1984 – Michael Jackson’s Thriller is #1 on the US album chart

Michael Jackson’s Thriller was his sixth studio album, and is still his best known and best-selling. It dominated the US album charts in 1983 and 1984, spending most of the year at number one on the charts (and the rest at number 2). It also reached number one on the charts in Australia, Japan, Sweden, West Germany, New Zealand, Holland, Canada and the United Kingdom. Of the seven singles from the album, all were top ten hits, with two of them (“Beat It” and “Billie Jean”) reaching number one on the US singles charts.

The album went on to win 8 Grammy awards, which remains a record number, and in the year of its release, became the best-selling album in the history of the world – a title which it still holds. It is also responsible for making “Weird Al” Yankovic a star, thanks to the success of his parody of “Beat It” (“Eat It”), which was his best selling single until 2009.

Referenced in:
Rockin’ the Suburbs — Ben Folds

1975 – Phnom Penh falls to the Khmer Rouge and Year Zero begins

The Khmer Rouge were a Communist movement allied to the Viet Cong. When the United States military pulled out of Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975, they left a power vacuum that their opponents were quick to exploit. The Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, championed a particularly oppressive form of dictatorship that called for a return to medieval technology and an abandonment of urbanisation.

With the fall of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, the Khmer Rouge took control of the country. All the citizens of Cambodia were forced to leave the cities, to practice subsistence agriculture in the rural areas. The regime was infamous for its cruelty and brutality, to say nothing of its near genocidal policies. It is estimated that in the four years of their reign, as many as two million people were killed, either in concentration camps, summary executions or simple starvation. In fact, during the years of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia became known as the Killing Fields – more than 20,000 separate mass graves were created in these years.

Referenced in:

Pol Pot — Down I Go
Earth Song — Michael Jackson
Holiday In Cambodia — Dead Kennedys

1945 – Franklin Delano Roosevelt dies in office

Consistently one of the highest ranked Presidents in United States history, far and away the longest serving President, and despite the long years since his death, one of the most controversial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was only 63 years old when he died. It was his thirteenth consecutive year as President, and the last year of World War Two.

Roosevelt had long suffered from polio and his health had become increasingly fragile in the last years of his life, with the stress of leading his nation through World War Two taking its toll on him. In the last months of his life, he was diagnosed as suffering from hardening of the arteries, and his death was the the result of a cerebral hemorrage. His death shocked and dismayed America and her allies, as the details of Roosevelt’s health had been a closely held secret. The nation mourned his lost, and on V-E Day, less than a month later, President Harry S. Truman, who had succeeded Roosevelt, dedicated the victory to the fallen man.

Referenced in:

They Don’t Care About Us — Michael Jackson

1993 – Michael Jackson is investigated for child abuse, but never charged

The Los Angeles Police Department began an investigation into the allegations of child abuse made against Michael Jackson on August 18, 1993. Three days later, a search warrant was issued, allowing the police to search Jackson’s home, the Neverland Ranch. No evidence was ever found, according to a police spokesperson.

A subsequent search of the Jackson family home in November also came up empty – but that didn’t stop La Toya Jackson from publically supporting the accusations – although she later claimed that her abusive husband had forced her to do so.

Nothing was ever proven, although for many people it didn’t matter – their minds were made up, one way or the other, long before the investigation commenced.

Referenced in:
D.S. – Michael Jackson

1947 — Palestine is partitioned by the United Nations

In 1947, in the wake of the Holocaust, moves were afoot to restore the Jewish homeland in what was then called Palestine, and governed by the United Kingdom under a League of Nations mandate. A plan for the partition of Palestine was developed by the League’s successor, the United Nations, dividing it into Jewish zones and Arab zones.

The plan was doomed to failure from the outset: it satisfied neither side, and once the State of Israel was formed, it rapidly overran the boundaries set out for it in the U.N. plan. More than 50 years later, the question of who owns the land – the Israelis (Jews) or the Palestinians (Arabs) – is still a contentious issue, with a huge loss of life on both sides that continues to this day.

Referenced in:

Earth Song — Michael Jackson

1963 — U.S. President John F Kennedy is assassinated

One of the defining events of its era, the assassination of President Kennedy remains a remarkably controversial one, even today. Conspiracy theories abound as to who shot Kennedy and why.

While the official story, that Lee Harvey Oswald did it, with the rifle, in the book depository, is plausible, it is also notably incomplete – there are any number of holes and anomalies in it. The murder of Oswald only two days later, before he could stand trial, has done nothing to quell these uncertainties.

On a symbolic level, the death of Kennedy was the end of an era in many ways. Quite aside from the idealism that he brought to the nation, his death marked a change in the way America saw itself – no longer the lily-white paladin, but more the grim avenger willing do the dirty work no one else would – although in fairness, this change of self-image would take the rest of the decade to be complete.

Referenced in:

Civil War — Guns n’ Roses
Tabloid Junkie — Michael Jackson
Tomorrow, Wendy — Andy Prieboy
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel
He Was A Friend of Mine — The Byrds
Tomorrow, Wendy — Concrete Blonde
Song for a Friend — The Kingston Trio
Purple Toupee — They Might Be Giants
She Is Always Seventeen — Harry Chapin

1897 BCE — God first appears to Abraham

When God first appears to Abraham – which, by the way, was what the big guy renamed Abe – his name was originally Abram – Abram is 75 years old, although that doesn’t mean much, since his father Terah has not long died of old age. Terah lived to be 205, so no doubt Abe anticipates a number of good years ahead of him yet.

God tells him a bunch of stuff – that he should move from where he lives (in what is now Iraq) to Canaan (or what is now Israel); that he will become the founding father of a great nation; that he should change his name; and that his wife, Sarai (also renamed as Sarah) will soon become pregnant. Sarah is old enough to be unable to bear children, so she laughs at this prophecy, although one assumes that it seems less funny after she conceives and delivers Isaac, as prophesied.

1941 – Elizabeth Taylor is first contracted in Hollywood

Elizabeth Taylor was only 8 years old when she was first signed with a Hollywood studio. The studio in question, Universal, agreed to pay her $100 a week for six months. (Another studio, MGM, had already auditioned her, but passed her up when they discovered that she could not sing.)

Her first film, made when Taylor was 9, was “There’s One Born Every Minute”. A dissatisfied Universal did not renew her contract, but the following year, MGM reconsidered, and contracted her for three months. She appeared in “Lassie Come Home” alongside fellow child star Roddy McDowall, and the film did sufficiently well that she was signed for a seven year contract by MGM thereafter.

She would go on to become one of the most famous and respected actresses in cinema history, winning three Oscars and three Golden Globes.

Referenced in:

Elizabeth, I Love You – Michael Jackson

1962 – Marilyn Monroe dies in suspicious circumstances

Was it suicide? Was she killed? Or was it an accidental overdose, like the death certificate claimed?

Marilyn Monroe was found dead by her psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson, at some point between midnight and four thirty or so on the morning of August 5, 1962. He called another doctor, Hyman Engelberg, and Monroe is certified dead. Only then are the police called.

The proximate cause of her death was poisoning – an acute barbituate overdose, as the coroner put it. But there were a number of inconsistencies in the nature of the dose and the apparent method of its consumption. Furthermore, in the course of the investigation, witnesses made a number of contradictory statements (in some cases contradicting not just each other, but also reality), and the evidence – what little there is – is ambiguous.

It is widely believed, even today, that she was murdered, but no charges have ever been brought for that crime.

Referenced in:
Candle in the Wind — Elton John
Tabloid Junkie — Michael Jackson