Most of the epitaphs for Michael Jackson today - of those that actually discuss his music rather than solely his freakish adult life - focus on his massively influential 1980s records Off the Wall and Thriller. It's understandable. Those records made him a global pop god, an equal in the pantheon of Elvis, James Brown, and the Beatles. Fans aren't only crying in the US tonight.
If you really want to take another listen to just how talented the guy was, however, you have to go back further to the Jackson 5, especially five albums from 1969 to 1971 (Diana Ross Presents...; ABC; Third Album; Maybe Tomorrow; and Goin' Back to Indiana).
In my view, the album is ABC. I'm biased. It holds a special place for me as the first record I ever bought, a Taiwanese bootleg copy with typically thick vinyl in a flimsy paper and plastic sleeve. Liner notes in Chinese. Wish I still had it.
Listen to that 11-year-old energy on the title track and on "The Love You Save." It is instant. Whatever your musical tastes, you can't help but be a fan. Such confidence and talent and stardom in that powerful little voice.
My first reaction to news of his death was like a lot of people. What a sad life ultimately. A descent into a fantasized childhood he never had, having been beaten into music at the age of five and into an existence in the spotlights. As Jackson said, (cited in this LA Times piece), "I hate to admit it, but I feel strange around everyday people.... See, my whole life has been onstage, and the impression I get of people is applause, standing ovations and running after you. In a crowd, I'm afraid. Onstage, I feel safe. If I could, I would sleep on the stage. I'm serious."
The familiar and absolutely natural for him - because he didn't know anything else - was what thousands scramble after, claws out, teeth gnashing, dignity forgotten, in our hyper-commercial, disposable pop culture. Michael the psychologically and physically scarred Hyper-Freak was the shelf-life limit of a product that began as enormously talented little Michael Jackson.
But this initial reaction doesn't do Michael justice. Listen to ABC again. There really was no other life for him. The confidence in that young voice suggests that he knew this intuitively. I think we have to grant him that and let him rest in peace.