There’s good reason Michael Jackson was crowned the King of Pop.
For at least a decade-and-a-half, he was near-untouchable. His commercial success was wholly dominant: the albums he released from 1979 to 1995 — starting with the disco-tinged masterpiece of Off The Wall and ending with the 30-song behemoth HIStory — are all among the highest-selling albums of all time.
And he was an icon, truly. The word is too often attributed without warrant, but with Jackson it was entirely deserved. His music, his fashion, his dance moves — all of it contributed to a cult of personality quite unlike anything before or after it. The public, visceral outpouring of grief in the wake of his passing in 2009 is testament to that.
Today would have been his 60th birthday. To celebrate the landmark, we’ve put together a rundown of his greatest ever tracks. We haven’t included any of his work from the Jackson 5 years — they surely deserve their own list — and have instead focused on the solo songs, from the earth-shaking ballads to the perennial dancefloor fillers.
Billie Jean’, the classic from his iconic Thriller album is one such example. Darryl Hall of Hall & Oates reportedly said that Jackson came up to him and told him that he has stolen the groove of the band’s ‘I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)’. “I got talking to Michael Jackson and he said: ‘I hope you don’t mind. I stole the groove from ‘I Can’t Go for That’ for my song ‘Billie Jean’.’ I told him: ‘Oh Michael, what do I care? You did it very differently.’ I can’t say I’d ever noticed but he was quite insistent. Of course, I went away and listened to ‘Billie Jean’. And sure enough, it was our groove.”
The dance moves and lingering melodies were what Michael Jackson wanted you to see; his lyrics were what he truly wanted to say.
That really has been a defining quality of Jackson’s genius and remains amongst his greatest legacies. His songwriting to a large extent ran parallel with the way he lived. The dance moves and lingering melodies were what he wanted you to see; his lyrics were what he truly wanted to say. If one just has a look at a range of his songs such as ‘Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough’, ‘Beat It’, ‘Bad’, ‘Smooth Criminal’, ‘Dirty Diana’, ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’, ‘Black or White’, ‘Will You Be There’, ‘They Don’t Care About Us’, ‘Scream’, ‘Earth Song’, ‘Man in the Mirror’, among others, one gets an idea of the sheer brilliance of a man who could not only grasp a hit riff or groove, but also write with an honesty that isn’t often attributed to him. Sure, he had a team of songwriters he would go to, to fill in for songs whose tunes he had figured out but not the words, but that can’t take away from those other songs he wrote start-to-finish.