The 10 best Michael Jackson singles

Michael Jackson 1958-2009 (justamemo.com)

Michael Jackson 1958-2009

Introduction

Michael Jackson has been dead for 10 years already. I still remember that the news broke. I was glued to the television set.

If you’re here just to see the list, click here.

Music

Musically, I have always had a love/hate relationship with Michael Jackson. A lot of his songs were exceptional, but many more were not, at all. Particularly his ballads and sickening sweet songs were oftentimes monstrous songs. I can’t listen to them. The genteel voice irritated me as well. As he proved during the press conference for his This Is It farewell shows his ‘normal’ or ‘real’ speaking voice was a lot heavier and darker than the one he generally used in public.

But when he was good, he really was good. He did release several phenomenally good songs.

Michael Jackson - Thriller video outtake (okayplayer.com)

Michael Jackson – Thriller video outtake

Importance

Jackson has been a major influence on music. He pioneered on a lot of issues within the world of music, be it positive or negative.

Video/clips

Michael Jackson singlehandedly raised the bar for the video clip as a medium and made them professional. Who doesn’t remember the premiere of Thriller, in which Jackson changes into a werewolf and dances with corpses and other creeps? Highly innovative, that was largely envisioned by Jackson himself.

Michael Jackson - Thriller - Award (newyorker.com)

Michael Jackson – Thriller – Award

Sales

Because of the unprecedented Thriller phenomenon Jackson is responsible for the term ‘mega sale’. Thriller sold in numbers the world hadn’t witnessed before (or since). The total world-wide sales score is about 70 (!) million copies.

The successor to Thriller, the 1987 Bad album, has a world-wide sales number of around 35 million albums, an insanely big number, yet it was valued as a kind of failure, particularly by Jackson himself.

Dance

Michael Jackson was a phenomenal dancer, one of the best of his generation. He mixed old dance moves, like the moonwalk with contemporary ones and mixed that with his own specific style and made a big impact with his larger than life choreographies, oftentimes containing vast numbers of dancers moving simultaneously and in sync with one another.

MTV

Together with Prince, Jackson was one of the catalysts in adding black music to the roster of MTV, the music television network that more or less defined the musical landscape during the 1980’s. Initially the network refused to play black music and/or black artists, until they were faced with a potential ban by record companies. Jackson was one of the first black artists to be played on MTV.

Marketing

Jackson and his team made sure his name was always mentioned in papers, magazines and tabloids around the world, living by the motto ‘any news is good news’. Even if it meant publishing untrue stories. The stories of him sleeping in an oxygen tank or him going after the remains of the original ‘elephant man’ were fabricated by Jackson and his team. Only after the press started calling him Wacko Jacko, due to the endless stream of weird stories, he wasn’t too thrilled and started to lambast his lack of privacy.

Michael Jackson - Live 1987 (nme.com)

Michael Jackson – Live 1987

Live

The one thing that struck me the first weeks after his death, was that I wasn’t fond of his live later performances. Too self-aggrandizing, too much playback, the medleys that were played, sang and danced too fast. The latter in particular seemed to make him out of breath at times his vocals were live. A shame really, because his voice was great, and he could sing beautifully.

I have seen Michael Jackson live once, during the HIStory World Tour. On September, 30th, 1996 he played the Amsterdam Arena. Bar a concert by Kiss on June 11th, 1997, it is the worst show I ever witnessed. Playback, melodramatics and cheap sensationalism. When he stopped a tank on stage, as reference to the uprising at the Tiananmen-square in Peking, China, I had had it. Such a disgrace.

Childhood

Jackson children mid 1970's (michaeljackson.com)

Jackson children mid 1970’s

Unfortunately Michael Jackson’s life was a tragic one. He grew up in a household, where father ruled with a belt and drilled his children into being the perfect black boy-band, and mother didn’t protect her children with the Bible in her hand. Jackson’s childhood was rough, just working all the time and experiencing things children aren’t supposed to, let alone live through, yet. All the Jackson children went through the same ordeal, but Michael, who was the youngest and most sensitive, took it the hardest.

Yet, the family was the first popular black boy-band in the US, cleverly melting pop, soul and bubblegum which turned into huge hits. Michael joined the band when he was five and at a very early age it became very obvious which one of the boys had the natural gift in the family.

