Yesterday was the King of Pop’s 54th birthday. Though he died in 2009, his music is still with us and reminds us of what an amazing artist he was. I know I say it a lot times, but I’m gonna say it again: there will be never be another musician like him. To celebrate the King of Pop’s birthday here are the top 21 songs that made Jackson a star and ones that have stayed with us long after his death.
21. Rock with You
The video may have not been MJ’s finest, but this is one of the best songs from his 1979 album Off that Wall. What I love about it is it’s the perfect intermediate tempo: it’s not slow enough to be a sad or romantic song, but it’s still something you can move to if the mood strikes you.
20. Remember the Time
Another song with a great video. I can’t help but think of Egyptians and pyramids whenever I’m listening to this. But the music and the format of the song does a pretty good job of making you think of the Egyptian era. Aside from that, one of the best parts of the song is the bridge when Michael sings “Do you remember girl?” It’s awesome because he sounds like he’s trying to woo a lady, but he’s screaming at her at the same time. Either way, it’s a classic from the Dangerous album.
19. You Are Not Alone
1995’s HIStory got a lot of flack when it came out, but no one can deny the beauty of this single. It’s actually pretty heartbreaking, especially after his death. He just sounds so sweet, romantic, and sensitive here. It’s not even one of those cheesy love songs that you love to hate. This song also shows off Michael’s amazing vocal ability. I always loved the way he held the note on “heart” towards the end. It gives me chills every time.
18. Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough
This may not be one of Jackson’s greatest songs, but it’s one that everybody loves. Who can’t resist moving and shaking along when the disco beats begin. It’s just a really fun song that makes you want to dance and sing. Hell, even little kids who don’t know who Michael Jackson is yet will shake their butts to this track. One thing that stands out about the song are the vocals. This seems to be the only time that Jackson sings completely in falsetto, but it works for the track. I really can’t imagine the song any other way.
17. Working Day and Night
Even though this song deals with overworking yourself, it’s all a good time thanks to the shuffling rhythm, brassy horns, heavy funk bass, and upbeat tempo. Even Michael had a blast performing this on tour. It’s another song that you can let loose to and just dance like no one’s watching. Plus, it’s a song everyone can relate to. Who isn’t sick of working all the time with no time for fun?
16. They Don’t Really Care About Us
In the 90’s Jackson got tired of not only his abuse from the media, but abuse everywhere. The result is the anger filled “They Don’t Really Care About Us.” It’s another one of his aggressive songs, but with the heavy percussion and intense music, you can actually feel the anger and frustration just by listening to it. Some people may think he was laying on the message too thick, but he said what he felt needed to be said. Nevertheless, it’s a great song that’s fit for an angry mob. You’ll be pumping your fist in the air by the end.
15. Off the Wall
I always thought this song was a precursor to “Thriller” mostly due to the creepy laughing and the ghostly sounds at the beginning. Honestly, I have no idea what that has to do with having a good time with your life. The intro is pretty deceptive when you think about it. You hear the horrible laughing think that the song is about ghouls in the night, not “living crazy.” I guess you can argue that it’s people having a good time, but if that’s what they sound like I never want to meet those people. Either way, it’s a great song that deserves more attention.
14. Money (Fire Island Radio Edit)
This is another Jackson song under the radar. The original song is found on HIStory, but I feel that the remix from Blood on the Dancefloor is far superior. The music matches the dark, cryptic tone of the song. Michael sounds so cynical here, especially since he’s not actually singing during the verses. He’s doing more of a spoken word thing. The remix is great because it turned a decent song into an amazing one, something most remixes can’t achieve.
As a way to prove they weren’t the same person, Michael recorded a duet with baby sister Janet that resulted in the most expensive music video to this day. The song is not only great because it’s catchy and has a cool hard rock edge, but it’s also great because it was little sister Janet defending her big brother. This entire song is a big fuck you to anyone who has ever said anything bad about them. It’s a shame that this is the only song they ever did together because this track proves that they could make great music.
12. Who is it
This song was released as the fifth single from Dangerous and it’s one of Jackson’s most underrated tracks. Something about the feel and sound of the music gives the a song a sneaky, suspicious tone, which fits the subject of cheating on a lover perfectly. The music seems to be pretty dark for an MJ song and maybe that’s what makes it stand out. It’s not the most danceable Jackson tune, but it’s definitely one of the most interesting out there.
Unlike a lot of the songs on this list, this one is not a single and is probably not that well known. It’s featured on Blood on the Dancefloor: History in the Mix and has got to be Jackson’s darkest song. I remember having his catalog on shuffle after he died when this song came on. It was all good with its aggressive, heavy drumbeat and in your face music, but there’s one part that sent chills down my spine :”Demerol, Demerol, Oh god he’s taking Demerol.” After I heard that, I turned it off. This song seems to be about his drug problems, yet it is severely ignored. That whole section of the song is creepy. The heavy music stops and is replaced with a jarring piano instead. What’s worse is there are the sounds of a heart monitor in the background. It’s a jarring song, especially after his death.
