January 1983: Michael Jackson Moonwalks His Way to No. 1 with "Billie Jean"

Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images
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Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

Michael Jackson made Billboard chart history at the age of 24 with his signature smash, "Billie Jean." 

Released on January 2, 1983, "Billie Jean" proved to the world that this was a brand new Jackson, transforming the cute child of Jackson Five to a raw adult with his own nerves and lurking anxieties. 

The single's mature tone and its flashes of paranoia stemmed from real life fan encounters, its iconic lyrics  contesting, "Billie Jean is not my lover / She's just a girl who claims that I am the one / But the kid is not my son / She says I am the one, but the kid is not my son." 

Jackson went on to state that "Billie Jean [was] kind of anonymous. It represented a lot of girls...groupies [that] would hang around backstage doors. Every girl claimed that their son was related to one of my brothers."

The song was produced by the combined powers of Jackson and the legendary Quincy Jones, who disagreed with the single's bass line and lengthy intro. Jackson retorted, "But that's the jelly!...That's what makes me want to dance," and the rest became history.

The long intro became the perfect opportunity in the accompanying music video for Jackson to birth his moonwalk, which he debuted live alongside his iconic white glove at the Motown 25 show.

Jackson had expertly crafted the musical landscape of the song with a remarkably detailed approach in production and embellished the single with his trademark dance moves.
 

"Billie Jean" was fine-tuned to an absurd degree of perfection; it comes as no surprise that a song mixed 91 times would be the first to break MTV's unwritten rule of "no black artists" in its regular playlist. 

The specially designed track would sit atop the US and UK charts, win two Grammys and propel the album Thriller to an iconic sale of records, all while making Jackson's distinctive footwork an unending topic of conversation all around the world. 

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