Why, certainly. But back in 1970 when he sang "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," he was just a cute kid spreading some holiday love.
Let's be honest here: When you saw Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, the man who was once bad and dangerous, dangle a baby over a balcony in Berlin last week, didn't you say to yourself that you've just about had it with this muthafucka? You've officially become fed up with this dude's shit? If you have, I can honestly say that I feel you, dawg. After 20 years of quirks, eccentricities and not-so-shining moments in the sun, you just can't deal with this man anymore. If there's anyone who needs an intervention to prevent him from doing any more crazy shit, it's him.
This year Michael Jackson, or "Jacko" or "that crazy-ass white dude" or whatever you call him, has been scraping the bottom of the nutty barrel. First, his most recent album, the critically and commercially reviled Invincible, tanked so badly late last year that he went on a press rampage blaming everyone for its half-assedness but himself, declaring that his label, Sony Music, was "racist" (looks like somebody picked up a Public Enemy album) and called label head Tommy Mottola "devilish." (Remember it was Michael who said that, not Mariah.)
Then, just a couple of weeks ago, he appeared in a California courtroom--taking the stand for a $21 million breach-of-contract civil trial against him--practically looking like the Crypt Keeper, complete with a new nose that makes you wonder if he just breathes through his mouth now. With all of this, and now the dangling-baby incident, the man who once eased his way into America's hearts by singing a song dedicated to a rat has unequivocally reached his brink of kookiness. The time for Jackson to be under psychiatric care is now.
And we bring all this up for what reason, you ask? Well, since it's the holidays, we here at PW thought it would be best if we took you back to a simpler time in the life of Michael Jackson, back when he was just a little regular-nosed black boy from Gary, Ind. A time when oxygen chambers, hanging out with a chimp named Bubbles and marrying Elvis' daughter were practically unfathomable when it came to talking about little Michael. A time of innocence--that's it, innocence.
And what could be more innocent than a young Michael Jackson singing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"? Everyone has to have had heard that rendition at least once. It's just one of many Christmas ditties Jackson gloriously funkified on the Jackson 5 Christmas Album, released in October of 1970.
Ah yes, the Jackson 5 Christmas Album, a festive collection of Christmas tunes performed by Jackson and his famous brethren--Jermaine, Tito, Marlon and, um, either Jackie or the other one. There are many holiday songs that are cooler (the Holy Holiday Trinity: Nat King Cole's "Christmas Song," Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas" and Prince's beautifully bleak "Another Lonely Christmas"). But the Jackson 5 Christmas Album is at least a fun album to play during the holiday season. It sure beats playing one of those Very Special Christmas albums you bought because there was nothing else you could play at your annual Christmas party.
While the boy bands and pop divas of today release Christmas albums that emphasize grandiose preening instead of the Christmas spirit, the Jacksons' holiday disc appears to be one of the last few Christmas pop albums that could actually give you holiday cheer. With production help from those Motown standbys Hal Davis and the Corporation, the Jackson kids immerse themselves in timeless favorites without caking it all in pop-star self- indulgence. These kids were probably too young (and too full of instilled reverence) to accentuate renditions of "Frosty the Snowman" and "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" with voluminous grandstanding. They just wanted to spread some love, that's all.
And besides, how can you not get touched by the good ol' meaning of Christmas after hearing Michael coyly sing "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus"? Even a grinchy, black-hearted sumbitch like myself gets a little giddy when hearing that one.
The Jacksons' Christmas album is an essential listen these days because people need a reminder of how grounded the lead singer was back when he was a kid. No Neverland Ranch. No Elephant Man bones. No rolling three deep with Brooke Shields and Emmanuel Lewis.
The Jackson 5 Christmas Album catches Mike at his most boyish--and his most genuine. Just a kid with his brothers putting a soul-pop spin on some Christmas carols. Listening to it now, it's almost heartbreaking to hear the voice of a decent kid who'll grow up to be such a pop-culture monstrosity. I don't know about any of y'all, but all I want for Christmas is for Michael Jackson to get some muthafuckin' help.
PW's Music Issue 2014