Sunday, April 30, 2023

Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 4

The video up top is the song that hit Number One this week in 1983, “Beat It” by Michael Jackson, which was Number One in the USA for three weeks from April 30 to May 14, 1983. The song was released February 14, 1983, the third single from Jackson’s sixth studio album Thriller.

Jackson wrote the song after Quincy Jones urged him to include a rock song on the album, and Jackson said that he wrote “Beat It” as the sort of rock song he’d buy. It features a guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen, who was guitarist and co-founder of rock band Van Halen. Eddie Van Halen died on October 6, 2020 of a stroke, after dealing with numerous health conditions over many years.

The music video for “Beat It” was financed by Jackson himself because CBS Records refused to pay for it. It was filmed in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles, and Jackson decided to include actual members of rival Los Angeles street gangs as a peace gesture. The video opened up opportunities for young black dancers, and it’s often credited with leading to a boom in work for dancers in music videos. The video was directed by American film and television director Bob Giraldi, who had been personally chosen by Jackson after the original theme by Steve Barron, who had directed the video for “Billie Jean” had been rejected. Apparently, the original concept for Barron version of the “Beat It” video was for it to be set on a slave ship with Jackson as the slave master. Somehow, that doesn’t sound like a very good video, certainly not compared to what was actually made: The video that was actually made is perfect for the song.

It’s kind of hard to remember precisely what I was thinking and feeling about this song 40 years ago, especially because I’ve heard it for 40 years, however, I’m pretty sure that back in 1983, I liked “Beat It” more than “Billie Jean”. I know that these days I definitely do, so there’s that.

When I talked about “Billie Jean” in Part 2 of this series two weeks ago, I also talked about about Michael Jackson himself, and how complicated it later became to like his work. I won’t repeat any of that, however, I’ll add what I didn’t say clearly enough in that post, namely, that 40 years ago there weren’t yet any of those complications, and it was easy to like (or not) Jackson’s songs. It’s kind of hard to remember what that was like.

At any rate, every “Weekend Diversion” post about pop music has to have a look at chart performance: In the USA, “Beat It” hit Number One (8x Platinum), Number 2 in Australia (Platinum), Number One in Canada (Platinum), Number One in New Zealand (Gold), and 3 in the UK (2x Platinum.

This series will be taking the next three weeks off, and will return May 21 with a new 1983 Number One hit. Until then, however, it’s worth nothing that last week’s Number One, “Come On Eileen”, has a distinction I didn’t mention in last week's post: When it became Number One, it prevented Jackson from having back-to-back Number One hits. Whether he might have otherwise had them or not is just speculation, but it was certainly possible. As it is, we get to have one little bit of pop culture trivia to add to our 1983 list.

This series is back in three weeks!

Previously in the “Weekend Diversion – 1983” series:
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 1
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 2
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 3


Roger Owen Green said...

I love rock songs by the Jacksons. Black Cat by Janet, e.g.
It's hard to believe now, but MTV resisted having black artists. When Columbia/Epic said they'd pull their other artists if they didn't play MJ; MTV relented.

Arthur Schenck said...

Yeah, and "Billie Jean" not only went on to be one of their most-played videos, it also became one of the most watched on YouTube. Can't stop the music!