What's the consensus of opinion on what are the ten all time best Michael Jackson songs? Here are several best of lists from various sources. As well as ten solo albums and over 50 solo singles, Jackson released ten albums and 25 singles with The Jackson 5/The Jacksons, as well as collaborations with other artists, such as Paul McCartney. Different lists have different criteria - some include all his recordings, some include only the solo work.
Number One: Billie Jean
It probably won't come as a surprise that Billie Jean is ranked number 1 in almost all the lists. Billie Jean is widely acknowledged as Jackson's greatest song. It's the one that propelled him into super-stardom. It's listed at number 58 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs, included on the Hall of Fames' 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll, and listed at 63 on Q Magazine's 1001 Best Songs Ever, along with several other serious accolades and awards.
|The original Billie Jean video|
The video was shown in heavy rotation on MTV and made both Jackson's and MTV's reputations. But initially MTV didn't want to show it, because Jackson was black, and MTV was aiming for a white rock audience. The head of CBS records, Jackson's record label, insisted they play it: "I said to MTV, 'I'm pulling everything we have off the air, all our product. I'm not going to give you any more videos. And I'm going to go public and fucking tell them about the fact you don't want to play music by a black guy.'" They played it. The rest is history.
|Performing Billie Jean at the |
Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever TV show when he first revealed his version of the moonwalk; a moment that is regarded as iconic for rock music and pop culture in general.
Number Two: Beat It
Though not all the lists include Beat It, most do - and those that do, tend to place it second after Billie Jean. It was released while Billie Jean was still at the top of the charts, and for a while both songs were in the top five. It's a rock song, with a hard rock guitar solo played by Van Halen.
|The Beat It video with a mass choreography dance story influenced by West Side Story.|
Number Three: Man in the Mirror
Most lists include Man in the Mirror, sometimes as high as second place. Surprises me. Critics have not been enthusiastic, sales and chart positions have been low for Jackson, and there has been little in the way of acclaim and awards. Comments by the list makers indicate that inclusion has been due to the emotional impact felt after Jackson's death.
|The Man in the Mirror|
|The video which attempts to make it clear what the song is about|
Number Four: Rock With You
|Rock With You|
Number Five: Black or White
|Black or White|
Number Six: Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough
|Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough|
Number Seven: Bad
Number Eight: Thriller
I thought this would feature higher. Indeed, for me, this song and the accompanying video had such a global impact that it should be in the top 3. Even prisoners in the Philippines are so familiar with the song and video that they made their own dance video which went viral. The song and video are combined, and the video is so ambitious, audacious, and amusing, that it adds to the interest of the song. You see the video when hearing the song. Added to the story are that both Quincy Jones, the producer, and Ola Ray, the ex-Playboy model who appears as Jackson's girlfriend in the video, have claimed they are owned royalties.
|The 13 minute video directed by John Landis. Hugely popular and hugely influential.|
|Jackson's girlfriend in the video is Ola Ray, a former Playboy model|
|Philippine prisoners acting out the routine in a video that went viral.|
Number Nine: Say Say Say
It's a leaden, plodding song of little value, yet appears in the top three in three lists. One even has it at number one spot. Good grief. Wikipedia has a featured article on the song. Go figure.
|Say Say Say|
Number Ten: Earth Song
Jarvis Cocker's response is the appropriate one. However, this song appears on three lists in sufficiently high enough position for this to come in as, by general consensus, Jackson's tenth greatest song. What about good taste?
Michael Jackson has hit the top of the pop singles chart with 13 different singles as a solo artist. These are the 10 biggest of those hits. He easily ranks as one of the most successful and innovative pop artists of all time. All 10 of these songs are essential to any comprehensive pop music collection.
1. "Billie Jean" - 1983
If any single song signaled that Michael Jackson's legacy as one of the top pop artists of all time would be secure, it was "Billie Jean." The song remains a pop milestone and masterpiece. It was written by Michael Jackson and produced by Quincy Jones. Inspired by a real life experience in which Jackson was accused of fathering a baby of one of his fans, the slight sense of paranoia, instantly memorable bass line, and Michale Jackson's trademark vocal yelps and hiccups combined to make "Billie Jean," the second single from Thriller, a keystone in Michael Jackson's career. It spent seven weeks at the top of the pop singles chart in 1983.
