State of Shock: How Michael Jackson (Sort Of) Introduced Rocks Off to the Rolling Stones

Rocks Off grew up in a MTV-free household. Never owned a spangled white glove or a "Beat It" leather jacket, never saw 1983's Motown 25 TV special that sent Thriller into the stratosphere and had every kid who did see it doing a peculiar dance called the Moonwalk at recess the next day.

But when Rocks Off was around eight years old, the family went to visit our cousin Jill in Alief. We didn't head out there very often; that may have been the only time we ever did. And about the only thing we really remember about that trip is seeing a Thriller poster in Jill's bedroom.

It was around the time Rocks Off was becoming aware of the wider pop-culture world beyond Star Wars and Saturday morning cartoons, and that poster left an impression. Not terribly long after, I managed to catch "Beat It" and "Thriller" either on NBC's Friday Night Videos or MTV at a friend's house, and that did it. Rocks Off was officially a fan.

About a year or so later, we were at Baybrook Mall and noticed Michael on the cover of an album in the window of the record store. It was the Jacksons' 1984 LP Victory, and after she read through the lyric sheet, our mom agreed to let us use our allowance to buy the cassette.

Rocks Off went home, put it in, and almost immediately gravitated to not Jackson's high-pitched squeals but a lascivious, low-down guitar lick that, we would come to realize much later, was pure Rolling Stones. (And pretty sick Stones at that.) It was "State of Shock," the Jacksons/Mick Jagger duet that opens Side 2.

Rocks Off also enjoyed the other Jacksons' distorted electro vocals in the chorus, and Mick hissing "look at me" toward the end, when the songs becomes more of a "Beat It" clone. But that opening riff stuck with me like shrapnel. We listened to the rest of Victory a few times after that, but kept rewinding "State of Shock" for weeks.

Unfortunately, this was around the absolute nadir of the Stones' career. Mick and Keith were at each other's throats, and nobody - least of all the band - was sure how much longer there would even be a Rolling Stones. Their next album, Dirty Work, may be the worst they've ever released, and hearing its single "Harlem Shuffle" on the radio didn't make Rocks Off want to rush back to Baybrook. Therefore, our full-on initiation into Stones fandom didn't happen until Rocks Off saw them live in San Antonio in 1994, but "State of Shock" definitely planted the seeds.

Much later, Rocks Off came to appreciate Jackson's talents more fully and - although we'd usually rather listen to Off the Wall - realized what a slick pop/R&B masterpiece Thriller really is. But now that he's gone, it's how seeing that poster in our cousin's room led to "State of Shock" and a lifelong love of (and occasional obsession with) the Stones that Rocks Off remember most.

So thanks, Mike. And Mick.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray