Michael_Jackson_-_ThrillerMichael Jackson – “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” – (1982)

Thriller was so good that even this, it’s sixth single was still awesome. Originally Michael and someone else wrote a song with this title, but producer Quincy Jones didn’t like it but liked the title enough to co-write this song instead (with James Ingram) and kept the title. It reached #10 on the Hot 100. Strangely, he never performed this song live. 

#15 – Michael Jackson – “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” – (1979)

This song was a turning point in Michael Jackson’s career. It was the transitional hit from little kid from the Jackson 5 to solo superstar and a little insight into what we could expect from his fantastic albums of the 1980s. It was the first song that Michael had complete creative control over and you can see what that allowed him to do. It was his first Hot 100 #1 in seven years and remains one of his best-known songs.

USA for Africa – “We are the World” – (1985)

Charity singles. The U.K. goes crazy for them and has them all the time. It doesn’t work so well here in the U.S. Perhaps it’s because this track. I’m not sure. It’s definitely cheesy and a part of 1980s culture. This was a group of singers who came together to perform a song written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and sell it to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. The whole thing was inspired by Band Aid (from the U.K.). It ended up raising $100 million and selling over 20 million copies (impressive). Annoyingly, USA for Africa stands for “United Support of Artists for Africa” and that’s because a few of the artists weren’t American. Here’s everyone other than Jackson and Richie who were involved: Dan Aykroyd, Harry Belafonte, Lindsey Buckingham, Kim Carnes, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Sheila E., Bob Geldof (who was responsible for Band Aid), both Hall and Oates, James Ingram, Jackie Jackson, La Toya Jackson, Marlon Jackson, Randy Jackson (the one from the Jackson 5… not the one from American Idol), Tito Jackson, Al Jarreau, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis and the News (the whole band), Kenny Loggins, Bette Midler, Willie Nelson, Jeffrey Osborne, Steve Perry, all three Pointer Sisters, Smokey Robinson, Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Dionne Warwick, and Stevie Wonder. Yeah, pretty impressive. Look at how many of those people are respectable and/or legendary (many of them) and think about how that would play out today. Do we really need Bieber and Kesha and company coming together for charity? That’s the exact reason charity singles don’t work in the U.S. anymore. The current crop of North American are trash. Also: not how hilariously out of place Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan sound here.

Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson – “Say, Say, Say” – (1983)

Paul McCartney teamed up with a fairly young Michael Jackson for this Hot 100 #1 hit in 1983. I’ve never really known what to think of this song but as I’m listening to it I’m realizing that Jackson’s vocals are awesome (as usual) and McCartney’s performance is pretty good too. But the combination of the two really works. It doesn’t even sound tragically 80s – which it really had the opportunity to do. I guess that’s a good thing.

Michael Jackson & Siedah Garrett – “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” – (1987)

Oops. For whatever reason I thought I remembered this song as from 1992 (I thought it was on Dangerous and not Bad). Oh well, I’ll leave it here and bump the 90s to Friday and skip the 2000s for this week. This was a #1 hit for Jackson (and Garrett). Siedah Garrett made a career out of performing backing vocals and writing songs (although she didn’t write this one). This is not one of Michael Jackson’s best-remembered #1s but it really isn’t too bad.

Michael Jackson & Janet Jackson – “Scream” – (1995)

This is a brother and sister duet. Many people think Michael Jackson peaked in the 80s and while that might be true, his stuff from the 90s was awesome. At the time, this was the highest debuting single on the Hot 100 ever – jumping in at #5 (where it peaked). It’s about the tabloids that were all over Michael after his alleged child abuse among other things. It was nominated from a Grammy and one of the best remembered things about this song was the video. It was considered the most expensive music video ever made – costing over $7 million in 1995. Which is insane. In all reality, it’s probably more memorable than the song itself.

#36 – Michael Jackson – “You Rock My World” – (2001)

This was Michael Jackson’s final big single. It was released as a single in 2001 and it’s so good that it is hard to fathom how he didn’t have a big hit after this. Also, “Thriller,” and its video, put Michael on the map for some people. Well the video for this song is pretty impressive too. It’s a 13-minute mini-movie featuring Chris Tucker (whose career basically subsists of this and some movies with Jackie Chan), Michael Madsen, Billy Drago and Marlon flippin’ Brando. Brando! Also, the video is completely awesome, featuring a cool set, awesome suits and badass dancing from the King of Pop (which, some of it, reminds me of Jim Carrey in The Mask). None of this should take away from the song though. Michael’s career had this sort of progression that the later in it he got, the more his songs featured this little pop of his voice (sort of like a hard “dah” sound). This song has a lot of that sound. Plus, a great beat, and wonderful instrumentation. It was nominated for a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance (Jackson’s first since 1997). And it was a Top 10 hit on the Hot 100. This stands as one of my favorite Michael Jackson songs of all time, which might seem weird, but it’s true. It reminds me of both his mid-1990s stuff (which was really good) and some stuff from the 1980s (which is high praise).

