After moonwalking off this mortal coil, and leaving Macaulay Culkin without a best friend, there has been an awful lot of Michael Jackson memorializing this past week. It's like everyone was just waiting for this to happen so they could finally speak well of the man without being weighed down by the guilt and confusion that pretty much sums up the past two decade of Jackson's troubled existence. It's similar to discussing the life of Phil Spector: We want to praise his recording skills and pop vision, yet there is that whole shooting-a-woman-in-the-face thing.

From the re-released version of Thriller, this 1981 bedroom demo of "Billie Jean" just might be my favorite MJ song ever. Clearly an incomplete version of a song that he had yet to fully write, you hear a comfortable (his request for Quincy Jones to add "More kickin' stuff" is adorable) artist on the cusp of great things. The young man in the studio that day is a not the same posturing/creepy/sad creature that fell to a heart attack—or shady doctor conspiracy—last Thursday.

Remembering Jackson shouldn't be just limited to grandiose posthumous praise—it had been decades since the man truly wore the "King of Pop" crown—nor should it just be limited to lazy jokes about molestation and plastic surgery. His career arch—from cuddly kid star, to pop legend, to horror movie villain—was far from ideal, but with Jackson, you take the very good with the very bad.


Michael Jackson - "Billie Jean" (demo version)