by predominantly white artists. The head of CBS, Jackson’s label, threatened that there would be no more CBS acts on MTV if they refused to show the video. TB MTV caved.
Not only did “Billie Jean” show how important visual presentation had become in the early ‘80s via its video, but with Michael’s eye-popping live performance of the song on the U.S. TV special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today and Forever. He debuted his iconic moonwalk dance for an audience in excess of 47 million; TB it launched him as the King of Pop.
Resources and Related Links:
- original page on DMDB website
- Michael Jackson’s DMDB Encyclopedia entry
- DMDB web page for Thriller
- BBC BBC Radio 2 (2004). “Sold on Song Top 100”.
- BB100 Billboard (9/08). “All-Time Hot 100”.
- KL Jon Kutner/Spencer Leigh (2005). 1000 UK Number One Hits: The Stories Behind Every Number One Single Since 1952. London, Great Britain: Omnibus Press. Page 289.
- RS500 Rolling Stone (12/04). “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.
- TB Thunder Bay Press (2006). Singles: Six Decades of Hot Hits & Classic Cuts. Outline Press Ltd.: San Diego, CA. Page 208.