2. "Black Or White" - 1991
It had been four years since the album Bad generated five consecutive #1 singles and some in the music industry wondered if Michael Jackson would maintain his commercial clout when Dangerous was released in 1991. All of those questions were soon answered as the lead single "Black Or White" became the second biggest hit single of Michael Jackson's career staying at #1 or seven weeks. All stops were out on celebrity participation with Guns 'n Roses' Slash contributing a guitar solo and Home Alone's Macaulay Culkin starring in the accompanying video. The song itself is a powerful plea for racial unity.
3. "Say Say Say" with Paul McCartney - 1983
The first time Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney teamed up on "The Girl Is Mine" in 1982 it was a smash success hitting #2 on the pop singles chart. The pair went back to the studio with Beatles producer George Martin for "Say Say Say" and the result was an even bigger hit staying at #1 for six weeks.
4. "Rock With You" - 1979
Following the uptempo smash "Don' Stop 'Till You Get Enough" that introduced the album Off the Wall, Michael Jackson proved he was adept with a laidback, soulful tune as well. Rod Temperton wrote "Rock With You," and it was part of the last gasp of the disco era.
5. "Beat It!" - 198
The album Thriller, was already a smash hit, and "Billie Jean" was an acknowledged classic. Then the third single from the album, "Beat It!," tore down any remaining walls for Michael Jackson as a recording artist. Featuring a blistering guitar solo from rocker Eddie Van Halen and accompanied by a video that tore down barriers for black recording artists at MTV, "Beat It!" was an instant hit.
6. "Man In the Mirror" - 1988
Accompanied by a gospel choir, "Man In the Mirror" is known as one of Michael Jackson's most uplifting hit songs. It was nominated for a Grammy Award for Record of the Year. Released in January of 1988, the song was the fourth consecutive #1 hit from the album Bad.
7. "Bad" - 1987
The title song from Michael Jackson's Bad was the second consecutive #1 hit from the album. It was originally conceived as a duet with Prince. "Bad" was accompanied by an 18 minute short film as its music video. It only took the song six weeks to hit the top of the charts.
8. "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" - 1979
Michael Jackson's group with his brothers, the Jackson 5, was one of the most successful family acts of all time. They first hit the pop charts in 1969 when Michael Jackson was 11. By 1979, Jackson was a young adult, and he had not released a major solo hit in seven years. He collaborated with Quincy Jones to blend disco and contemporary R&B with vocals featuring one of the most arresting falsetto voices in pop music. "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" hit the top of the charts, and Michael Jackson's adult recording career had begun.
9. "You Are Not Alone" - 1995
Singer R. Kelly wrote this song in response to his own personal difficulties. When a demo reached Michael Jackson he decided to record "You Are Not Alone" as part of his greatest hits collection HIStory. Co-produced by Kelly, the song debuted at the top of the pop singles chart, the first hit to do so in the history of the Billboard Hot 100.
10. "The Way You Make Me Feel" - 1987
"The Way You Make Me Feel" was the third #1 hit from the album Bad. Reportedly, Michael Jackson recorded the song in response to a request from his mother Katherine to record a song with a shuffling rhythm. Michael Jackson performed the song live at the 1988 Grammy Awards.
10. Blood on the Dance Floor (1997)
'Blood on the Dance Floor' served as the first song to be released from his 1997 remix record 'Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix'. It is one of a handful of songs by Jackson with a chilling and somewhat grisly storyline with the video focusing on a salsa dancer called Susie who seduces the star by table-dancing above him before producing a switchblade. It had limited popularity in the US which contrasted massively to the reception in Europe. The song was at number one for 7 weeks in Spain, plus 1 week in the UK.
Watch the video for Blood On The Dance Floor
9. You Are Not Alone (1995)
This track was composed by R&B star R.Kelly who, after presenting the demo to Jackson, co-produced it with him before later covering it himself. It appeared on MJ's 'HIStory' album and earned him a Grammy nomination on its release and while it peaked at number one in several countries, the UK particularly favoured it with 2 weeks atop the charts. It's a beautiful song with a touching message, but it hasn't been without controversy. Aside from regularly being criticized for the video's scenes of semi-nudity with him and his then wife Lisa Marie Presley, it has also been the subject of plagiarism when Belgian composers Eddy and Danny Van Passel accused R.Kelly of stealing their tune. The court passed a judgement whereby the rights for the track were given to the Van Passels and any airplay of the MJ track was banned, however it is a verdict that is only recognised in that country.
