In Memory of the World’s Greatest Ever Pop Star, Michael Jackson, Here Are His Top Ten No1 Singles
Whether you remember him as the massively talented child star of the Jackson 5, the icon at the peak of his fame in the 80′s or the troubled, fame-dogged, ghostly recluse of his final years, Michael Jackson’s place as one of the greatest musical acts of the 20th century was never less than guaranteed.
In 1984, Time Magazine described the singer as, “Star of records, radio, rock video. A one-man rescue team for the music business. A songwriter who sets the beat for a decade. A dancer with the fanciest feet on the street. A singer who cuts across all boundaries of taste and style and color.”
So maybe we should remember the good years and the many spectacular tracks of one of the most commercially succesful, culture defining acts American music has ever produced.
10) Man in the Mirror, Bad
Track number #7 of Bad, Jackson’s fourth studio album, Man in the Mirror sat at #1 in the American charts for two weeks.
The track rings with dramatic flourishes and is known for its passionate delivery and poignant lyrics, which Jackson wrote alongside Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett (who can be heard singing in the background). It includes a gospel choir, a frequent device in music of the time as used by Guns N’ Roses, Madonna and David Bowie.
It was used to close concerts in his Dangerous world tour, at which stuntman Kinnie Gibson, dressed as Jackson, would fly out of arenas with a jetpack.
The video for the track featured footage of despair and war until a nuclear explosion, which was followed by images of hope and peace.
9) You Are Not Alone, History
Released in 1995, You Are Not Alone was the second single from HIstory. Written by R.Kelly in response to the musician’s troubled personal life (and highly publicised allegations of child abuse, for which he was not charged), he forwarded a demo to Jackson who agreed to co-produce it. The track is also considered a reference to his wife Lisa Marie, the daughter of Elvis Presley, whom he relied upon for emotional support throughout.
The R&B ballad was nominated for a Grammy and American Music Award and holds a Guinness World Record as the first song in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 to debut at number one. It was later certified platinum by the RIAA, having sold massively worldwide.
It remains one of Michael Jackson’s best selling singles.
8. Black or White, Dangerous
One of the best selling rock songs of the 1990s, Black or White was written and arranged by Jackson with rap lyrics by Bill Bottrell and an intro and guitar riffs performed by Guns N’ Roses’ lead guitarist Slash.
A mix of rock, dance and hip-hop, the track’s great variety of musical influences reflects its message of racial unity. It reached #1 in both the US and UK and was the fastest rising chart single in America since The Beatles’ 1969 hit Get Back.
7) ABC, ABC
The track that knocked The Beatles’ Let It Be from the American #1 spot, ABC was written by “The Corporation”, the team of motown lyricists who wrote most of the early Jackson 5 hits.
One of the group’s signature songs, it was the eponymous first single from their second album, originally issued as a B-side to a cover of Diana Ross and the Supreme’s The Young Folks.
6) Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough, Off The Wall
The first single over which Jackson had creative control, Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough was the debut single from Off The Wall, the first album the artist released under Epic Records.
After recording musical The Wiz, a retelling of the Wizard of Oz, Jackson approached the performance’s musical director Quincy Jones, with whom he would release what many consider his finest albums. It was his first number one in seven years, introducing the singer’s signature falsetto voice and vocal hiccups.
Actor Chris Tucker recorded a duet of the track with Jackson for the film Rush Hour 2 (which unfortunately went unused, featuring a solo by Tucker) and starred in the video for You Rock My World.
5) Beat It, Thriller
One of the finest singles from Thriller, Beat it won two Grammys, two American Music Awards and was inducted into the Music Video Producers Hall of Fame.
With a rock guitar solo played by Eddie Van Halen (who, when asked to participate, thought he was being prank-called), co-producer Quincy Jones had intended a black rock ‘n roll track, which Jackson had never shown interest in. Jackson would later say of Beat It, “I wanted to write a song, the type of song that I would buy if I were to buy a rock song…” Early recordings proved to be exactly what Jones was looking for.
Featuring lyrics on defeat, courage and the nature of masculinity the track remained at #1 in the American charts for three weeks, toppling Come on Eileen which had itself beaten Jackson’s track Billie Jean.
4) Smooth Criminal, Bad
Though Smooth Criminal never reached #1 in America, it has since become one of Jackson’s most popular songs.
It is best known, perhaps, for the spectacular dance moves shown in its music video, the centrepiece of the 1988 film Moonwalker, featuring Joe Pesci as a 1930′s gangster and the singer as a robot, a car and even a spaceship (in hindsight, maybe its for the best he stayed in music).
3) Earth Song, HIstory
Michael Jackson had a long history of writing charitable material and frequently exercised his social conscience through music. The Grammy-winning Earth Song was a plea about war, endangered animals and mankind’s destruction of nature. It received awards and recognition internationally from animal rights and environmental groups.
It was Jackson’s best-selling UK single, shifting more than one million copies and debuting at #1 where it remained for 6 weeks.
2) Billie Jean, Thriller
Billie Jean is a reference to a real-life experience in which a female fan claimed Michael Jackson had fathered one of her twins. She obsessively mailed the singer, later sending a package containing her photograph and a gun with a letter asking that he kill himself at a certain time and date, as would she after killing the child. She was later taken to a psychiatric hospital.
The R&B dance anthem was mixed 91 times before release and was nearly removed from the album following a disagreement between Jones and Jackson.
It was Thriller’s second single, topped the UK and US charts simultaneously, becoming one of the best selling singles of 1983. “I knew it was going to be big when I was writing it,” Jackson later said.
The entire lead vocals were recorded in a single take.
1) Thriller, Thriller
Though it never reached number one in the UK (and in America on the Radio and Records singles chart Thriller is without doubt the track that Michael Jackson will be remembered for). The eponymous track from the 1982 best selling album of all time and remains popular, having sold well over 1,159,000 digital downloads in the U.S. alone by March 2009. Written by Rod Temperton, produced by Quincy Jones and featuring a guest appearance by horror legend Vincent Price the track was originally titled Starlight Love and demoed as Starlight Sun. Watch the Michael Jackson Thriller video here
It was the seventh and final single from Jackson’s finest album, though Rolling Stone criticised a “degeneration into silly camp”.
It is probably best known for its phenomenal music video – though Jackson rewrote the way the world considered this medium, Thriller was one of a kind even among award-winners such as Billie Jean and Earth Song. It helped him break into MTV and gained the young channel a great deal of attention. The film is considered to have transformed the medium, introducing cameos, complex storylines and special effects.