Charlie's 80s Blog

This Day In Music, March 5th

On this day in 1982: Actor and singer John Belushi died from an overdose of cocaine and heroin. Belushi was one of the original cast members on Saturday Night Live, played Joliet ‘Jake’ Blues in The Blues Brothers and also appeared in the film Animal House. His tombstone reads “I may be gone, but rock n roll lives on.”

On this day in 1983: Michael Jackson started a seven week run at #1 on the U.S. singles chart with ‘Billie Jean’, his fourth solo U.S. #1. And on this day Jacksons album ‘Thriller’ went to #1 for the first time on the U.K. album chart, and went on to become the biggest selling album of all time with sales over 66 million.

‘Billie Jean’ was the second single released from Jackson’s sixth studio album, ‘Thriller’. It was written and composed by Jackson and produced by Jackson and Quincy Jones. “Billie Jean” blends post-disco, R&B, funk and dance-pop. The lyrics describe a woman, Billie Jean, who claims that the narrator is the father of her newborn son, which he denies. Jackson said the lyrics were based on groupies’ claims about his older brothers when he toured with them as the Jackson 5. “They would hang around backstage doors, and any band that would come to town they would have a relationship with, and I think I wrote this out of experience with my brothers when I was little. There were a lot of Billie Jeans out there. Every girl claimed that their son was related to one of my brothers.”

According to Jackson’s biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli, “Billie Jean” was inspired by letters Jackson received in 1981 from a woman claiming he was the father of one of her twins. Jackson, who regularly received letters of this kind, had never met the woman and ignored those claims. However, she continued to send letters stating that she loved him and wanted to be with him, asking how he could ignore his own flesh and blood. The letters disturbed him to the extent that he suffered nightmares.

Eventually, Jackson received a parcel containing a photograph of the fan, a gun, and a letter instructing him to die at a particular time. The fan would do the same once she had killed “their” baby, so they could be together in the “next life”. To his mother’s dismay, Jackson had the photograph of the woman framed and hung above the dining room table of their family home. The Jacksons later discovered that the fan had been sent to a psychiatric hospital.

Jackson said he felt “Billie Jean” would be a success as he was writing it: “A musician knows hit material. Everything has to feel in place. It fulfills you and it makes you feel good. That’s how I felt about ‘Billie Jean’. I knew it was going to be big when I was writing it.” He explained that, hearing it in his head while in his car, he was so absorbed that he did not realize his car had caught fire until a passing motorcyclist informed him.

Jackson disagreed with the producer, Quincy Jones about the song. According to some reports, Jones felt it was too weak to be included on ‘Thriller’, but Jones has denied this. Jones disliked the demo and did not care for the bassline and wanted to cut Jackson’s 29-second introduction. Jackson, however, insisted that it be kept. According to Jones, he conceded when Jackson said it made him want to dance: “And when Michael Jackson tells you, ‘That’s what makes me want to dance’, well, the rest of us just have to shut up.”

Jones also wanted to change the title to “Not My Lover”, as he believed that people would think the song referred the tennis player Billie Jean King. Jackson refused to change the title and asked Jones to give him co-producing credits for the track, as he felt that the finished product sounded close to his demo. In addition, Jackson wanted extra royalties. Jones granted him neither and the two fell out for several days.

According to Jones, Jackson “stole” notes from the Jon and Vangelis song “State of Independence.” Jones had produced Donna Summer’s cover of the song, and Jackson had sung backing vocals. According to Jon Anderson, “They took the riff and made it funky for ‘Billie Jean’ … So that’s kinda cool, that cross-pollination in music.” According to Daryl Hall of the duo Hall & Oates, Jackson told him he had taken the “Billie Jean” groove from their 1981 track “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)”. Hall told him “Oh Michael, what do I care? You did it very differently.”

Here’s a look at the Top 20 on the U.S. singles chart from this day back in 1983:

1 4 BILLIE JEAN –•– Michael Jackson (Epic)-7 (1 week at #1) (1)
2 2 SHAME ON THE MOON –•– Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band (Capitol)-12 (2)
3 3 STRAY CAT STRUT –•– The Stray Cats (EMI-America)-11 (3)
4 5 DO YOU REALLY WANT TO HURT ME –•– Culture Club (Virgin)-14 (4)
5 6 HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF –•– Duran Duran (Harvest)-11 (5)
6 1 BABY, COME TO ME –•– Patti Austin with James Ingram (Qwest)-25 (1)
7 7 YOU AND I –•– Eddie Rabbitt with Crystal Gayle (Elektra)-22 (7)
8 9 WE’VE GOT TONIGHT –•– Kenny Rogers & Sheena Easton (Liberty)-6 (8)
9 11 BACK ON THE CHAIN GANG –•– The Pretenders (Sire)-13 (9)
10 10 PASS THE DUTCHIE –•– Musical Youth (MCA)-13 (10)

11 14 YOU ARE –•– Lionel Richie (Motown)-8 (11)
12 16 ALL RIGHT –•– Christopher Cross (Warner Brothers)-7 (12)
13 13 YOUR LOVE IS DRIVING ME CRAZY –•– Sammy Hagar (Geffen)-13 (13)
14 8 DOWN UNDER –•– Men At Work (Columbia)-18 (1)
15 20 SEPARATE WAYS (Worlds Apart) –•– Journey (Columbia)-5 (15)
16 18 TWILIGHT ZONE –•– Golden Earring (21 Records)-15 (16)
17 17 ALLENTOWN –•– Billy Joel (Columbia)-15 (17)
18 21 ONE ON ONE –•– Daryl Hall & John Oates (RCA)-6 (18)
19 23 BREAKING US IN TWO –•– Joe Jackson (A&M)-8 (19)
20 24 MR. ROBOTO –•– Styx (A&M)-4 (20)

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