Michael Jackson was a preternaturally, supernaturally talented person. He did a lot of weird things, and was clearly a very troubled individual but, in his pomp (a period of about twenty five years) he did amazing stuff in music and dance that has left an indelible mark on popular culture.
Case in point: Can You Feel It.
Yes, it’s a fantastic pop record, but its accompanying film (conceived by Michael, and realised in conjunction with computer graphics pioneer, Robert Abel) takes it to an entirely new dimension. In this universe, The Jacksons unexpectedly arrive in a troubled world in a blaze of golden light and glitter. The brothers appear as gigantic, glowing figures towering over the world, but despite being quite able to trash Tokyo, they are smiling, beneficent titans, here to heal the world rather than harm it. Their presence, which is accompanied by whooshing noises and bursts of synth and guitar, brings peace to the world, and a new understanding. By the end of the song, the people of Earth stand hand in hand, their petty differences forgotten, in a scene reminiscent of the idealised pictures found in Jehovah’s Witness leaflets*. All that's missing is a tame lion and some big bowls of fruit.
With any other band, this might seem like preposterous hubris: the brothers as Gods visiting Earth and making it better with their awesomeness. In this film, however, the brothers don’t seem to be imperious, or omniscient, or omni-anything. Rather, their powers seem to be a delight to them, as if they have been suddenly suffused with a divine light, as if they are vessels of a higher power rather than the power itself. There is a lot of pointing in the film – people pointing at the Jacksons and the incredible things they do, and the Jacksons pointing at each other, ecstatically surprised at how divine they have suddenly become.
It’s worth noting the nifty orchestral additions to the track, also written by Michael in a modern classical style reminiscent of the music to Logan's Run. They are mainly buried in the mix of the (otherwise wonderful) version released as a single, and that’s something of a shame. In an ideal world, the sort of world where five cool siblings regularly appear to magically make things better, there is a ten, no, a twenty minute Can You Feel It filled with sound effects and strings and horns and hope and groove which would become a world anthem that every single person and animal on earth could get behind.
As a final note, it’s worth remembering that the Jacksons went into the studio to record this track (and the album Destiny) in the same month that Michael finished recording Off The Wall, the album that would cement his solo superstar status. Oh, and Michael was still only 20 years old. Incredible.
* The Jacksons were all Jehovah's Witnesses. Imagine opening your door to them.