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The Jacksons Years

In June of 1976 Michael and his brothers were staring in the weekly CBS "Variety Show - The Jacksons" [first announced in January of 1973]. "It was a dumb move to agree to do that show and I hated every minute of it", Michael said later. The show was based on the successful Jackson 5 Las Vegas cabarett shows (which Michael, opposite to this new show, enjoyed doing). Michael: "I think a TV series is the worst thing an artist who has a recording career can do... I'd never do it again... I'm not a comedian. I'm not a show host, I'm a musician." "Somehow, the show was a big hit. CBS really wanted to keep us, but I knew that show was a mistake."

After the contract with Motown ended, Motown said that the group's name was the company's registered trademark, and that the Jackson 5 couldn't use it when they left. That was a hardball, of course, so the group called themselves "The Jacksons" from that time on.

The first album they cut for Epic was simply called "The Jacksons" - containing the number one record "Enjoy Yourself" and "Show You The Way To Go". The second album for Epic was "Going Places" - different from their first - there were more songs with messages and not as many dance songs.

In September of 1977 Motown had bought the rights to film the Broadway show known as "The Wiz", an updated, black-oriented version of the great movie "The Wizard Of Oz". Michael: "Motown bought 'The Wiz' for one reason, and as far as I was concerned, it was the best reason possible: Diana Ross." Diana was going to play Dorothy and encouraged Michael to audition. He auditioned for the part of the Scarecrow because he thought this character best fit his style. Michael: "When I got the call back from the director, Sidney Lumet, I felt proud but also a little scared."

It took 5 hours to do Michael's make-up and transform him into the Scarecrow and this 6 days a week. Michael loved to do this movie: "I'The Wiz' gave me new inspiration and strength."

"The script was clever and showed me [as the Scarecrow] pulling bits of information and quotations out of my straw while not really knowing how to use them. My straw contained all the answers, but I didn't know the questions...We were doing the crows' scene that day. The other guys wouldn't even have their heads visible in this scene because they'd be in crow costumes. They seemed to know their parts backward and forward. I'd studied mine too, but I hadn't said them aloud more than once or twice. The directions called for me to pull a piece of paper from my straw and read it. It was a quote. The author's name, Socrates, was printed at the end. I had read Socrates, but I had never pronounced his name, so I said, 'Sohcrates', because that's the way I had always assumed it was pronounced. There was a moment's silence before I heard someone wisper, 'Soc-ruh-teeze'. I looked over at this man I vaguely recognized. He was not one of the actors, but he seemed to belong there. I remember thinking he looked very self-confident and had a friendly face. I smiled, a little embarrassed at having mispronounced the name, and thanked him for his help. His face was naggingly familiar, and I was suddenly sure that I had met him before. He confirmed my suspicious by extending his hand - 'Quincy Jones. I'm doing the score.' "

Michael actually first met Quincy Jones in Los Angeles when he was about 12 years old. "I was little at the time, but I vaguely remember Sammy Davis introducing me to Q." Their friendship really began to blossom on the set of "The Wiz", and it developed into a father-and-son relationship. After "The Wiz" Michael called Quincy Jones and said, "Look, I'm going to do an album - do you think you could recommend some producers?" "I wasn't hinting. My question was a naïve but honest one. We talked about music for a while, and, after coming up with some names and some half-hearted hemming and hawing, he said, 'Why don't you let me do it?' " "I really hadn't thought of it... So I stammered something like, 'Oh sure, great idea. I never thought about that.' Quincy still kids me about it."With this phone call, the work of the most successful and best team in the 80's began - Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson!

In December of 1978 The Jacksons were back with a bang! The album "Destiny" was their biggest success as an album and also the first record for which The Jacksons had total creative control. With the exception of "Blame It On The Boogie", all songs were written by the group. The album was a major success! The Jacksons also launched their own production company, "Peacock Productions".

In 1979 Michael turned 21 years old and began to take full control of his career. Michael: "My father's personal management contract with me ran out around this time, and although it was a hard decision, the contract was not renewed." "Did it change the relationship between me and my father? I don't know if it did in his heart, but it certainly didn't in mine... All I wanted is control over my own life." "I wanted my first solo album [for Epic] to be the best it could be." For "Off The Wall", Michael teamed up with a new producer - it is the legendary Quincy Jones. "I was so glad that my outside source was a good friend who also happened to be THE perfect choice for a producer."

The "Off The Wall" album was originally going to be called "Girlfriend". Paul and Linda McCartney wrote a song of that title with Michael in mind before they ever met him. Michael: "Paul McCartney always tells people this story about me calling him and saying we should write some hit songs together. But that's not exactly how we first met... Paul McCartney and I first met at that [Harold Lloyd estate] party. He said, 'you know, I've written a song for you.' I was very surprised and thanked him. And he started singing 'Girlfriend' to me at this party."

They promised to get together soon, but different projects and life just got in the way for both of them and they didn't talk again for a couple of years. Paul ended up putting the song on his own album "London Town". Michael: "The strangest thing happened when we were making 'Off The Wall'; Quincy walked up to me one day and said, 'Michael, I've got a song that's perfect for you.' He played 'Girlfriend' for me, not realizing, of course, that Paul had written it for me originally. When I told him, he was astonished and pleased. We recorded it soon after and put it on the album. It was an incredible coincidence."

Quincy's engineer, Bruce Swedien put the final touches on the songs and mixes. Up to today, Bruce still works with Michael and they're very good friends. "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" means a lot to Michael because it was the first song he wrote as a whole. Michael: "I'Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough' was my first chance, and it went straight to number one. It was the song that won me my first Grammy [as a solo artist]."

Two of the biggest hits were "Off The Wall" and "Rock With You". Songs that would send everyone home in a good mood. And then there was "She's Out Of My Life". Michael: "Sometimes it's hard for me to look my dates in the eye even if I know them well. My dating and relationships with girls have not had the happy ending I've been looking for. Something always seems to get in the way. The things I share with millions of people aren't the sort of things you share with one."

"But I got too wrapped up in 'She's Out Of My Life'. In this case, the story's true - I cried at the end of a take, because the words suddenly had such a strong effect on me. I had been letting so much build up inside me. I was 21 years old, and I was so rich in some experiences while being poor in moments of true joy. Sometimes I imagine that my life experience is like an image in one of those trick mirrors in the circus, fat in one part and thin to the point of disappearing in another. I was worried that would show up on 'She's Out Of My Life', but if it touched people's heartstrings, knowing that would make me feel less lonely." "I didn't really have any girlfriends when I was in school. There were girls I thought were cute, but I found it so difficult to approach them. I was too embarrassed - I don't know why - it was just crazy.

My first real date was with Tatum O'Neal. We met at a club on Sunset Strip called 'On The Rox'. We exchanged phone numbers and called each other often. I talked to her for hours; from the road, from the studio, from home. On our first date we went to a party at Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion and had a great time. She had held my hand for the first time that night at 'On The Rox'. When we met, I was sitting at this table and all of a sudden I felt this soft hand reach over and grab mine. It was Tatum. This probably wouldn't mean a lot to other people, but it was serious stuff to me. SHE touched me. That's how I felt about it. In the past, girls had always touched me on tour; grabbing at me and screaming, behind a wall of security guards. But this was different, this was one-on-one, and that's always the best."

Tatum: "One time when Michael as over, he played the drums, my brother played guitar, and someone else played another instrument, and we had a jam session. I had the tape of it, but I lost it somewhere." [Tatum O'Neal in an interview, 1995]

Michael: "Ours developed into a real close relationship. I fell in love with her [and she with me] and we were very close for a long time. Eventually the relationship transcended into a good friendship. We still talk now and then, and I guess you'd have to say she was my first love - after Diana Ross." Tatum O'Neal says later in an interview that she thinks that "She's Out Of My Life" describes their friendship at that time.

Michael: "When I heard Diana Ross was getting married, I was happy for her because I knew it would make her very joyous. Still, it was hard for me, because I had to walk around pretending to be overwhelmed that Diana was getting married to this man I'd never met. I wanted her to be happy, but I have to admit that I was a bit hurt and a little jealous because I've always loved Diana and always will." "Another love was Brooke Shields. We were romantically serious for a while..."

Finally, in August of 1979, the album "Off The Wall" was released and it became a tremendous success. Michael Jackson is the first singer ever to spawn 4 Top Ten singles in the US from one album ( "Off The Wall"), two of which became number one hits. In Britain, for the first time in music history, a record 5 hit singles were released, "Girlfriend" being one of them. The album exceeded all expectations and was hugely successful on both the Pop and Black album charts. With the release of this album, the world got to see a new Michael Jackson. With "Off The Wall" Michael becomes the Prince of Pop!

At the Grammy Awards for 1979, Michael got nominated for "Best R&B Vocal Performance" and also won in his category. Michael: "Although 'Off The Wall' had been one of the most popular records of the year, it received only one nomination: 'Best R&B Vocal Performance'. I remember where I was when I got the news. I felt ignored by my peers and it hurt. People told me later that it surprised the industry too... I said to myself, 'Wait until next time - they won't be able to ignore the next album.' I watched the ceremony on television and it was nice to win in my category, but I still was upset by what I perceived as the rejection of my peers. I just kept thinking 'Next time, next time.' "

"I can be brutally objective about my work as I create it, and if something doesn't work, I can feel it, but when I turn in a finished album - or song - you can be sure that I've given it every ounce of energy and God-given talent that I have. 'Off The Wall' was well received by my fans and I think that's why the Grammy nominations hurt. That experience lit a fire in my soul. All I could think of was the next album and what I would do with it. I wanted it to be truly great." And yes, the next time at the Grammy Awards, something will happen that the world has never seen before...

Right after "Off The Wall" was finished, Michael plunged into making the "Triumph" album with his brothers. It was released in September of 1980, entered both the Black and Pop album charts peaking at number one and ten respectively and remained on both charts for 29 weeks.

"I'Heartbreak Hotel' had revenge in it and I am fascinated by the concept of revenge. It's something I can't understand. The idea of making someone 'pay' for something they've done to you or that you imagine they've done to you is totally alien to me...

If this song ['Heartbreak Hotel'], and later 'Billie Jean', seemed to cast women in an unfavorable light, it was not meant to be taken as a personal statement. Needless to say, I love the interaction between the sexes; it is a natural part of life and I love women. I just think that when sex is used as a form of blackmail or power, it's a repugnant use of one of God's gifts."

The upcoming "Triumph" tour was going to be a big undertaking. They had special effects arranged for them by the great magician Doug Henning.

The release of "Off The Wall" in August of 1979, the same month Michael turned 21 and took control of his own affairs, was definitely one of the major landmarks of Michael's life. It meant a great deal to him because the album's eventual success proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that a former "child star" could mature into a recording artist with contemporary appeal.

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