Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ turns 30 today. Not only is it one of the highest selling singles of all time and the catapult that shot Jacko to the zenith of pop, it also changed the entertainment world. First, it was the video that drew attention to MTV and kickstarted its significance in popular culture. Second, it finally broke the grip of the racists in charge who refused to play videos featuring black performers. Here are 30 other facts you might not know.
1 Memo to this decade’s lazy pop moguls: ‘Billie Jean’ was mixed 91 times by Bruce Swedien. 91 times!
Walter Yetnikoff, the president of Jackson’s record label CBS, threatened MTV that he’d go public with their stance on race:
I said to MTV, ‘I’m pulling everything we have off the air, all our product. I’m not going to give you any more videos. And I’m going to go public and fucking tell them about the fact you don’t want to play music by a black guy.’
Michael Jackson said he came up with the idea while driving his Rolls-Royce down a motorway. He was so absorbed by the song that he didn’t notice his car had caught fire. A guy passing on a motorcyclist warned him and saved his life.
Quincy Jones did not want ‘Billie Jean’ to appear on ‘Thriller’.
5 Jones hated the bassline.
He also hated the intro.
“But that’s the jelly!…That’s what makes me want to dance,’ said Jackson. And the rest is history.
Kind of. Jackson and Jones quarelled over the title of the song. Worried that people would confuse the name with tennis player Billie Jean King, Jones wanted to change the name to ‘Not My Lover’. Jackson won that battle.
9 But he didn’t get the co-producing credit he asked for. Or the subsequent royalties.
Jackson sang the vocals into a six-foot-long cardboard tube.
He performed his first moonwalk when he sang ‘Billie Jean’ on the TV show Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever
You might think ‘Billie Jean’ sounds similar to Hall & Oates’ ‘I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)’. You’d be right. Here’s Daryl Hall on whether his song influenced the King of Pop.
No question about it. Michael Jackson once said directly to me that he hoped I didn’t mind that he copped that groove. That’s okay; it’s something we all do.
13 He nailed the vocals in one take.
Jackson’s head was set on fire by special effects explosions while filming a Pepsi-Cola commercial soundtracked by ‘Billie Jean’.
It propelled ‘Thriller’ to be the best-selling album of all time partly due to winning shitloads of awards and honours.
Billie Jean is based on the groupies that used to hang around Jackson and his brothers when they were in The Jackson 5. Here’s MJ:
Billie Jean is kind of anonymous. It represents a lot of girls. They used to call them groupies in the ’60s…They would hang around backstage doors, and any band that would come to town they would have a relationship with, and I think I wrote this out of experience with my brothers when I was little. There were a lot of Billie Jeans out there. Every girl claimed that their son was related to one of my brothers.
However there is a theory that Billie Jean is a real person.
Biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli writes that a woman wrote to Jackson claiming he was the father of one of her twins (I didn’t even know this was possible).
Apparently, after a run of letters, the woman sent a parcel that contained a gun and requested he commit suicide on a certain date after which she’d kill the baby and then herself.
The weirdest part? Jacko framed a picture of the stalker she’d sent to him in his home.
Ian Brown covered it. It’s horrific.
The tiger cub at the end of the video belonged to Michael Jackson and was called Thriller, according to the internet.
Jackson doesn’t actually start dancing till almost halfway through the video. The famous en pointe moment happens at 2:31.
The song is in the key of F# minor.
The UPC barcode on the album cover contained seven digits that were rumoured to be Jackson’s telephone number.
Chris Cornell’s cover isn’t half bad.
Kanye West’s remix on the other hand…
The audio engineer was told by Quincy Jones to add “sonic personality”.
He’d already told Swieden to create a drum sound no one had heard before. Demanding, much!
The handwritten lyrics to ‘Billie Jean’ sold for £24,984 at auction in 2012.