25 Days of Mariahmas: Rockin’ Robin — Michael Jackson
“He rocks in the treetop all day long”
Michael Jackson’s Thriller is the biggest selling album of all time — a feat unlikely ever to be beaten. And yet the story of Jackson’s stratospheric hit, and his very emergence as a solo megastar, began more than a decade earlier.
In the early 1970s, the Jackson 5 were Motown’s hottest act. Making unseen inroads into the lucrative teen and youth markets, and achieving incredible crossover appeal in the US’s still highly-segregated radio and print media.
There were two standout stars of the show. Jermaine, who was the original lead singer of the group; and Michael. Capitalising on the group’s commercial success, Motown groomed the two for solo careers. They led with Michael’s album Got to be There (casting the 18 year old Jermaine as the hearthrob for a young adult audience). And the rest is record industry history. From that first album emerged the standout Christmas classic, Rockin’ Robin.
Sure it’s wheeled out every December on rotation on every music channel going. And yes, the robin is a bird traditionally associated with Christmas and winter (largely because unlike many other birds they don’t migrate). But there’s nothing actually all that Christmassy about the song. It imagines the robin as the star of an avian show, effortlessly out-rocking all of the other species of birds, and being heartily cheered on for doing so. But there’s no snow, no holly. Just a little bird, grooving along (and aggressively defending its patch because robin’s are pretty viciously territorial). And as if to underline the point, Motown released it in… erm… February, 1972.
So again, a Christmas song that’s not really a Christmas song. But this time it’s one that has been sucked into the festive vortex.
Do I care?
Not particularly. Rockin’ Robin funks up (well… to an extent… we’re not talking Parliament here) the traditional Christmas playlist. That ridiculously catchy “twiddly-diddly-dee” hook burrows its way into the brain and refuses to let go. The middle-eight shows off some particularly strong guitar work. But the whole thing works brilliantly as a vehicle for the 14 year old Michael’s superb voice. Undaunted by the twee subject of the lyrics, Jackson’s voice shines, with that perfect rock vocal which he had mastered so prodigiously.
It’s a fantastic song, and I’m absolutely unrepentent in putting it into your heads for the rest of the day.
Also highly recommended? This mash up with Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit.