Music-versary: Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ was released on Oct. 24, 1988


Release Date: October 24, 1988

Credits: Written and performed by Michael Jackson; Produced by Quincy Jones

Album: Bad (Released August 31, 1987)

Backstory: The lyrics to the seventh single from Michael Jackson’s 1987 hit Bad were inspired by both “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez — the serial killer who terrorized California in the mid-eighties by sneaking into homes and murdering residents by knife — and Resusci Anne, the doll widely used in CPR classes. (“Annie are you okay,” the line he repeats ad nauseum, is what potential EMTs had been taught to ask their training dummies since the early 1970s). But the violent imagery of a murderous home invasion paired with the pleading, personal cries of the narrator, shocked his collaborators. Quincy Jones, who had led him to mega-stardom with the album Thriller, didn’t want it on the album. But Jackson insisted, and it went on to be one of the most memorable songs — and videos — of his career.

Noir Nights: Although he originally conceptualized a Western theme for the video, (which is still there, as he visits what looks like a cowboy brothel set into a warehouse) after director Colin Chilvers showed Jackson the Orson Wells noir The Third Man, they decided to go in a 1930s gangster direction, with nods to other stars of the Golden Era. “The dance piece was a tribute to Fred Astaire,” Chilvers later told Rolling Stone. “[Astaire’s choreographer] Hermes Pan visited the set while we were doing the song and dance piece and said that Fred would have been very happy and proud of being copied by such a wonderful person.”

Anti-Gravity Moves: The most mind-blowing part of the video, though, was the way Jackson and his dancers were able to defy gravity, lowering their stiff bodies to a clear 45-degree angle from the floor. In the video, this was achieved with invisible wire, but Jackson was intent on bringing the effect on tour. So he and his team patented a special shoe with a groove in the heel that could slip onto a peg protruding from the dance floor to keep it in place, allowing the dancer to bend forward and achieve the effect.

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