Watch the video for You Are Not Alone
8. Beat It (1983)
'Beat It' has to be Jackson's biggest rock song of his career. Featuring on his 'Thriller' record, the song includes a guitar solo from Van Halen's Eddie Van Halen and is often lauded as a pioneer in 'black rock' music. It won MJ two Grammy awards and helped him achieve a top 5 position on the charts at the same time as 'Billie Jean' which is a particularly rare feat. The song remained at number one for 3 weeks in the US plus a further week in Spain. One of the most shocking things about this seminal hit is the video which he had feature around 80 real members of notorious rival gangs the Crips and the Bloods to not only add realism, but also to make some kind of peace among them just like the song suggests. 'Beat It' has been covered many times, most notably by rock bands Fall Out Boy and Pierce the Veil. will.i.am remixed it for 'Thriller 25', but it was not much liked by critics.
Watch the video for Beat It
7. Ben (1972)
'Ben' was MJ's first ever number one solo hit, recorded when he was just 14 for the film of the same name. It was originally written for Donny Osmond to sing, but he was unavailable due to touring commitments. But Jackson surprised everyone by winning a Golden Globe for the track and hitting number one for one week in the US plus a further 8 weeks in Australia. Notable covers of the song feature on Boyzone's album 'A Different Beat' and Connie Talbot's 'Over The Rainbow' album; Faith No More even performed it on their tour while many parodies have also been made including on 'The Simpsons' and 'The Wayans Bros.
Watch the video for Ben
6. Rock With You (1979)
Not as well-known as some of his major hits, but much loved among many devoted fans, this was widely seen as one of the last big disco hits. It appeared on his 'Off the Wall' album and was written by Rod Temperton from Heatwave who also wrote 'Thriller'. As well as being re-released in 2006, it continues to be covered by a variety of artists including Brandy, Chuck Loeb and Ashanti with Chris Brown, Kelly Clarkson and Mariah Carey also performing it on tour. It topped the charts for 4 weeks in the US and 1 week in Spain.
Watch the video for Rock With You
5. Earth Song (1995)
'Earth Song', from album 'HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I', is the biggest number one hit for Jackson in the UK topping the charts for 6 weeks but it surprisingly failed to chart at all in the US. MJ had a history of releasing songs of global importance (such as 'Heal the World', 'Man in the Mirror' and 'Beat It' as we've mentioned) but 'Earth Song' has got to be the first that directly addressed the issues of environment and animal cruelty. The video was a thought-provoking montage shot in four regions and won Jackson a Grammy nomination in 1997. It has been covered by the band Fossils and by Charice & Ne-Yo and remains one of Europe's Michael Jackson favourites.
Watch the video for Earth Song
4. Bad (1987)
The title single from his 1987 album is one of the more 'edgy' of his biggest hits. Although it was initially meant to be a duet with Prince, it still worked out as one of his major landmark singles. It is accompanied by an 18 minute long video directed by Martin Scorsese and featuring a narrative about a boy from the 'ghetto' who comes back after a lengthy stay at a private school to find that he's not as 'bad' as he used to be. MJ has confirmed that it is in fact based on a true story that he read about in an article that ended much worse than his own version. It was at number one for 2 weeks in the US and was a major hit in Spain with 14 whole weeks atop the charts making it the most popular of his singles in that country.
Watch the video for Bad
3. Say Say Say [ft. Paul McCartney] (1983)
This collaborative single wasn't actually released on any Michael Jackson album but instead appeared on Paul McCartney's 'Pipes of Peace' record. It's technically not really 'featuring' one or the other, rather it is a duet that they chose to add to McCartney's album after 'The Girl Is Mine' went on to 'Thriller'. We felt that it had to be included, however, after it topped the US chart for 6 weeks. The music video was one that introduced the concept of a narrative to videos with McCartney and MJ playing two sly (albeit charitable) conmen called Mac and Jack.
Watch the video for Say Say Say
2. Billie Jean (1983)
'Billie Jean' is widely considered as one of the most revolutionary songs of its time following its release on his 'Thriller' album and its video features some of Jackson's most incredible trademark dance moves. The storyline of the song has been subject to much debate with many analytical minds suggesting it is based on a woman who was hospitalised after harassing MJ for months over allegations that he fathered her twins despite him having never met her. He has, however, explained that it is in fact based on the numerous groupies he and his brothers encountered in Jackson 5. The song was initially slammed by co-producer Quincy Jones but ultimately won him two Grammys and featured in his famous (and disastrous) Pepsi commercial. Covers of this much-loved track have been done by punk band The Bates, Linx, Ian Brown and Chris Cornell; it was even performed by Westlife on their Face to Face tour.
