The cover of Michael Jackson's iconic 1982 album "Thriller"

The cover of Michael Jackson's iconic 1982 album "Thriller"

I’ve spent many hours over the last several years typing article after article about not only Michael Jackson‘s influence on me, but his influence on pop culture as a whole.

Despite the fact that he’s viewed (rightfully) as a egomaniacal, plastic surgery-addled, creepy train wreck these days, there’s no disputing that Michael was one of the largest (and the longest-running) pop phenomena in history (or HIStory). Sure, he himself was a product of a group of influences (Jackie Wilson and James Brown chief among them), but Jacko blazed (or at least helped to blaze) more trails than just about any contemporary artist. He certainly rewrote the rule book for black artists, breaking MTV’s embargo on R&B music (contrary to popular belief, MTV did play the occasional black rocker prior to “Billie Jean”) and rewriting just about every sales and chart record in existence. It should go without saying that a quick scan through today’s pop music scene reveals tons of artists, from Kanye West and Akon to Fall Out Boy and Rihanna to Usher, Justin Timberlake, Chris Brown and Ne-Yo: all directly crib from the rule book that Michael wrote. There weren’t Elvis sightings all over the Billboard chart in 1980, 25 years after his debut. However if you look at a Billboard chart from earlier this year, 25 years after “Thriller” took over the world, you’ll see that not only was a re-jiggered version of the album itself nestled securely at the top of the charts (not to mention an album by his sister that danced up and down the charts simultaneously), but songs like West’s “Good Life” and Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” directly referenced songs from the album. Regardless of what you may think of the man himself, to have that much direct influence so long after entering the music scene is a feat in and of itself. Public image be damned, this man deserves his rightful place next to The Beatles, Dylan, Stevie and James Brown…and that’s seriously not hyperbole at all. While I’ll wave my flag all day for MJ as a musical icon, I’m not one of those creepy uber-fans who lashes out at the media for being “ignorant” (sorry-just had a flashback to “South Park”‘s brilliant skewering of him) or even thought for a second about camping out at the trial site. Hell, I don’t even think the man has a skin disease.

Personally, I still think that “Off the Wall” and “Thriller” belong in the homes of every single music fan in the world. I still think “Invincible” took a lot of unnecessary shit (not that it was a classic, but it was a fairly solid record…more on that a little later today). The “Billie Jean” Motown 25 performance still gives me goosebumps. I still feel the sudden urge to dance-almost like being possessed by the groove- whenever I hear “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough” or “Working Day & Night”, and I still have random weird Michael moments (for example, watching “The Mummy” last Friday, one scene instantly reminded me of the “Thriller” video). I still watch the “Rock with You” video and say to myself “Damn, I wish I looked like that” (well, minus the uber-gay glitter jumpsuit). And I’m sure I’m far from the only person who thinks or feels that way.

For those of you that were around in the Jackson 5 era, it might be a little hard to fathom that cute little Michael is now firmly entrenched in middle age (then again, I’d imagine it’s just as hard to fathom that cute little Michael looks so fucking frightening now), but The King of Pop turns fifty years old today. Hell, next year will mark the 40th anniversary of Michael’s entry on the scene with “I Want You Back”. (I apologize for making everyone that cringed at that last sentence feel old). I think we can all safely say that while there are-and will continue to be-many imitators, there’s only one original, and today we’re celebrating his career and accomplishments, free of all the tabloid bullshit.

Happy birthday, Michael.