Michael Jackson's influence echoes across genres, generations

Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic

With Wednesday’s verdict that concert promoter AEG Live was not liable in the death of Michael Jackson, the singer’s road to artistic redemption can move forward -- minus the depressing personal details.

The trial's revelations of the civil suit filed by Jackson's mother and three children featured toxicology reports, airing in public Jackson's many dependency issues, stuff that has little to do with the glory of "Rock with You." Outside Neverland, the King of Pop was quite mortal. But we already knew that. We just keep being reminded of it whenever we turn on the news. 

So hopefully Oct. 2, 2013, will be remembered not so much as the day that AEG dodged a bullet/the Jackson family was denied justice (take your pick), but as the day that his musical legacy begins an uninterupted ascent. 

PHOTOS: Michael Jackson | 1958-2009

Billie Holiday was a lifelong junkie and died a horrible death, after all, but that detail pales beside her work with Lester Young. Elliott Smith was smoking crack and heroin in the year before he stabbed himself in the heart. He's dead and that's a drag -- but we've still got "Clementine." Elvis Presley's final years were horrifying; his version of "A Little Less Conversation" was not.   

One glimpse at pop music in 2013 is enough to confirm that Jackson's musical spirit, that floating body of rhythm and bliss that typified his best work, is drifting through contemporary music at a steady clip. Hints of his sound permeate both hip clubs and the dance underground, and hum through the new frontiers of contemporary R&B.;

The classic sound of Jackson circa "Off the Wall," "Thriller" and "Bad," for example, dots the new album "Days Are Gone" by Los Angeles sister group Haim. The stuttering lines that pepper the chorus of  "Forever" are pure "Off the Wall" groove, worked into a funky stomp but fully connected to the joy of MJ release. "Go Slow" rolls along with the candlelit grace of "Human Nature."

PHOTOS: Major works from the 'King of Pop'

Another relatively recent nod was delivered by Toronto seducer and Drake collaborator the Weeknd, whose breakout EP, "Echoes of Silence," featured a much lauded cover of "Dirty Diana" woven into his alt-soul groove.

Most prominently, this summer the wickedly funky guitar lines snaking through Daft Punk's "Random Access Memories" were played by the same session musician, Paul Jackson Jr., who offered the classic lines on Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and "Bad." That's one reason "Random Access Memories" resonated so deeply with American audiences: The guitarist in "Get Lucky" is the same guy who played on "Wanna Be Startin' Something."

So good riddance to the gory details. We've been reminded of the artist's flaws pretty much nonstop for the past few decades. He's dead and the blame has been legally resolved. Now let MJ rest in peace, so the melodies and grooves that changed the course of global pop can continue to wend their way through contemporary culture, blossoming in wonderfully unpredictable ways. 

"Just take it slow, 'cause we got so far to go" indeed. 


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