Maybe the song 2300 Jackson Street is one of the reasons I don’t buy into the sentiments of the balladry of the Jackson family. In that song their childhood and family connection is the main topic. Rather remarkable lyrics, given the childhood they all had. In the video to the song, the whole family is present, except La Toyah.

Mom and Dad
They sacrificed their wants and needs
So we could reach the light

Although the times were tough for us
We knew they both worked hard
They gave us all their hearts could give

And still made room for love
We’re all united
And standing strong
And still today
We’re one big family

© 1989 Randy Jackson, Sigmund Esco Jackson, Gene Griffin, Teddy Riley, Tito Jackson, Jermaine Jackson

In the documentary Louis, Martin & Michael, broadcast on November 16th, 2003, BBC journalist Louis Theroux goes in search of Michael Jackson, but doesn’t get to speak with him. He can get an interview with Joe Jackson, Michael’s father. He comes across as a very nasty, self-centered creep, who furiously storms off when he’s asked if Michael’s seeing a girlfriend or friend (“We don’t believe in gays”). End of the interview. Later on Theroux would remark that he’s seen and spoken to many evil people in his career, but that none of them were as unpleasant as Joe Jackson.

Scandals and health

Michael Jackson fans come in all shapes and sizes, but there are quite a few who adore everything he did in his lifetime. For those people: don’t click on the link below.

Michael Jackson with Peppi & Kokki (pinterest.com)

Michael Jackson with Dutch children’s television duo Peppi & Kokki

This Is It

In March 2009 Jackson held a press conference at the O2 Arena in London. He announced the concert series This Is It. It would be his first great tour since the HIStory World Tour of 1996/1997. The tour title and Jackson himself suggested he would retire after the shows. 10 shows in London were to be followed by shows in Paris, New York City and Mumbai. In the end, 50 (!) shows were scheduled at the O2 Arena. Within two hours all tickets (over one million) were sold. Jackson rehearsed in Los Angeles for the upcoming tour, but it seemed ever more obvious with each passing day he really wasn’t capable of doing such a long, huge and demanding operation anymore.

Death

Public speculation on Jackson’s ill physical and mental health soared. Many were convinced he wouldn’t be able to fulfill his obligations. Less than three weeks before the tour would commence, on June 25th, 2009, news broke that Jackson was in critical condition and had been hospitalized. Soon after, it was confirmed that Jackson, just 50 years old, had died. He was pronounced dead at 2:26 PM local time (11:26 PM in The Netherlands). I followed the news watching CNN and was glued to the TV.

Aftermath

Even in death Jackson remained front page news. Of course, his funeral was big news, quickly followed by arguments within the Jackson family over the custody of Jackson’s children, the legacy, the way papa Jackson tried to monetize his death almost seconds after his passing and of course the trial of his personal doctor, who was accused of killing Michael Jackson.

And, once again Jackson set new standards. He was the best selling artist for years on end. The only thing lacking is new material. It seems there isn’t much music laying around. Only two albums containing new music were released after his death.

Songs

But, in the end, this article is about the music. So, without further ado, I give you my personal favorite Michael Jackson songs.

The Jacksons

My first choice isn’t completely within the boundaries of this article, because it’s by The Jacksons. Yet, I do think it’s indispensible in the chronology towards Michael Jackson’s solo work.

The Jacksons - Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground) (discogs.com)

Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)

1979

A song by The Jacksons, but it has Michael Jackson written all over it. A funky, swinging song, that’s very well crafted, particularly rhythmically speaking.

Something really special was going on, including the remixes.

Michael Jackson, solo

The songs below represent the best 10 singles Jackson has released (in my opinion). All the single covers are from Dutch releases. The year between brackets references the year in which the single was released in The Netherlands.

Michael Jackson - Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough (discogs.com)

Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough

1979

Well, the best song by Jackson really. Everything is so well balanced: rhythm, bass, guitar, horns, vocals. An incredibly stunning song.

Jackson wrote this song by himself, which became ultimate perfection utilizing Quincy Jones’ production.