Michael Jackson feat. The Notorious B.I.G. & Brandy – “Unbreakable” – (2001)

Invincible was Michael Jackson’s final studio album (strangely, as it came out in 2001). This was the lead track and it was never released as a single, although it’s pretty good and features a rap verse from The Notorious B.I.G. (who died in 1997). The rap verse was taken from a song by, who else, Shaquille O’Neal. Of course it was. (Brandy also contributed some background vocals). There’s nothing exceptional about this song except that its sound is very much definitive of Michael’s later work. I’m not sure how to explain this other than to dumbly say “you’ll know it when you hear it.” He makes a lot of popping sounds with his mouth, but other than that it’s just a feel thing. It’s a pretty sweet song, as were others on this album. It’s strange how they weren’t bigger. I think that has a lot to do with resistance for people to take it seriously as everyone figured he was “past his prime” which may have been true – but when you’re prime is Thriller, you have a very long way to fall before your work isn’t any good. Invincible isn’t Thriller – and doesn’t pretend to be. But it’s still good.

Michael Jackson – “Black or White” – (1991)

Another classic from the King of Pop – who went a little rock ‘n roll on this track. This was the only #1 from Dangerous and it set a few records: it made Michael the first person to have a #1 hit in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s (he missed having a #1 in the 60s by about 3 weeks). This is also one song from him that is “infamous” – namely the music video. First let’s start with the “skit.” Skits on albums are one of my pet peeves… this song starts with over a minute of some kid listening to rock music when his dad bursts in and demands it silenced. In the video (but not on the album version) the dad is George Wendt and the kid is Macaulay Culkin and was directed by John Landis (who also did “Thriller“). The infamy comes in the long form of the video (which is not part of the “official” video linked above) where Michael Jackson is on top of a car and grabs his crotch. There were also wonderful racial epithets in graffiti on the walls behind him. Kinda tame now, but I bet it would still piss some people off as it did upon its release back in 1991.

Michael Jackson – “Man in the Mirror” – (1987)

This was a #1 for Michael Jackson and it’s one of his best songs – actually it was the fourth consecutive #1 from Bad, which is a pretty incredible feat. “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make that change – I’m starting with the man in the mirror.” Basically, if you don’t know this song, there’s no helping you so I’ll just go ahead and move on to Wednesday’s post, where we continue with our unofficial “Michael Jackson Week” – featuring an 80s song today (Monday), a 90s hit on Wednesday, and a song released since 2000 on Friday. I think we might do this for a couple of applicable artists over time. We’ll see.

Michael Jackson – “Thriller” – (1982)

“Thriller” is one of the biggest songs from the biggest album there is. I don’t even know where to start. So I guess I’ll start with what people associate it most with: the music video. It’s actually more of a short film, running over 13 minutes (for a song lasting less than six). Of course, there’s the jacket that Jackson wears in the video – that red and black – which was designed by the wife of the music video’s director: John Landis. It’s the most influential music video. The video was selected to be included in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. The song (and video) both feature the spoken vocal track from Vincent Price (which is pretty weird if you think about it). I’ve seen this called a “novelty song” which I think is a bunch of crap – funk, disco, pop, okay. But novelty? Sure, it has a distinct Halloween feel but because so much time has elapsed since its release there’s no way to separate our (my) perceptions of the song as a stand-alone or as part of the video.

Anyway, title tracks don’t come better than this, and while “Billie Jean” topped our Top 100 Songs of the 80s list, this song (and everything associated with it) might well be the thing that word-association tests of “Michael Jackson” elicits most.

#1 – Michael Jackson – “Billie Jean” – (1982)

Well here it is. “Billie Jean” was revolutionary in every way and stands as one of the best, most important songs in history. The bass line is one-of-a-kind and instantly recognizable. Michael Jackson was at his very best with this track and it’s a big part of the reason why Thriller is the number one selling album of all time. The song hit #1 in the U.S. & UK and several other countries and went on to win multiple Grammys. The music video almost single-handedly threw MTV into the spotlight and made the channel a success. The video is iconic – with the light-up sidewalk and the amazing dance moves that Jackson would later go on to showcase on the TV special Motown 25. During his performance he debuted a new thing called the “moonwalk” while wearing a black sequin jacket and a lone white glove – forever his signature move and look. To think that producer Quincy Jones didn’t originally want this song on the album is kinda scary. Would Michael Jackson be The King of Pop without this single? Maybe, but the title wouldn’t be anywhere near as convincing. This song (and its performer) are legendary. Both had such a large effect on the recording industry that it borders on immeasurable and I think it’s the perfect song to end our countdown on.