MJ Studies Today XCIV

Abstract: This month, MJ Studies Today columnist Kerry Hennigan considers some of the protest songs and singers of the Sixties that paved the way for later socially conscious material like the Jacksons’ 1980 recording “Can You Feel It,” written by Michael Jackson and his brother Jackie. Years before “Man in the Mirror, this particular song demonstrates Michael’s early concepts for using music, live performance, and film to advocate for a better world.

Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the free monthly newsletter A Candle for Michael, administrator of the widely subscribed Facebook group “Michael Jackson’s Short Film Ghosts” and an MJ blogger on WordPress. Kerry is a student of Ancient, Early Medieval and Medieval History, Anthropology and Religious Studies and has Certificates in the Archaeology of the Ancient World and the Archaeology of Ancient Britain from Cambridge University. Her current studies are focused on the Viking Age.

Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XCIV: ’The blood inside of me is inside of you.” Michael Jackson as an advocate for social change Part 1“ (14-10-2023). The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies Vol 10, No. 2 (2023). https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xciv/

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“The blood inside of me is inside of you.” Michael Jackson as an advocate for social change Part 1.
By Kerry Hennigan

Photo montage © Kerry Hennigan

On 25 June 1967, the Beatles sang “All You Need Is Love” on the first ever live global television broadcast, titled Our World. Of the song, John Lennon said: “I’m a revolutionary artist. My art is dedicated to change.”[1] In his 1988 autobiography Moonwalk, Michael Jackson wrote: “I still get goose bumps when I hear the Beatles sing ‘All You Need Is Love.’ I’ve always wished that song could be an anthem for the world.”[2]

When the Beatles first sang it, the world was badly in need of love. America’s active military role in the Vietnam War (from 1964 to the fall of Saigon in 1975) prompted artists like Nina Simone to record songs like “Backlash Blues” (1967) based on a Civil Rights poem. [3] Many – though not all – Civil Rights activists integrated the anti-Vietnam War movement with the struggle for freedom and equality. [4] Whereas previously it had largely been folk artists like Bob Dylan who sang about social issues, [5] events in the Sixties powerfully influenced artists at the time, and in the decades that followed.

When, after their departure from the Motown label in 1975, Michael Jackson and his brothers began writing their own material, they explored a variety of themes in their lyrics. Some songs contained almost subliminal messages about social issues disguised by a snappy disco beat. Writing in the Guardian in 2021, Simon Hatterstone reminds us that “Can You Feel It,” from The Jacksons’ 1980 album Triumph, is not only one of “the great disco songs” but, as proclaimed by the surviving Jackson brothers, “one of the great political songs, with its call for ‘all the colours of the world,’ to unite and tell the ‘marching men who are killing their brothers’ that we all share the same blood.”[6]

This song, written by Michael Jackson and his eldest brother Jackie, was released as a single in 1981, accompanied by a music video whose concept was devised by Michael and which shows the flamboyant, theatrical style he would employ not just in subsequent films, but on stage as both lead singer of the Jacksons and as a solo artist. Michael describes his staging of “Can You Feel It” for the Jacksons’ Triumph tour as being like Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, one of his favourite movies. [7] “I was trying to make the statement that there was life and meaning beyond space and time and the peacock had burst forth even brighter and prouder,” he wrote in Moonwalk. “I wanted our film to reflect this idea, too.”[8]

At over nine and half minutes including its opening and closing credits, the video for “Can You Feel It” was a prelude to Michael Jackson’s solo “short films” to come, not just in its length and production values, but as a vehicle to engage its audience while conveying a message of inclusiveness:

All the colours of the world should be
Lovin’ each other wholeheartedly
Yes, it’s all right
Take my message to your brother and tell him twice
Spread the word and try to teach the man
Who’s hating his brother when hate won’t do
‘Cause we’re all the same
Yes, the blood inside of me is inside of you…

In the 1980s and 90s through to his death in 2009, Michael Jackson made his music, performances and short films instruments of his message about making the world a better place. In so doing, he elevated those arts to a level that had previously been unknown in pop music history. The technology being used by the entertainment industry had evolved to a point where it had become a powerful agent of influence. That influence could be positive or negative. For Jackson, the use of technology was an exciting way to be on the cutting edge of the industry, for the purposes of reaching larger and larger audiences, in order to get his message across. “It’s been my dream since I was a child to somehow unite people of the world through love and music,” he wrote in Moonwalk. [10]

Joseph Vogel sees an overarching thread in Jackson’s work – one of “persistent dissatisfaction with the world as it is, and its attempt to provide some kind of escape or antidote, or spark a transformation.” He goes on to state that, while not every song was a “Man in the Mirror” with its cathartic breakthrough, in principle it was what Michael Jackson believed music could accomplish. [11]

Jackson would spend the rest of his life working to promote that transformation, and like other prominent advocates for positive social change, his influence has continued well beyond his mortal existence.

To be continued…

Kerry Hennigan
14 October 2023


[1] Henke, James (2003). Lennon Legend: An Illustrated Life of John Lennon. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books. ISBN 978-0-8118-3517-6.

[2] Jackson, Michael. Moonwalk. Arrow Books paperback edition, 2010 p. 252.

[3] Lindsay, James M. “The Twenty Best Vietnam Protest Songs.” Council on Foreign Relations. 5 March 2015. https://www.cfr.org/blog/twenty-best-vietnam-protest-songs accessed 12 Oct 2023.

[4] National Museum of African American History & Culture. “Black Liberation and the Vietnam War.” https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/vietnam-war-50th-anniversary-commemoration accessed 12 Oct 2023.

[5] Liveabout.com. “10 Influential Political and Protest Folk Music Artists.” https://www.liveabout.com/best-political-protest-folk-music-artists-4122694 accessed 12 Oct 2023.

[6] Hatterstone, Simon. The Guardian. Published digitally 5 Apr 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/apr/05/it-was-very-difficult-for-michael-the-jacksons-on-fame-family-and-survival accessed October 2023.

[7] YouTube. Can You Feel It. Official music video ©1981 by The Jacksons © 1980/1981 Epic Records/Sony Music Entertainment (SME) https://youtu.be/scYVCcC5oyY?si=Vvoe7QLL8YFgJXRV

[8] Jackson, Michael. Moonwalk. p. 175

[9] Jackson, Michael. Jackson, Jackie. Can You Feel It. 1988. Extract from the lyrics. http://www.mjtunes.com/modules/mydownloads/singlefile.php

[10] Jackson, Michael. Moonwalk. p. 252

[11] Vogel, Joseph. Man in the Music. The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson. Vintage Books edition 2019, pp 26-27.

Artwork: Photo montage “spread the word…” created by Kerry Hennigan using a professional photograph and PhotoScape X Pro software. No infringement of photographic copyright is intended in this not-for-profit educational exercise.