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ESSENTIAL SONGS BY
Audiences around the world were first in awe of Michael Jackson’s talent in 1969 when the wunderkind was still only 11 years of age and singing lead on “I Want You Back”. Soon, his solo career would eclipse the Jackson 5’s success. The brothers would quit the Motown label in 1975 and became The Jacksons. Michael remained a member, but his solo output went into overdrive with the albums ‘Off The Wall’, ‘Bad’ and the record-breaking ‘Thriller’. This period forever cemented his place among pop music’s greatest influences. Here are the 100 most essential recordings- solo and with his siblings- in terms of influence, popularity and quality. The tracks span the years 1969-2014.
WANNA BE STARTIN' SOMETHIN'
Michael composed "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", one of his funkiest singles. The "mama-say..." chant was based around Manu Dibango's "Soul Makossa". Lifted as a single in 1983 from Michael's record-breaking album 'Thriller', the song reached the Top 10 in the USA, Britain, Europe and Canada.
NEVER CAN SAY GOODBYE
Although many older performers have covered "Never Can Say Goodbye" following The Jackson 5's original version, none have injected more heartache and emotion into the lyrics. Disco / dance remakes by the likes of Gloria Gaynor and The Communards were glorious, but their emphasis on the beat detracted from the lyrical content. Despite his young years, Michael brought emotion to the fore. The Jackson 5's version was included on the 1971 album 'Maybe Tomorrow'. Released as a single that same year, the disc made the Top 10 in America, UK, Canada and Australia.
ROCK WITH YOU
The success of 'Of The Wall' launched the re-invented and adult Michael Jackson. His chart fortunes were re-boosted. In 1980, "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" had already shot to the top of the world charts and was followed by the euphoric beauty of "Rock With You". This was another gem from the pen of Rod Temperton. The disc followed its predecessor to #1 in America. While it drew a wider audience to Michael, the single became a Top 10 hit in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
I'LL BE THERE
In less than a year, The Jackson 5 had released 4 singles on Motown. All 4 had reached #1 in the USA. The 4th, "I'll Be There", was so successful that it became the label's biggest hit to date in 1970. Again, Michael stole the show with his impassioned vocal delivery. The brothers augmented the sweet ballad with precise harmonies. On the R&B chart, the disc gave the brothers another #1. In the UK, it peaked at #4.
Decades later, it's hard to fathom that the beautiful ballad "Ben" was actually about a rat! Michael's sweet vocal earned him an Oscar nomination in the Best Original Song category. In 1972, the single- from the film 'Ben'- became his first solo American #1. If Motown had any lingering doubts about his 2 simultaneous recording careers, "Ben" offered the label complete re-assurance. In Australia, the single became the first #1 for any Jackson family member. The disc was a Top 10 hit in Britain and Canada.
As the 3rd single from the behemoth 'Thriller', "Beat It" had a lot to live up to. "The Girl Is Mine" and "Billie Jean" had already reached #2 and #1 respectively in the USA. "Beat It"- written by Michael- sped up the charts around the planet, landing at #1 in America, Europe, Canada and New Zealand. It peaked at #2 in Australia and reached #3 in the UK. Eddie Van Halen performed the famous guitar solo.
I WANT YOU BACK
The Jackson boys had already released a single in 1968 on the Steeltown label, but it took signing with Motown Records to finally make the brothers stars. When audiences saw The Jackson 5 perform "I Want You Back" on TV, eyes were instantly locked on young Michael. His sharp vocal skill and energetic performance gave a strong hint of the potential he possessed. The single topped the Pop and Soul charts in the U.S. In Britain and Canada, it peaked at #2. The Jacksons had arrived. This was their label debut in 1969. In 10 years, Michael would be one of the dominant musical acts on the planet.
Few songs are more synonymous with a music video than is "Thriller". While Queen and ABBA were among the first music acts to use film clips as a marketing tool, Michael took the music video to an unprecedented level. "Thriller" grabbed global attention. Its television premiere was a major event. Rod Temperton wrote the song and it was to become the title track from the best selling album of all time. Horror film legend Vincent Price has a cameo. Despite the massive sales of the parent album, the single was a Top 10 hit across the planet.
DON'T STOP 'TIL YOU GET ENOUGH
In 1979, Michael and his brothers' careers had lost the momentum they had shared in the early years of the decade. The 'Off The Wall' album radically altered that situation. Suddenly, grown-up Michael had evolved into the coolest African-American on Earth. The video for "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" re-introduced him to a global audience. This re-discovery propelled the album and single to the upper rungs of the chart. The latter reached #1 on the North American, European, African and Australasian continents. Michael wrote the song and was now in the elite pantheon of musical greats. The next few years served to further entrench his place among the most influential performers.
'Thriller' had been selling well upon its release in late 1982, buoyed by lead single "The Girl Is Mine". That duet with Paul McCartney climbed to #2. "Billie Jean", a song penned by Michael and dealing with paternity accusations, was selected as the follow-up single. Sales went into overdrive after his performance of the song on the TV special celebrating Motown's 25th anniversary, where he premiered his 'Moonwalk' dance routine. In 1983, "Billie Jean" topped the American, British, European, Canadian and Australian charts. Its success put Michael in the record books. From here on, he would remain in his own unique stratosphere.