Remembering Michael Jackson's record-setting music career

Remembering Michael Jackson's record-setting music career

Over the course of a four-decade career, Michael Jackson set a lot of records. In 1984 his landmark album Thriller became the first album to generate seven Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1988 his follow-up Bad became the first album to yield five No. 1 hits. In 1995 "You Are Not Alone" became the first single to enter the chart at No. 1.

Jackson's record-setting ways didn't stop when he died on June 25, 2009. In the week after his death, he became the first artist to sell more than 1 million digital tracks in one week. (He sold 2.6 million tracks, crushing the old record.) He also became the first artist to have the three best-selling albums in the United States. Two weeks later, he became the first artist to have six of the 10 best-selling albums.

When Nielsen SoundScan released its final sales tallies for 2009, Jackson had four of the year's top 20 albums, a record for the SoundScan era. He also had seven of the year's top 100 albums and nine of the year's top 200 digital songs.

Jackson had Top 10 hits in each of the last five decades, which is remarkable for someone who was only 50 when he died. The Jackson 5's first hit, "I Want You Back," cracked the Top 10 the very last week of the '60s. Jackson kept his Top 10 record alive in the '00s (if just barely) when "You Rock My World" reached No. 10 in 2001.

It's extraordinary how young Jackson was when he hit it big. Before his 12th birthday in August 1970, he had sung lead on three No. 1 hits: "I Want You Back," "ABC" and "The Love You Save." (Two months later, there would be a fourth, "I'll Be There," which made the Jackson 5 the first act to top the Hot 100 with its first four hits.)

Jackson was just 12 when he first made the cover of Rolling Stone; 13 when he landed his first Top 5 solo hit ("Got To Be There"); and 14 when he sang the Oscar-nominated "Ben" on the Academy Awards.

Most of the chart records Jackson set were tied to the trio of albums he recorded with legendary producer Quincy Jones from 1979–1987. Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad sold tens of millions of copies and generated a combined total of 17 Top 10 hits.

Thriller, released when Jackson was 24, logged 37 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. That constituted the second-longest run in the top spot since the chart became a weekly feature in 1956. Only the West Side Story soundtrack had more weeks on top. (Ironically, Jackson's video for "Beat It," one of the iconic hits from Thriller, was an homage to "West Side Story.")

Jackson also set some GRAMMY records. In 1984 he became the first artist to win eight GRAMMYs in one night. (In 2000 Carlos Santana equaled the feat.) That same year, he became the only artist to win GRAMMYs in the Pop, Rock and R&B Fields in one year. (He remains one of only three artists to win in all three fields over the course of a career. The others are B.B. King and Tina Turner.)

Over the years, Jackson won a total of 13 GRAMMYs. Fittingly, they recognized the wide range of his talents. Four of the awards were for vocal performances, three for music videos, two for songwriting, and one for producing. (Of the other three, two were in the general categories of Album and Record Of The Year, while one was for Best Recording For Children.)

The Recording Academy gave Jackson its GRAMMY Legend Award in 1993 and posthumously presented him a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.

Jackson's most memorable night at the GRAMMYs was Feb. 28, 1984, the year of his Thriller sweep. But a close second was March 2, 1988. He was nominated for four awards for Bad and for Producer Of The Year — and lost them all. But he still came away a winner. His tour-de-force performance that night of "The Way You Make Me Feel" and "Man In The Mirror" belongs on the short list of the greatest performances in GRAMMY history.

(Paul Grein writes the weekly Chart Watch blog for


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