Jackson could dance, oh yes, and his film clips were well produced and engaging, but in Year 8 / Year 9 at the time of Thriller's release I was more a Prince fan than a Michael Jackson fan. As far as black solo artists were concerned, young teenagers at the time had to pick one in a Holden vs Ford manner. I was in the Prince camp. Purple Rain was guilty of self-aggrandising twaddle, and the film was fucking shithouse, but I dunno, the music had edge. So just like St. Kilda vs Geelong this week - two unbeatable titans up against each other - allow me to pitch these two mammoth records against each other.
'When Doves Cry' vs 'Billie Jean'
One is about a relationship breakup, one is about a false relationship and paternity claim. Both have random 'yeeep' and 'hoo' squeals to punctuate the lyrics.
Both rely on a very basic thump-shuffle beat with stripped back music in the verses, then a catchy singalong anthemic chorus. However, once we get past the first chorus of BJ, there's not much to look forward to. It just stays the same, unless you happen to be watching the film clip where you have the moonwalk to look forward to, whereas WDC has the arpeggio synth build up in the final verse and chorus.
BJ has more vocal range, but WDC has better lyrics. WDC also boasts a more global theme (we've all had relationship failures, and not so many paternity confusions).
Winner: When Doves Cry
'Let's Go Crazy' vs 'Beat It'
These are the more upbeat rockier songs from the albums. LGC is about living life to the fullest and being a bit reckless because yo' gunna die 1 day, and BI is about trusting in your own strengths and not letting yourself be bossed about. Both reasonable themes for a song.
BI is a very tidy pop-rock song, again with the polished film clip with great dancing. It's got a great stupid chorus that 14 year old boys can sing along to while punching the air, and with it's kind 'gang in da hood' feel it's delightfully rough n tough, while still being safe.
LGC is kinda more sleazy than tough, and Prince, obviously keen to show off his music talents, muddies the song with way too many instrumental quirks, but where he gets an edge on MJ is with the 'sermon' at the start complete which church organ (and that distinctive Prince beat kicking in after about 45 seconds) and that awesome fucking outro where his guitar solo is so fucking rock ... Led Zep and Hendrix would be proud to have composed it.
In body, maybe BI wins the battle, but as a whole piece, LGC wins.
Winner: Let's Go Crazy
'Thriller' vs 'Purple Rain'
Though they are very different musically, they need to go head to head because they are a) The title tracks and b) The epics of each album.
Thriller is about monsters in the dark (with sexual undertones) and PR is about trying to keep a relationship together.
Yet again, both with the epic choruses, but Thriller is to dance to, where as PR is all about swaying your cigarette lighter in the air.
As a lighter-sway song, PR does the trick, and 'Purple' rain is an intriguing visual, but when it comes to intruguing visuals you can't beat monsters comin' at ya in the dark. Add to that, even I remember being totally hooked on the Thriller film clip when I first saw it in its entirety (I would've been about 13).
I'm not such a big fan of the Thriller chorus though... it's a bit lame after such a good build up, but then again, Purple Rain goes on just a little bit too long. Prince made his point early, and gives us nothing more other than endless chorus repetition.
'The Beautiful Ones' vs 'The Lady In My Life'
This is the battle of the slow love songs. Both are boring as batshit and ruin both albums. These are the ones you skip over. Lyrics are also awful.
And I Will Keep You Warm
Through The Shadows Of The Night
Let Me Touch You With My Love
I Can Make You Feel So Right
And Baby Through The Years
Even When We're Old And Gray
I Will Love You More Each Day
'Cause You Will Always Be The Lady In My Life
Paint a perfect picture
Bring 2 life a vision in one's mind
The beautiful ones
Always smash the picture
If I told u baby
That I was in love with u
Oh baby, baby, baby
If we got married
Would that be cool?
U make me so confused
The beautiful ones
U always seem 2 lose
Which is worse? I'm not sure. Both should be arrested. Both of them go for an excrutiating 5 minutes as well. But, I'm going to have to give the nod to Prince, mainly because he at least gives us that sonic boom-beat to hook on to during the song, and if you were going to have a shag while listening to these two songs, you'd probably go Prince because he at least sounds like he knows what he's talking about, whereas MJ is not convincing as a Romeo figure.
Winner: The Beautiful Ones
Obviously, Jackson's presence in world culture is bigger, and his influce on music history is also a lot bigger - he is largely responsible for the so-called 'RnB' genre that sullies pop music today, with its vocal gymnastics, compulsory dance proficiency and lame, lame lyrical content. But on music alone, Prince wins in my mind.
But I would like to point out that back in 82-84 at High School, there were other pop artists that were comparable. Madonna, obviously, but whack in Culture Club and Duran Duran as well, even Frankie Goes To Hollyood, The Police, and of all of the above, in hindsight, FGTH had the most innovative sound.
But let's also not forget that I grew up in Australia, and I tell you this (and Lewd Bob, who went to Generic High with me may agree): no bands at our school were bigger or more adored than Chisels, Oils, INXS and Angels. If they weren't in your Top 5, you got beaten up.