33 1/3 – Michael Jackson’s ‘Dangerous’

When I received my first CD player in Christmas of 1992 I got R.E.M.’s ‘Automatic for the People’ and Rod Stewart’s ‘Vagabond Heart.’ My mom picked out the Rod album and my older sister suggested the R.E.M. CD. I remember walking through a store with my dad and seeing Michael Jackson’s ‘Dangerous’ CD on display and asking if I could have it. It was the third CD in my “collection” and I was so happy to replace the cassette that I had spent countless hours fast forwarding and rewinding certain songs that I wanted to play over and over again. I was also happy to have book-style liner notes as I had cracked the seams reading tiny lyrics on the cassette insert and it was in a mangled mess. Look at the tiny print.


I already knew the album front to back, but the CD would allow me the ability to skip skip skip and skip back skip back, saving me a lot of time. MTV actually played music videos around that time and I would catch the occasional Michael Jackson ‘Dangerous’ short film. He didn’t make music videos, he made short films (Thriller, Black or White, Remember the Time). I was also about to join the Michael Jackson Fan Club and begin styling my signature, specifically the ‘M,’ like Michael Jackson’s. I still do to this day.


MJ-33.thirdI’m currently reading Susan Fast’s 33 1/3 series book about and titled ‘Michael Jackson’s Dangerous.’ Susan Fast gets this album. She breaks it down in several parts, explaining why it was a great Michael Jackson album, if not the greatest, and explaining why it was not successful for the mainstream. It’s a great look at a great Michael Jackson era which spanned the Oprah Winfrey interview, the assaulting “sexy panther back alley dance/destruction short” on the full length Black or White video, the Super Bowl XXVII half-time show during which he was catapulted on to the stage dressed in a gold and black military outfit and sunglasses. He remained motionless for a minute and a half, the crowd cheering, and then sang lip-synced four songs. Also, this span covered Jackson’s Heal The World humanitarian efforts.

In this book, the 100th entry in Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 series, each one devoted to a single album, Ms. Fast employs close readings of lyrics, musical production choices and video presentations to underscore little discussed aspects of Jackson’s creative output.

Ms. Fast contends that, at around this time, lurid media interest in Jackson’s perceived oddity began to eclipse formal appreciation of his work. So she breaks “Dangerous” into thematically rich sections: Jackson breaking with his old self, then switching to familiar modes to make bold political statements and then coming full circle. She praises his use of nonmusical sounds as narrative devices, and contends that Jackson, often painted as resisting the cutting edge, was in fact borrowing some of hip-hop’s angst and reformatting it on his terms.

‘Dangerous’ is such a fantastic album. Succinctly, here’s a portion of Stephen Thomas Erlewine’s review of Dangerous:

Dangerous captures Jackson at a near-peak, delivering an album that would have ruled the pop charts surely and smoothly if it had arrived just a year earlier. But it didn’t — it arrived along with grunge, which changed the rules of the game nearly as much as Thriller itself. Consequently, it’s the rare multi-platinum, number one album that qualifies as a nearly forgotten, underappreciated record.

If you were to ask me which is my favorite Michael Jackson album I might say ‘Off The Wall’ as it’s a complete work of genius. I might say ‘Thriller,’ because a lot of people do. I might even say ‘Bad’ if I think a little longer. I might say ‘Dangerous’ out of a nostalgic remembrance of the obsessive listening and memorization of the album.

I might say Disc 2 of ‘HIStory‘ as it seems to be the album I play the most. A lot of people, though, had already given up on Jackson by the time ‘HIStory’ was released and have no idea what music or album I am talking about. It was after sex scandals, weird marriages of convenience, and the always popular “skin bleaching” topic. It was the album that came out when Michael Jackson was the butt of many jokes. It birthed songs like ‘This Time Around‘ which features Notorious B.I.G., ‘Scream‘ with sister Janet, the gorgeous ‘Stranger in Moscow,’ ‘Tabloid Junkie‘ (my personal favorite), ‘Money‘ (with its eargasmic chorus), and ‘You Are Not Alone.’ There is so much good music on that record. On HIStory, Jackson is furious, lashing out, paranoid, vindictive, and out for blood. Read the New York Times review of HIStory from 1995 titled, ‘Michael Jackson Is Angry, Understand?

I’d love to see Susan Fast break down HIStory. I’ve read numerous times that ‘Dangerous’ was Michael Jackson’s fall from grace album. If that’s the case, and that is highly arguable as explained in Fast’s book, then ‘HIStory’ is his Phoenix album where Jackson rises from the ashes.

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