Michael Jackson’s signature smash helped make Billboard history, and its video cracked MTV’s rock-centric format.
MICHAEL JACKSON WAS 24 WHEN HE MADE Billboard chart history with what is arguably his most iconic song.
When “Billie Jean” ascended to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 dated March 5, 1983, Jackson became the first artist to top four pop and R&B charts simultaneously: The song marked its fourth week atop the then-named Black Singles chart (now Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs), while the album from which it was released, Thriller, had crowned the Black LPs (since renamed Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums) and Top LPs & Tapes (now the Billboard 200) charts for, respectively, six and two weeks.
The track's explosive popularity also convinced MTV programmers to add the song's music video — in which Jackson demonstrates his Midas touch and cutting-edge footwork — to its rotation, a significant departure from its largely white, rock format.
Jackson remained atop the four charts for six consecutive weeks, which still stands as a record among male acts. Only Whitney Houston has logged a longer fourfold reign at No. 1: eight straight weeks with the soundtrack to The Bodyguard and its megahit single, “I Will Always Love You,” in 1992 and 1993.
“Billie Jean” is also remembered as the song Jackson was performing when he debuted his iconic Moonwalk dance on the NBC TV special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever in 1983. That year would remain one the pinnacles Jackson's long, storied career, which ended in June 2009, when, at the age 50, he died a drug overdose.
This February, “Billie Jean” made news again when its co-producer Quincy Jones told Vulture that Jackson “stole” the song from Donna Summer's 1982 single, “State Independence” (which Jones solely produced, with Jackson on backing vocals). “The notes don't lie, man,” said Jones, 84.
He has since tweeted an apology. “Word vomit and bad-mouthing are] inexcusable,” he wrote, adding, “I'm especially sorry to my friends who are still here with me and to those who aren't.”