Watch the video for Billie Jean
1. Black or White (1991)
This track is without doubt the world favourite topping the charts in 15 countries after its release in 1991, partly due to the fast growing globalisation of music sales in the early 90's. It featured on his eighth studio album 'Dangerous' and its counterpart video turned into an equally major hit. It wasn't without controversy, however; the last four minutes of the video were cut on MTV and similar networks after it showed the star performing a 'sexually suggestive' dance including numerous of his famous crotch grabs and him zipping up his flies. Despite the taboo performance though, it has been covered by 'Glee' in a 2012 episode and even parodied on several occasions by the likes of Weird Al Yankovic, hip hop outfit Das Racist and even rock group Genesis.
Watch the video for Black Or White
1 Billie Jean
2 Beat It
3 Smooth Criminal
4 Man in the Mirror
6 Earth Song
7 They Don't Care About Us
8 Black or White
9 Heal the World
"The Girl Is Mine"
Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney
Hot 100 Peak Position: 2
Peak Date: January 8, 1983
Weeks On Chart: 18
Surprising to some, "The Girl Is Mine" was actually the first single from Michael Jackson's 1982 "Thriller" album -- not "Billie Jean" or "Beat It." A duet with McCartney, the song was released in October 1982 and quickly debuted on the Hot 100 at No. 45, eventually rising to No. 2. "The Girl Is Mine" also famously kicked off an incredible run of hits from the "Thriller" album; It was the first of seven straight Hot 100 top 10 hits from the release, the first album to yield such a streak.
The Jackson 5
Hot 100 Peak Position: 1 (2 weeks)
Peak Date: April 25, 1970
Weeks On Chart: 13
In somewhat of a case of chart fortune-telling, it was perhaps fitting that the Jackson 5's second Hot 100 No. 1 dislodged the Beatles' second-to-last No. 1, "Let It Be," from the top of the chart dated April 25, 1970, as arguably the most influential group in the history of pop music symbolically passed the baton to the format's future King. The Jackson 5's next leader, "The Love You Save" (see No. 11), would likewise bump the Beatles' last No. 1, "The Long and Winding Road," from the summit in June 1970.
"I Want You Back"
The Jackson 5
Hot 100 Peak Position: 1 (1 week)
Peak Date: January 31, 1970
Weeks On Chart: 19
A new era in Motown's storied history -- and one of the most impressive chart resumes in Billboard's archives -- began rather unassumingly. Michael Jackson's six-decade tenancy on the Billboard charts began the week of Nov. 15, 1969, when the then-11-year-old and his four brothers entered the chart at No. 90 with "I Want You Back." On Jan. 31, 1970, the song completed the first of Jackson's 17 trips to the top (four with the Jackson 5, 13 solo).
"Man In The Mirror"
Hot 100 Peak Position: 1 (2 weeks)
Peak Date: March 16, 1988
Weeks On Chart: 17
When "Man in the Mirror" reached No. 1 on the Hot 100 in 1988, Jackson became the first artist in the chart's history to pull four No. 1 songs from one album -- in this case, "Bad." After Jackson's death last year, "Mirror" re-entered the U.K. singles chart at No. 11 and peaked at No. 2. "I wrote the music, and [Siedah Garrett] wrote the words," co-writer Glen Ballard told Billboard in 2001. "It only took a couple of hours to write."
The Jackson 5
Hot 100 Peak Position: 2
Peak Date: May 18, 1974
Weeks On Chart: 22
The funky, early-disco title track from the group's 1974 album danced close to the top of the Hot 100, halting at No. 2 (stuck behind Ray Stevens' "The Streak.") "Dancing Machine" was the final Hot 100 top 10 for the group on Motown Records, as the act departed the label for Epic in 1976, re-christened as The Jacksons.
