The Story of... 'Earth Song' by Michael Jackson
25 November 2020, 16:36 | Updated: 2 December 2020, 09:55
Michael Jackson scored his biggest UK hit in 1995 with his socially-conscious track 'Earth Song'. 25 years on, it sounds as if it could have been written in 2020.
While Michael Jackson was known for his dance anthems like 'Billie Jean' or 'Smooth Criminal', and his ballads like 'You Are Not Alone' or 'She's Out of My Life', he also wrote several tracks that dealt with social or environmental issues.
Alongside the likes of 'We Are the World', 'Heal the World' and 'Man in the Mirror' came possibly the most epic of the lot: 'Earth Song'.
But what inspired the song and how was it made? Here's all the important facts:
What came before 'Earth Song'?
Michael had already released charitable or socially conscious songs.
Even as a child, he recorded the song 'In Our Small Way' for his first album Got to Be There back in 1971.
Years later, he used his fame and money to promote various causes close to him. In 1985, he co-wrote the charity single 'We Are the World' with Lionel Richie, to raise funds for the poor in Africa and the US.
All of the profits from his single 'Man in the Mirror' went to charity, and he founded the Heal the World Foundation in 1992, inspired by his song of the same name.
When did Michael Jackson write 'Earth Song' and what inspired it?
'Earth Song' was recorded for Michael Jackson's 1995 album HIStory, and was the third single taken from the album after 'Scream' and 'You Are Not Alone'.
Michael later said of the song's creation: "I remember writing 'Earth Song' when I was in Austria, in a hotel. And I was feeling so much pain and so much suffering of the plight of the planet Earth.
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"And for me, this is Earth's Song, because I think nature is trying so hard to compensate for man's mismanagement of the Earth. And with the ecological unbalance going on, and a lot of the problems in the environment, I think earth feels the pain, and she has wounds, and it's about some of the joys of the planet as well.
"But this is my chance to pretty much let people hear the voice of the planet. And this is 'Earth Song'. And that's what inspired it. And it just suddenly dropped into my lap when I was on tour in Austria."
What is 'Earth Song' about?
The track sees Michael sending out a wakeup-call of sorts about the terrible condition that mankind has caused to the world, from war to the killing of animals and of the earth itself.
The song becomes somewhat spiritual towards the end, where Michael calls on people to remember the earth is their inheritance from God via their ancestor Abraham.
Meanwhile, 'What about death again' reminds listeners to think about their eternal death, asking people to check their heart for repentance, or to see if they really ever cared.
Michael had disfellowshipped himself from his previous Jehovah's Witness faith, and had simplified his faith to focus on the Biblical Jesus Christ until his death in 2009.
How was the music video filmed?
The expensive music video for 'Earth Song' was directed by photographer Nick Brandt.
It later won the 1995 Doris Day Music Award at the Genesis Awards, and a Grammy nomination for Best Music Video, Short Form in 1997.
The film shows images of animal cruelty, deforestation, pollution, poaching, poverty and war.
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By the end, Michael Jackson and the world unite in the song's spiritual chant, summoning a force that heals the world.
The video closes with a request for donations to Jackson's Heal the World Foundation.
It was filmed in four geographic regions. The first location was the Amazon Rainforest, where a large portion had been destroyed a week after the video's completion. Natives of the area also appeared in the video, and were not actors.
The second scene sees a war zone in Karlovac, Croatia, featuring famous Serbian actor Slobodan Dimitrijević and residents of the town.
The third location was Tanzania, featuring scenes of illegal poaching and hunting. No animals were harmed in the making of the video, with footage coming from documentary archives.
The final location was filmed in Warwick, New York, where a safe forest fire was simulated in a corn field.
How did it perform in the charts?
In the UK, it is Michael Jackson's best-selling single. It topped the chart for six weeks, including the Christmas number one.
During its stay at number one, it kept the first single released by the Beatles in 25 years, 'Free as a Bird', off the number one spot. It sold over 1.2 million copies in the UK alone.
It also topped the charts in Iceland, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, and was his first number one in Germany.
However, the song wasn't released as a single in the US at the time.
What happened at the 1996 Brit Awards?
On February 19, 1996, Michael Jackson performed 'Earth Song' at the Brit Awards in the UK. He attended to collect a special 'Artist of a Generation' award.
Michael sang while hanging off the edge of a crane elevator. Below, backing performers joined in, with many embracing the singer as he descended.
During the performance, Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker ran onstage without permission, and proceeded to lift his shirt and pretended to break wind, before giving Jackson the V-sign.
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Cocker was later questioned by police over claims he had assaulted some of the children performers, but he was released without charge.
The British artist later said that he found the performance offensive, claiming that Jackson had portrayed himself as Christ-like. However, he later clarified that his actions weren't personally aimed at Jackson himself, but rather the performance.
Cocker said that he admired Jackson as an artist, saying: "He can dance, [...] anybody who invents the moonwalk is alright by me".
It was Michael Jackson's final song
The song was planned for Michaek Jackson's This Is It concerts in 2009.
'Earth Song' was the last song Michael ever performed.
He rehearsed it on June 24, 2009, while preparing for This Is It, just hours before his death.