10. Liberian Girl
This is probably one of the prettiest Michael Jackson songs ever. The soft vocals, the beautiful foreign tongue, and the tropical beat let you get lost in the song. I think it’s one of his overlooked singles. It was released and had a terrible video (nothing but celebrity friends with Michael making a brief appearance). But the song really is great and quite romantic if you ask me. There are a ton of MJ slow songs out there, but I think this is by far the best one.
9. Dirty Diana
The steamiest MJ song ever, “Dirty Diana” tells the story of a groupie who is basically a home wrecker. The song is aggressive and in your face,especially with the blazing guitar solo from Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens. Seriously, this song probably has some of the best guitar work…maybe aside from “Beat It.” The music here also sounds pretty dark with odd breathing like noises in the beginning and the dark hum of the keyboards. This is another song that doesn’t seem to get much love, but it’s been one of my favorites for a long time.
8. Black or White
An infectious guitar riff by the great Slash, an innovative video, controversy, and a message of equality. This song had it all! Even Bart Simpson thought it rocked! Though the song has an important message, the music is so catchy and fun that it makes you burst out in song and dance whenever it comes on. The song also continued Jackson’s rock n roll side to his music. The song may be remembered more for the last minutes of the video where Michael smashed cars and windows, but it’s damn good still.
No one actually bought MJ’s claims of how “bad” he was on this song, but you can’t blame a guy for trying, especially with a song this good. Beginning a new era for the King of Pop, “Bad” is a fusion of funk, RnB, and pop that gets everyone asking “whose bad?” As with most of MJ’s songs, the video may come to mind when you think of this song, but it’s awesome either way. But I don’t know if dancing and singing is going to get a vicious bunch of guys off your back. It seems to work for Michael but I wouldn’t try it at home.
6. Human Nature
This song from the infamous Thriller is one of Michael’s prettiest. Everything from the music to his voice is so soothing and relaxing here. You sit in awe as he begins trailing off at the end. He’s not even saying anything, but it’s pretty amazing nonetheless. This was another song featured prominently on Jackson’s tours and you know it made the ladies go wild (am I right?). It’s a breathtaking track that still sounds amazing some 20 odd years later.
The jacket. The zombies. The scary bear. It’s gotta be the one and only “Thriller.” This is a song that will never go out of style. It’s not only catchy and one of the best songs of all time, but the dance routine is perfect for flash mobbing. This is one of Jackson’s most unique songs mainly because it’s about all the scary things in horror movies. How many songs are about zombies and what not? Back in 1984 just one: this one. The best part is it doesn’t even have to be Halloween in order to enjoy it. You can rock out to “Thriller” all year long and perfect your scary bear dance.
4. Beat It
Another classic for the King of Pop, this song became a hit with some help from Eddie Van Halen. This song among others that include guitar solos shows that Jackson knows how to pick out the best players. Aside from the guitar work, who doesn’t love shouting out “just beat it” when the time comes? The song’s message of don’t run with gangs will probably get lost because you’re too busy dancing and singing along. It’s definitely one of his best. Since it came off the best selling album ever do you expect anything but?
3. Wanna be Starting Something
This must’ve been one of Jackson’s favorite songs because it was performed on every one of his tours as far as I know. And why wouldn’t it be? It’s a great song filled with energy, fun and so many sing along moments. Even if you don’t know the words, you are at least familiar with the infamous “Mama-say mama-sah ma-ma-coo-sah.” You don’t know what it means, but it’s just fun to say. It’s also one of his best live tracks. Just look at the Bucharest performance to see what I mean.
2. Smooth Criminal
The song about being a badass criminal almost didn’t make it on the Bad album, but now it’s one of Jackson’s most well known songs (thanks to an Alien Ant Farm cover). This song also has some pretty dark lyrics about murder and intrusion, but the question on everyone’s mind is who is Annie? Years later and this still this seems to have no answer. Along with being an awesome song, it has an amazing video with the mind boggling anti-gravity lean. It’s still pretty underrated when compared to “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” but it is one of his most memorable tunes.
1. Billie Jean
Bust this song out at any party, wedding, or barbeque and everyone will attempt their best moonwalk. It’s the song that made Jackson a superstar in the mid-80s, so how can it not be here? With it’s shuffling rhythm and dancing riff the song is irresistible. The video also paved the way for videos by black artists to be played on MTV. Both the song and the video are groundbreaking for music history. This is pop music at its finest. And over 25 years later the song hasn’t aged a bit. It’s still something everyone loves and keeps discovering with each generation.