"Rock With You"
Hot 100 Peak Position: 1 (4 weeks)
Peak Date: January 19, 1980
Weeks On Chart: 24
Penned by British songwriter Rod Temperton of the R&B group Heatwave, Jackson's third No. 1 spent four weeks in the Hot 100's top slot, the longest of any of his singles at the time. The track ranked at No. 4 on Billboard's top Hot 100 songs of 1980, helping Jackson earn Top Singles Artist honors that year.
Hot 100 Peak Position: 1 (3 weeks)
Peak Date: April 30, 1983
Weeks On Chart: 25
Jackson wasted little time in achieving his second Hot 100 No. 1 from "Thriller," with only two weeks separating the last of seven weeks on top for "Billie Jean" and the first frame in charge for "Beat It." Four songs spent more time at No. 1 than "Beat It" (three weeks at the apex), but the dancefloor gem -- which also reached No. 14 on the Mainstream Rock chart, thanks to Eddie Van Halen's guitar work -- tallied 25 weeks on the Hot 100, the
"I'll Be There"
The Jackson 5
Hot 100 Peak Position: 1 (5 weeks)
Peak Date: October 17, 1970
Weeks On Chart: 16
This single was the last and longest-reigning (five weeks) of four consecutive Hot 100 No. 1s in 1970 for the brothers from Gary, Ind. The group earned seven more Hot 100 top 10s by the end of its active recording career in 1989 but never again reached No. 1. Mariah Carey -- who was seven months old when the Jackson 5's version of the song topped the Hot 100 -- returned the composition to the chart's top spot when her version from MTV's "Unplugged" series led the list for two weeks in 1992.
Hot 100 Peak Position: 1 (7 weeks)
Peak Date: March 5, 1983
Weeks On Chart: 24
Jackson was already a superstar after earning three solo Hot 100 No. 1s -- including two from "Off the Wall," his first album for Epic -- but "Billie Jean" propelled the singer to a true worldwide sensation. With seven weeks at No. 1, the song introduced the iconic "Thriller" album to the masses.
"Say Say Say"
Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson
Hot 100 Peak Position: 1 (six weeks)
Peak Date: December 10, 1983
Weeks On Chart: 22
After the success of Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson's "The Girl Is Mine" duet, the former Beatle recruited the King of Pop for this collaboration on his 1983 album, "Pipes of Peace." "Paul and I shared the same idea of how a pop song should work and it was a real treat to work with him," Jackson wrote in his 1988 autobiography, "Moonwalk."
The Best Songs
‘Man in the Mirror’
‘I Want You Back’
‘Never Can Say Goodbye’
‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’
‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
‘We Are the World’
‘I’ll Be There’
20. “Man In The Mirror”
19. “Scream” (feat. Janet Jackson)
18. “The Love You Save”
16. “The Girl Is Mine” (feat. Paul McCartney)
15. “Black Or White”
14. “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”
13. “Smooth Criminal”
11. “I Want You Back”
9. “Dirty Diana”
8. “Human Nature”
7. “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)”
6. “I’ll Be There”
5. “Beat It”
4. “The Way You Make Me Feel”
3. “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough”
2. “Rock With You”
1. “Billie Jean”
10. Break of Dawn. I doubt many people have listened to Jackson’s 2001 album Invincible, but there’s no excuse to miss this track. MJ croons over silky bass lines just like days of old. Cliche lyrics aside, it just might be the most groovin’ song of the decade, it’s so good. Too good, in fact.
9. Rock With You. If there’s one pre-80s song to get people on the dance floor, it’s this one. From Off the Wall, Jackson’s first mature album, he urges “Let the rhythm get into you, don’t try to fight it, there’s nothing you can do.” And he’s right. Resistance is futile, the beat is so infectious.
8. Thriller. While the killer video steals the spotlight, the song itself is a choreographer’s dream. Like most of Jackson’s songs, it’s especially difficult to avoid dancing while listening to this one. And the Vincent Price break down, requested by Michael himself, is just brain gravy.
7. One More Chance. Another lesser known favorite from his Number Ones album, One More Chance is filled with Jackson’s signatures “uhs” and “whys,” which never get old. After listening to this one, I’m convinced no one sings as punctual as MJ.
6. Black Or White. Wait! Don’t let the silly intro fool you. Black Or White is most awesome, thanks to the punchy guitar, sliding bass, and of course, Jackson’s “woo!”s of plenty.
5. I Want You Back. Recorded with the Jackson 5 in 1969, I Want You Back features the greatest pop chord progression of all time. It’s also the definitive sound of sunshine, Afros, bell bottoms, and summer love in my book. Good stuff.