 

Michael Jackson - Beat It (discogs.com)

Beat It

1983

Great song, iconic clip, uniting two gangs using dance.

Contains a contribution by master guitar player Eddie Van Halen, something he received some slack for in hard rock circles. But, it is extremely good, one of the best solo’s in a song ever.

 

Michael Jackson - Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' (discogs.com)

Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’

1983

Opening song to Thriller. Once again the fantastic Quincy Jones production. A 1982 version of Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough? Possibly. This one also is so original and catchy!

 

Michael Jackson - The Way You Make Me Feel (discogs.com)

The Way You Make Me Feel

1987

Coming from the disappointing Bad album, this is a fantastic song. Contrary to a lot of other songs, this one sounds less dated.

One thing though. Jackson and sex, it remains an uncomfortable situation.

 

Michael Jackson - Leave Me Alone (discogs.com)

Leave Me Alone

1989

Song about stalking by the press and the lack of privacy Jackson endured because of it, fine song.

 

Michael Jackson - Black Or White (discogs.com)

Black Or White

1991

Good song, great lyrics coming off the great Dangerous album.

At the time the clip was controversial, because in the end Michael Jackson start smashing up things and turns into a black panther.

 

Michael Jackson - In The Closet (discogs.com)

In the Closet

1992

Funky, cool song. Also coming from the fine Dangerous album.

Remarkable for its erotically charged video, with a major part played by model Naomi Campbell.

 

Michael Jackson - Give In To Me (discogs.com)

Give In to Me

1993

With the help of Guns N’ Roses guitar player Slash this song was elevated into greatness.

Heavy and good.

 

Michael Jackson - Scream (discogs.com)

Scream

1995

Michael Jackson wanted a taste of sister Janet’s success and worked with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. They proposed this typical MPLS-sound song.

The video accompanying the song was the most expensive of all time.

 

Michael Jackson - Stranger in Moscow (discogs.com0

Stranger In Moscow

1996

Beautiful song. He really should have recorded more of this kind of song, instead of the sentimental monstrosities he was so good at.

This songs is convincing, musically and vocally. Jackson gives a lot, if not everything in this song.

The albums

During his long run as a solo artist (37 years) Michael Jackson released just 11 albums. Starting with album number 5 he started to be taken seriously, by audiences and critics alike, but also by Jackson himself. Therefore I won’t rate Got to Be There (1972), Ben (1972), Music & Me (1973) and Forever, Michael (1975), I don’t know them well enough anyway. I own all of the albums listed below, with the exception of Invincible, which I sold.

N.B. Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix is primarily a remix album. It contains just five new songs, thus it resembles an EP, more than it does an album.

Michael Jackson - Albums (bol.com/apoplife.nl)

Michael Jackson – Albums

Album   Year   Rating   Comment
Off The Wall   1979     The best Jackson album? Great funk, subtle disco and Jackson singing perfectly!
Thriller   1982     Best sold album of all time. The refined Quincy Jones production and the many acquired songs make this album good, not great. Unfortunately it does contain too much filler, like The Girl Is Mine, P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) and The Lady In My Life to make it as good as its predecessor.
Bad   1987     An album with a dated sound. A lot of songs don’t live up to the standard Jackson made us expect. Bad, Man In The Mirror, I Just Can’t Stop Loving You and Dirty Diana are mediocre songs at best. With the new album came a new image: ‘street-wise’. He also adopted some macho-like moves, which resulted into a lot of crutch grabbing. It didn’t fit him, at all.
Dangerous   1991     Or is this his best? A surprisingly good album, that captures the times perfectly, thanks to the production team with Teddy Riley. It does contain the monstrous Heal The World.
HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I   1995     Variable album, that contains some truly great songs. Jackson does submit to sister Janet’s production team, who in the meantime had become more relevant following the release of her albums Control, Rhythm Nation and janet.
Invincible   2001     Neglible album.

Following his death the movie Michael Jackson’s This Is It was released in 2009, followed by the albums Michael (2010) and Xscape (2014), that both sold way less than was hoped for.

In closing

What do you think about Michael Jackson? Do you miss any songs, and if so, which ones? Let me know!

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: The 10 best Michael Jackson singles. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

Compliments/remarks? Yes, please!