Among the many notable events of 1983, President Reagan signed legislation making the third Monday of January a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.; the final episode of M*A*S*H aired to a television audience estimated at 125,000,000; and Lech Walesa won the Nobel Peace Prize. It was also the year in which NBC, in May, aired a special commemorating the 25th anniversary of Motown Records. The show, which had been taped in front of a live audience two months earlier, featured performances by a number of the label’s acts, including Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.
But what was most memorable was a solo performance by Michael Jackson that followed a medley of Jackson 5 hits he sang with his brothers. His album Thriller had been released in November of 1982 and at the time the special was taped, in Pasadena, the song “Billie Jean” was #1 on the Billboard chart.
And it was “Billie Jean” he performed that night, wearing the glitter socks and white glove–and briefly donning the fedora–that became signatures of future performances. His particular dance style is familiar to most of us now, as is, sadly, the path his life eventually took, through thickets of legal and financial problems, increasingly odd behavior, eerie pallor and disfiguring plastic surgeries. But on this particular night, all of that was a way off yet. As we see him here, he is 24, his solo career is about to enter the stratosphere and he is, for me, absolutely electrifying to watch. Check out the moments between about 4:10 and 4:16 (and listen to the audience shout), when he showed us something most of us had never seen before.