Top 40 Metrics: The Jackson Family 1982-1983

We’re looking at the Top 40 metrics of The Jackson family to analyze their influence during the 1980s. During the last post, we reviewed 1980 and 1981, when Michael and Jermaine had successful breakthrough albums. But the best was yet to come.

[Note: Each song is listed with its peak position and number of weeks spent in the Top 40]


Jermaine Jackson – Let Me Tickle Your Fancy [#18, 7 wks in the Top 40]

JJ is back in the Top 40 with the title track to his latest album, an adventurous affair that steps into the world of New Wave synth-funk. It even features Gerald Casale & Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo de-evolving the chorus into a monotone request. (FYI – they were NOT the backup group, as JJ says. )

This single and LP release piggybacked an appearance on The Facts of Life, wherein Tootie loses her shit that she missed the chance to roller skate her way into his heart at a local show. FYI – Mrs. Garrett sucks.

And then, one month after this single peaked, Michael released his new single and first in over two years.


Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney – The Girl Is Mine [#2, 14 wks]

Did folks know he was recording with the former Beatle in 1982? I was certainly shocked. And yet two had been collaborating for a year with no releases to show for it. It was odd to showcase MJ’s new album with something so mellow. But maybe his plan was to get the grannies and hedge fund boomers invested early in the album. It will climb to #3 by the end of 1982, then climb one notch higher to #2 at the beginning of the year, kept out of the top spot by Hall & Oates’ Maneater and Men At Work’s Down Under. That’s right; they were held down by The Man. [FYI – MJ will get his revenge on H&O later]

This song is essentially Paul & Michael singing with Toto as the backing band. So it’s the 60s, 70s, and 80s wrapped up in one. [Toto had just broken through with Toto IV, which will net them six Grammys a month after this peaks.]

Michael Jackson – Billie Jean [#1 (7 wks), 17 wks]

And now, world, meet Michael Jackson plus visuals. After a decade-plus of performing,  he became the firmament of pop culture. This wasn’t about songs on the radio anymore. This was about watching Michael in your own living room home.

Every time Bille Jean showed up on MTV, it was an event. It’s not like he hadn’t filmed videos before, but they were cheesy green-screen episodes. And this was different. How many of us tried to stand on the tips of our shoes or try to make everything we touched light up after we saw this. It took a while for the public to have the ability to enjoy it, as MTV didn’t air the video when it was released. With pressure from multiple (disputed) sources, it finally showed up on the channel on March 10th, 1983, AFTER the song hit #1. MTV didn’t make Michael Jackson. MJ made MTV.

By the way, that’s Louis “Thunderthumbs” Johnson on the bass line. Yeah, that cat is bad.

Supposedly Michael told Daryl Hall that he swiped this bass line from I Can’t Go For That. Don’t know if Madonna ever owned up to her heist for Like A Virgin.

Michael Jackson – Beat It [#1 (3 wks), 18 wks]

Another iconic song and video released right on the heels of Billie Jean. The rock sound and presence of Eddie Van Halen helped spread the mass appeal of the album, and soon everyone would have a copy. When this hit #1, it replaced Toto’s Africa, which had replaced Billie Jean. But the real story is how the master recording got accidentally erased after Eddie’s solo, and Steve Lukather, Jeff Porcaro, and Steve Porcaro had to recreate the track to preserve it. It’s all in Luke’s autobiography, which I highly recommend.

Michael Jackson – Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ [#5, 11 wks]

Thriller would only yield MJ two #1s, but it was the first album to generate seven Top 10 singles. In the breakdown, Jackson incorporates some of Manu Dibango’s Soul Makossa, creating the bridge from 70s disco to 80s synth-driven dance music.

Michael Jackson – Human Nature [#7, 11 wks]

The fifth single takes Michael to the quiet storm format, a track initially discovered by Quincy Jones on the b-side of a demo cassette recorded by Steve Porcaro. Steve had the title, and Q loved it. He asked for lyrical help from John Bettis, who had written several Carpenters hits, such as Top of The World and Only Yesterday. Boom – hit #5.

This song has shown up as a sample in many tunes, such as SWV’s Right Here (Remix), and it also received a “backstory” courtesy of the guys from the Yacht Rock episode series. (watch at your own discretion)

Michael Jackson – P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) [#10, 9 wks]

This one is probably my favorite on the album. Written mainly by James Ingram with some assistance from Q, it will peak at #10 while the song below was still climbing at #2. Also, Janet and LaToya are singing back-up, which signifies their best chart showing on a single to date [Question – Which one of them would show up on a #1 song first?] Rumor has it that Natalie from The Facts of Life sings back-up too, deepening the Jackson family connection to the fictional Eastland Academy.

Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson – Say Say Say [#1 (6 wks), 18 wks]

I listed this last because it was the final song of 1983 to reach its peak, hitting #1 on December 10th, knocking off Lionel Richie’s All Night Long. [This song will also spend four weeks at #2, meaning it was one of the top two most popular songs for almost three months.] This will be MJ’s seventh Top 10 single for the year. Incredible. The video played on MTV round the clock that holiday season, even giving LaToya a little cameo. I could probably recite Paul & Michael’s Mac N Jac pitch scheme verbatim as I watched it so much.

He also got his H&O revenge by keeping Say It Isn’t So at #2 for four weeks.

The album Thriller had reportedly sold 32 million copies by the end of 1983. If he never did anything else, MJ was now a part of the pop culture forever. But he wasn’t done, not by a long shot. A groundbreaking video directed by John Landis was released as a significant pop culture event on December 3rd, 1983. The dance sequence and his red jacket turned MJ into an icon.

And now his family was ready to cash in. In the next post, we’ll take a peek at what the top looks like for the Jackson family and how it sounds when things get diluted.

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