This Sunday would’ve been Michael Jackson’s 57th birthday. Instead of dwelling over the fact he’s no longer with us, it’s a time to celebrate his wonderful music. No matter what you thought of him it’s clear his music has inspired artists across a span of genres from R&B to rock. Some artists have even taken it upon themselves to cover their favorite Jackson song. Of course no one does it better than Michael, but some artists have come close. There are a ton of terrible ones out there, but here are ten of the best Michael Jackson covers.
10. “The Girl is Mine” – Richard Cheese
Richard Cheese is known for making lounge style covers out of popular songs. He previously covered Jackson’s “Beat It,” but it’s his version of “The Girl is Mine” that’s unique and hilarious. The song starts out like a standard lounge tune and Cheese sounds smooth and silky. Just imagine him snapping his fingers to the beat while listening to it. After the first verse he introduces a special guest, which is supposed to be Stephen Hawking. Yeah, you read that right. Of course it’s not actually him, but hearing an automated voice singing this Jackson duet is weird, but is sure to put a smile on your face. It’s a bit silly, but you gotta admit Jackson’s tunes sound pretty good in lounge style.
9. “Billie Jean” – Nonpoint
This song has been speed up to be a punk rock anthem and tuned down to be a metal nightmare, but Nonpoint puts a different spin on it. They slow things down to make a brooding, melancholy song. Singer Ellias Soriano sounds vulnerable, broken, and hurt as he wails “but the kid is not my son.” Any ounce of happiness or fun is completely stripped away from the track. We’re left with the underlying angst and anger that was masked by the catchy beats. It’s not until you hear the song in this style that you realize how somber it can be.
8. “Dirty Diana” – Bruno Mars/Christina Aguilera
Both of these artists covered the sexy song during live performances and they’re both excellent. Mars’ version is very faithful to the original. In the clip, he plays the dirty riff while the synth soars behind him. He didn’t go too far from the source material, but he at least sounds really good while singing it. I’m sure he could release this as a single and it would sell well. The same goes for Aguilera’s version, which she sang at a Jackson tribute concert. But her impressive vocals matched with the steamy lyrics will give you chills.
7. “Speed Demon” – Xerath
It may come as a surprise to learn how many metal bands love covering Michael Jackson songs. “Beat It” seems to be the favorite track, but this British band went for one of the underrated tracks from Bad. Everything about this version kicks ass from the riff given a dirty make over to the intense vocals screaming “Speed demon!” that sounds like singer Richard Thomson is ripping his vocal cords. This track captures the dangerous and edginess Jackson tried to give off on the original. This track has the same spirit of the original, yet has its own flavor that makes it unique.
6. “P.Y.T.” – The Wood Brothers
There’s a good chance you may not have heard of this Americana blues band, but they know what makes a good cover song. As part of the A.V. Club’s project where artists choose a song to cover from a list, these guys choose this tune from Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It starts out a little wonky with the jarring vocals and silly music, but it all falls into place by the time they reach the hook. They turn the song from an R&B dance track to a smooth, folksy tune that sounds just as silky as the original. The coolest part is during the refrain where instead of singing “Pretty young things/repeat after me” they freestyle riffs instead, but that doesn’t stop a chorus of people from responding with “Na-na-na-na.”
5. “D.D.” – The Weeknd
With comparisons to the late pop star, it’s no surprise that The Weeknd covered this sultry track from Bad. It starts out pretty faithful to the original, but once it gets to the chorus hard electronic beats take over creating a lush soundscape of pulsating rhythm. This version takes the grittiness and edge out of the song, but turns it into more of an atmospheric track that ends up sounding more sad than angry. It’s a subtle tweak to the song, but it’s effective at giving it a completely different vibe.
4. “Billie Jean” – The Bates
This German punk band, known for their cover tunes oddly enough, turns the R&B filled track into a raucous punk anthem made for moshing. Their version is pretty faithful to the original except when it comes to the music. Their gritty guitars and energetic vibe punches up the song and brings it into the rock realm. The best part is the chorus where you can picture them pogo dancing while singing “Billie Jean is not my lover.” Something about it is fun, upbeat, vibrant, and just really inviting. Whether you like Michael Jackson or not this song is sure to get you in the pit. They’re cover songs are pretty spectacular. Check out their version of The Cure’s “Wailing Wall.”
3. “I’ll Be There” – Mariah Carey
This Jackson 5 track was always kind of mushy and definitely got the feels going, especially when Michael performed it in concert. Carey does a very faithful rendition of the song that doesn’t hold back on the emotions. Her soft soaring vocals that made her a household name in the 90s, work perfectly with this slow track and turns it into something beautiful. She did such an amazing job with it that it became a regular in her catalog and many believe it surpasses the original. She was even nominated for a Grammy for the song in 1993. Of course it took on new meaning when she performed it at Jackson’s memorial service in 2009. Say what you want about Mariah now, but back in the day her voice was something out of this world.
2. “Smooth Criminal” – Alien Ant Farm
These guys proved it was possible to make a kick ass MJ cover without royally fucking it up. Jackson has always incorporated rock influences into his music and this proves how well his songs work when you replace the synth with gritty guitars. It turns this classic Jackson jam into a headbanger. What’s even better is the video filled with references to the singer’s videos from Bubbles to the “Thriller” ending. How many can you spot? Alien Ant Farm may not be remembered for anything else, but at least they gave us this awesome cover that shows how universal Jackson’s music is.
1. “Thriller” – Imogen Heap
Ever think the creep-tacular filled “Thriller” would work as a soft ballad? Somehow Imogen Heap makes it work. With a stark, beautiful piano accompanying her she sounds haunting, yet beautiful as she sings Jackson’s iconic tune. She sounds breathy and airy as she whispers “Cause this is thriller/thriller night.” It really catches you by surprise with how awesome it is. Who would’ve thought the song would work well at a slower speed and without Vincent Price’s eerie laugh? This is everything a good cover is supposed to be: a hint of the original, but different enough to grab your attention.
Which Michael Jackson cover is your favorite? Is there another great one I missed? Let me know in the comments!