MJ Studies Today LVI


In this month’s MJ Studies Today column, Kerry Hennigan looks at the recent 25th Anniversary of Michael Jackson’s double album “HIStory: Past, Present & Future – Book 1” and the acknowledgement of the milestone by the fans and the Jackson Estate.  The fifteen tracks Jackson recorded for Disc 2 of the album are highlighted as deserving of greater scrutiny and appreciation as the most personal and/or most political material in Jackson’s entire catalogue.

Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the monthly newsletter, A Candle for Michael, administrator of the widely-subscribed Facebook group “Michael Jackson’s Short Film ‘Ghosts’” and MJ blogger.

Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today LVI (14-08-2020).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 7, No. 1 (2020).  https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-lvi/

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#MakingHIStoryAgain – marking twenty-five years of Michael Jackson’s album:
HIStory: Past, Present and Future – Book 1
By Kerry Hennigan

© Kerry Hennigan

When he was asked if there was any theme running throughout his album, “HIStory: Past, Present and Future – Book 1,” Michael Jackson replied, “It’s about people looking at their lives, and taking any seconds of their well being and making something of yourself – creating a legacy so you can look back and look at what you have done.  I always wanted that, that’s why I like working very hard.” [1]

Twenty-five years after the original release of Michael Jackson’s monumental double album (on June 20, 1995), the pop icon’s fan community celebrated the milestone with an album-buying campaign, focused streaming of the album with the hashtag #MakingHIStoryAgain and other online activities, and erected giant subway billboards in China. [2][3]  The Jackson Estate announced a new HIStory 25 collection of merchandise, predominantly consisting of wearable items, including face masks for which a portion of the proceeds will be donated to a charity that helps fight COVID-19.  “Although we all know that Michael’s most autobiographical and, according to some, best album deserves a much bigger celebration,” the statement said, “that is simply not possible given the current circumstances around the world.” [4]

While it is fair to blame the COVID-19 pandemic in this instance, the scepticism of some fans is understandable.  They remember how another fan favourite, Jackson’s “Dangerous” album (1991), received a similar understated celebration to mark its quarter century.  Whereas, that same year (2016), “Off The Wall” was repackaged and reissued during Black History Month, despite there being no unreleased extras to add to an album that most fans already owned.  Granted, part of the package was a new Spike Lee-directed documentary, “From Motown to Off The Wall” which, while welcomed, didn’t match the excitement of Lee’s “Bad 25” film that had been an important part of that album’s anniversary celebrations in 2012. [5]

Spike Lee had the distinction of directing Jackson himself in not one, but two versions of the video for Michael’s famous human rights anthem “They Don’t Care About Us”, one of the most powerful singles to be released from the “HIStory” album and one of the standout tracks of Jackson’s entire catalogue.  Both the “Rio” and “Prison” themed videos for the song are important for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the song’s continuing relevance for social issues plaguing not just the United States, but numerous other countries where the marginalised and stigmatised have suffered systematic discrimination. [6]

Already having this insight into one aspect of the “HIStory” album and its short films, Lee seems an obvious choice to direct a film on the recording and cultural significance of the album as well as its short films and subsequent world tour.  John Landis, director of “Thriller” and “Black or White” has also publicly expressed a desire to get his hands on Jackson’s “HIStory” tour footage and edit it for release. [7]  There is certainly plenty of Michael’s own, as well as media-shot “behind the scenes” footage from the tour to incorporate into a HIStory documentary whether made by Landis or Lee or someone else.

The reissue of Jackson’s Epic albums (minus “Blood On The Dance Floor”) as vinyl picture-discs for his Diamond Birthday celebration in 2018, has probably been another factor inhibiting the release of an updated and augmented edition of Disc 2 of the original album, titled “HIStory Continues”, in 2020.  This was the disc that contained all the new material Jackson recorded for the album. But the Diamond edition of “HIStory” came without any new tracks, despite being from an era when Jackson famously recorded, wholly or partially, many more songs than were released.

The importance of studying Jackson’s songs from the 90s as exemplified by “HIStory Continues” should not be under-estimated.  Jackson himself said, “If you want to know how I feel, you can check out HIStory. It’s a musical book.” [8]  The years between the release of “Dangerous” and “HIStory” were ones in which the pop icon’s integrity had come under attack from many directions.  The first false allegations had been made against him, his home had been raided, and he had been forced to comply with a court order to have his naked body photographed.  The media had been having a field day with what they saw as his fall from grace.

In 2020, not a lot seems to have changed, with the debunked “Leaving Neverland” TV film still being championed by those set to benefit from discrediting Jackson.  Therefore many fans believe in the need to shine a spotlight on the “HIStory Continues” tracks in which the singer gives vent to his feelings.  In the era of Trumpism, the world’s jaundiced view of America is such that the socially conscious tracks, and Jackson’s personal rage on several fronts, are as relevant as ever.  What’s more, at a time when fans have worked tirelessly in defence of their icon’s creative and personal integrity, a HIStory 25 package is the least they deserve.

Hopefully, by the time the thirtieth  anniversary of the biggest-selling double album of all time comes around, we will be living in a world in which COVID-19 has long been eradicated, and their will be no other impediments to launching a major celebration of “HIStory”.  In the meantime, we can turn our thoughts to the thirtieth anniversary of “Dangerous” in 2021, in the hope that this album too, will finally get the kind of anniversary celebration it deserves.


[1]  Grant, Adrian.  Making HIStory.  Omnibus Press, 1998 p. 9.

[2]  MJ Vibe.  “Making History Again!”  May 6, 2020.  https://www.mjvibe.com/making-history-again/

[3]  Zhang, Keen.  “How #MichaelJackson fans remember him in China.”  Aug 12, 2020.  https://youtu.be/_V6vATZ-jTI

[4]  Michael Jackson Estate Online Team via Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/groups/michaeljacksonsghosts/permalink/10157826475464900/

[5]  Legacy Recordings via PR News Wire. Jan 27, 2016 https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/off-the-wall–michael-jacksons-original-album-and-the-documentary-michael-jacksons-journey-from-motown-to-off-the-wall-set-for-release-as-a-cddvd-bundle-on-february-26-2016-300200870.html

[6]  Ishfaq-Ul-Hassan.  “How Michael Jackson’s iconic song, ’they don’t really care about us’, stands true for Kashmir children.”  The Kashmir Monitor.  July 1, 2020.  https://www.thekashmirmonitor.net/how-michael-jacksons-iconic-songthey-dont-really-care-about-us-stands-true-for-kashmir-children/

[7]  Hennigan, Kerry.  “One night in Hollywood – MJ Scream LA, 24 October 2017.”  Oct 28, 2017.  https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2017/10/28/one-night-in-hollywood-mj-scream-la/

[8]  Michael Jackson official website.  “Twenty Five Years Ago, Michael Jackson Dropped His Most Ambitious Album.”  June 20, 2020.  https://www.michaeljackson.com/news/twenty-five-years-ago-michael-jackson-dropped-his-most-ambitious-album/

Read about HIStory:

Alexander, Ricky II.  “A Track-By-Track Synopsis of Michael Jackson’s History 25 Years Later” on Medium, May 13, 2020.  https://medium.com/@alexander.rickeyii/a-track-by-track-synopsis-of-michael-jacksons-history-25-years-later-a6c19ed3a7fd

Grant, Adrian.  Making HIStory.  Omnibus Press, 1998  https://www.amazon.com/Michael-Jackson-History-Adrian-Grant/dp/0711967237/

Jax, Pez.  The Story of HIStory.  Sixteen11, 2020.  Also available in French.  Order direct from the publishers at http://sixteen11.com/2020/06/09/sixteen11-to-release-new-book-the-story-of-history-by-pez-jax/ or from Amazon UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/Story-HIStory-Pez-Jax/dp/0993178065/

Najar, Brice.  Let’s Make HIStory. An Insight into the HIStory Album.  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.  https://www.amazon.com/Lets-Make-HIStory-insight-album/dp/1533296723/

Swedien, Bruce.  In the studio with Michael  Jackson.   “HIStory” technical recording information.  Hal Leonard Books, 2009 pp 53-59.  https://www.amazon.com/Studio-Michael-Jackson-Bruce-Swedien-ebook/dp/B0030DFSZQ/

Vogel, Joseph.  Chapter 5: “HIStory” in Man In The Music.  The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson. Vintage paperback edition, 2019 pp 268-337.  https://www.amazon.com/Man-Music-Joseph-Vogel/dp/0525566570/

Vogel, Joseph.  Earth Song.  Michael Jackson and the Art of Compassion.  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 3rd edition, 2017.  https://www.amazon.com/Earth-Song-Michael-Jackson-Compassion/dp/1976106478/


“HIStory” photo montage compiled by Kerry Hennigan from author’s photograph of album collection and professional photograph of Michael Jackson at the VH1 awards, 1995.  No copyright infringement is intended in this not for profit, educational exercise.