481. ‘One Day in Your Life’, by Michael Jackson

I wrote in the recap just gone that the eighties had officially begun, kicked off by none other than Shakin’ Stevens. But with all due respect to Shaky, up next we have perhaps the ultimate ‘80s pop icon.

One Day in Your Life, by Michael Jackson (his 1st of seven #1s)

2 weeks, 21st June – 5th July 1981

MJ has his first solo #1. But it’s not as simple as all that. ‘One Day in Your Life’ is hardly one of his signature tunes. In fact, it’s two years older than the chart-topper he managed with his brothers in 1977: ‘Show You the Way to Go’. The Michael Jackson of 1981 was coming off the success of ‘Off the Wall’, poised, only a year away from ‘Thriller’ and world domination. But here we are.

He was just sixteen when this was recorded, in 1974, and he still sounds very young, caught between the high-pitched little kid from ‘I Want You Back’ and the megastar that recorded ‘Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough’. And it’s nice to be reminded that Jackson could actually sing – there’s no sign here of the vocal tics and squeals that make up his later hits.

It’s a song about longing, and waiting. He’s waiting for the day when his ex wakes up and realises what she’s lost: One day in your life, You’ll remember a place, Someone touching your face… And it’s a glossy, beautifully produced, slow-dance number, a good companion to the Smokey Robinson record that it knocked off the top. Like ‘Being With You’, it’s a record that reveals itself slowly. I was underwhelmed and a little bored with it at first – and it does sound dated compared to what was in the charts at this time, and compared to what Jackson was recording – but it’s a really nice song. I can’t help hearing it in a female voice, though: Dionne Warwick maybe, or Dusty…

Just call my name, And I’ll be there… I wonder if that’s a deliberate allusion to his group’s earlier hit of the same name. There are similarities between this and ‘I’ll Be There’ (they’re both ballads, for a start): this is a grown-up sequel, more teenage angst than childish optimism. Why was ‘One Day in Your Life’ a hit six years after its recording, though? It was released as the lead single from a hits compilation, and perhaps a combination of his ‘Off the Wall’ hits and The Jacksons’ second wind with disco hits like ‘Can You Feel It’ and ‘Blame It On the Boogie’ helped. It was the year’s 6th biggest selling hit, but it feels almost forgotten now, overshadowed by his monster smashes from later in the decade.

My favourite fact about Michael Jackson’s chart-career is that he only ever reached #1 in odd-numbered years (all his solo #1s, his Jacksons’ #1, even ‘We Are the World’… ’77, ’81, ’83, ’85, ’87 and so on…) It’s probably fitting, as there have been few pop stars as ‘odd’ as Jackson. Listening to this song, it’s so easy to forget the more uncomfortable side of his legacy. Probably because the teenager singing on this record was, to all intents and purposes, a completely different person to the Wacko Jacko of Bubbles the chimp, Neverland, his ‘sleepovers’, and beyond…