4. Human Nature. I love this song. I love its lyrics. I love its ’80s contemporary sound—the kind that reminds me of riding in my mother’s 1984 station wagon, the same year in which Thriller was release. When they ask why, give them the greatest excuse of all time: “Tell ‘em that it’s human nature.”
3. P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing). Oh snap! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the funkiest Jackson song ever recorded. It’s upbeat, it has freaking robots singing back up vocals, and it features the only bassline Herbie Hancock was known to covet (not true, but it should be). If you don’t move your feet when hearing this, you have no soul.
2. Man In The Mirror. Most singers are lame activists. They generically demand everyone to make love not war. But Jackson cuts to the core and gets candid with this one. “I’m starting with the man in the mirror,” he sings. “I’m asking him to change his ways,” he concedes “And no message could have been any clearer: If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make the change.” Stop waiting for everyone else to change the world. Do it yourself.
1. Billie Jean. Since Jackson is so versatile, picking a single track that best embodies his style is near impossible. But if a hermit were to ask me, “Who is this Michael Jackson you speak of?” I would slide him a copy of Thriller, and play track number 6. This is ultimate Jackson. The anthem of moon walk. And easily one of the top 10 songs of all time.
1.) Billie Jean
Not many would debate this one. Critics, fans and polls alike consistently rank "Billie Jean" as one of the greatest popular songs in history and justifiably so. No other song more perfectly embodies the paradoxes, tensions, and mystery of its creator. Sonically, it is a masterpiece. It is the rare dance song that is both instantly accessible (with that bass line of all bass lines), and yet rewards close and repeated listenings with expertly crafted layers, textures, and effects. Its dark subject, meanwhile, remains persistently elusive: the narrative is both explicit and enigmatic, confession and concealment. Jackson's iconic Motown 25 performance and revolutionary music video for the song, of course, only add to its legend and intrigue. Bottom line: Any argument for Jackson as an artist begins with "Billie Jean," a track made all the more remarkable by the fact that he wrote and composed it himself at the age of 23.
2.) Stranger in Moscow
This will be a surprising pick to many, but not for those more familiar with Jackson's work. This is Jackson's version of the Beatles' seminal "A Day in the Life": a brooding, introspective minor-key ballad with probably the most compelling lyrics of Jackson's career. The song is about alienation, loneliness, despair. "I was wanderin' in the rain," he sings, "Mask of life, feeling insane." Later he speaks of a "swift and sudden fall from grace," of being stalked by the KGB, and experiencing "Armageddon of the brain." Sonically, the song is understated but exquisite, perfectly capturing the detached resignation of the singer in one of his darkest hours. While it never made any greatest hits collections, over time "Stranger in Moscow" will undoubtedly hold up as one of his finest artistic achievements.
3.) Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'
One of Jackson's hallmarks as an artist is his ability to fuse seemingly disparate musical styles and this wildly unique track is the perfect example. "Startin' Somethin'" contains elements of funk, disco, R&B, world music, Afro-beat, and gospel. Like "Billie Jean" it is both an irresistable dance tune, but eccentric, quirky, and brilliantly constructed. While the beat is bouncy and frenetic, the lyrics speak of being eaten off of like a vegetable and a mental breakdown. "It's too high to get over," he sings, "Too low to get under/ You're stuck in the middle/ And the pain is thunder." The gospel breakdown towards the end is one of the most remarkable moments in popular music.
4.) Man in the Mirror
One can make a strong case that this classic should be higher on the list. Culturally, it stands alongside John Lennon's "Imagine" and Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On" as one of the defining anthems in popular music. Like Gaye and Lennon's classics, in fact, it was "Man in the Mirror" that people turned to most after Jackson's death. Critics have varied in their reviews over the years, but there is no denying the power of this song. Its lyrics might seem rather cliche if not for Jackson's total conviction and passion. Watch him perform this song at the 1988 Grammy Awards or simply turn it up loud and listen to the majestic call and response with the Andrae Crouch Singers Choir, and it will make you a believer in its idealistic charge that music can change the world.
