One of Michael Jackson’s signature songs, “Billie Jean” tells the tale of a young girl who claims to be the mother of Jackson’s alleged son. The song was the second single from his sixth solo album Thriller. It reached #1 in several countries including the US.
In an interview with Martin Bashir, Michael revealed his original inspiration behind “Billie Jean”, sharing, “I said to myself beforehand, ‘I wanna write a song with a great bass hook.’” He was driving down Ventura Boulevard when he came up with that hook.
In his autobiography, Moonwalk, Jackson wrote:
There never was a real Billie Jean. The girl in the song is a composite of people my brothers have been plagued with over the years. I could never understand how these girls could say they were carrying someone’s child when it wasn’t true.
One peculiar case where this happened to Jackson himself was in 1981 when a woman wrote him letters claiming he was the father of ONE of her twins. She initially appears on the first song of the album, “Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'”.
Producer Quincy Jones originally did not want to include “Billie Jean” on Thriller. He disliked the intro, the bass line and song’s title (feeling listeners would associate the track with tennis legend Billie Jean King). Jackson fought to keep the song on the album, and not change its title to Jones' suggestion of “Not My Lover”.
Despite Jackson’s claim in a 2002 interview that the song’s bass line came ‘from above’, Daryl Hall has said Jackson once told him he’d stolen the groove of “Billie Jean” from Hall & Oates' song “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)”.
The song was notably performed by MJ on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever in 1983, where he debuted the Moonwalk to rave reviews. Fred Astaire even called the day after to give him props, saying, “Man, you really put them on their asses last night.”