5.) Earth Song
In America, this song was largely panned, but it is one of Jackson's most successful globally-- and for good reason. Where "Man in the Mirror" is about inspiration, "Earth Song" is an apocalyptic warning. "What have we done to the world," he sings. "Look what we've done." Long before the green movement was trendy, Jackson was sounding the alarm about the destruction we are doing to the planet. "Earth Song," however, is not simplistic propaganda; it is a powerful artistic protest in the form of a sweeping blues opera. The climax in this song is absolutely breathtaking. The cynicism and indifference it met with in 1995 America, says far more about the country than the song.
6.) They Don't Care About Us
Like "Earth Song," "They Don't Care About Us" was extremely popular globally, but largely dismissed in the United States. This was partially due to ridiculous charges of anti-Semitism. In context, of course, the song's message is one of solidarity with all who are oppressed, exploited and ostracized. This message is chanted on the back of a cracking militant shuffle percussion as police scanners and strings loom ominously in the background. The song's two music videos, directed by Spike Lee, were shot in an impoverished havela in Rio de Janeira and a prison in New York. A song of both indignation and empowerment, It is unquestionably one of the most powerful protest songs of the 1990s.
7.) Human Nature
This gorgeous synth-ballad was written by members of the band Toto and delivered to perfection by Jackson. The textures and colors in this evocative track showcase everything that was special about Michael and Quincy Jone's collaborative magic. This was Michael Jackson when the hopes and dreams and promises of the world still seemed laid out before him.
8.) Who Is It
Comparisons to "Billie Jean" are apt. Haunting, paranoid, a pulsing bass line, ominous strings. For those that think Jackson didn't produce anything worthwhile after Thriller, this is a good place to start. Listen to the Gothic soprano choir's ethereal strains, listen to the stacked layers on the trance-like outro, listen to the pain and loneliness in the vocals. This is not typical pop by any stretch.
9.) Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough
What's not to love about the song? This was Michael Jackson's breakthrough as a solo artist. The shifty bass intro with Michael coyly whispering has been described aptly as "ten seconds of perfect pop tension." The suspense builds until Jackson unleashes his signature "oooooh" and the track explodes into a kaleidoscope of sound. The song is sheer ecstasy from there and doesn't let up for six minutes. It begins a brilliant freshman album that one critic called the "Rosetta stone for all subsequent R&B."
10.) Tie- Beat It and Black or White
Okay, I wimped out on the last one and made it two. But they go well together. Both contain socially conscious themes (one dealing with violence, the other with racism); both were huge #1 hits; and both broke barriers, musical and otherwise. "Beat It" merged rock and R&B in a way never done before, forcing radio and MTV to change formatting, and opening the door for countless black artists to come. "Black or White," meanwhile, became Jackson's biggest hit since "Billie Jean" thanks to its classic guitar riff and shockingly bold video. An MJ Top Ten list wouldn't be right without these two songs.
10) Black & White
9) The Way You Make Me Feel
8) Don't Stop
7) Rock With You
6) Smooth Criminal
5) Man in the Mirror
2) Beat It
1) Billie Jean
1. Billie Jean (1982)
2. ABC (1970 - Jackson 5)
3. Thriller (1982)
4. Bad (1987)
5. Smooth Criminal (1987)
6. Beat It (1982)
7. Blame It On The Boogie (1978 - The Jacksons)
8. Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough (1979)
9. I Want You Back (1969 - Jackson 5)
10. I'll Be There (1970 - Jackson 5)
Off The Wall (1979)
Wanna Be Starting Something (1982)
I've got nothing after the Bad album (1987) on my list. Jackson's next album, Dangerous, is a decent album, but weaker in comparison to his peak albums - Off The Wall, Thriller, and Bad, and without the energy and impact of the early Jackson 5 singles. Indeed, I find that Dangerous doesn't compare well with what Prince was doing in that same musical area. And after Dangerous, for me, Jackson went downhill and started to produce poor taste pyschologically narcissistic songs that were out of touch with reality. The intriguing lyrics of such as Billie Jean and Bad, which have an emotional honesty, and invite the listener to get involved, are replaced by simplistic lecturing about issues we are already familiar with, without adding anything new or insightful to the debates. A number of people, Jarvis Cocker most memorably, disliked the egocentricity of the songs, as it appeared that Jackson felt that if he, the Great Michael, simply sang about saving the planet, that it would happen. Where were the great stories, the great moves, the craftsmanship and sheer talent of Jackson of old? Replaced by a belief that big productions would cover up the banality of what he was doing.
What is Your Favourite Michael Jackson Song?