26 June 2009

Long Live the King of Pop: Michael Jackson's 10 Best and 5 Worst Songs

The shocking and untimely death of Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, sent shockwaves around the globe. Despite having released only one album in the last decade and surviving two separate trials, nothing could undo the success he built with greatness like Thriller, the best selling album of all-time. So, here in, is a warts-and-all tribute, counting down the 10 best and 5 worst songs of his career.

(Note: Be sure to hit "HQ" where available for the highest quality picture and sound.)

1. "Billie Jean" (1983, Thriller)
As if there could even be a debate. This is simply 5 minutes of pop perfection. It went to #1 in four countries, and Top 10 in six more. It introduced a generation to the iconic "Moonwalk" dance, and it broke down racial barriers as Michael became the first black artist to be played on MTV. And when Blender magazine picked the 500 best songs of the last 25 years in 2005? Yup, it was this song.

2. "Rock with You" (1979, Off the Wall)
I've always been partial to Michael's breakout album, the one that established him as an adult performer. It's one of the first albums I remember listening to and it's always stuck with me more than the hit-packed Thriller. In short, I think it's his best album. And here is the creme de la creme: a smooth jam for the ages, a disco track for people who hate disco, a song so incessantly happy you can't help but smile and "feel that beat."

3. "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough" (1979, Off the Wall)
Released in the summer of '79, this is arguably the easiest of Michael's songs to dance to. Kicking off with a spoken word intro about an unstoppable force, once he gets to his signature "ooo," you'll already be up out of your seat and ready to groove.

From the turning point in his musical career, this is the secret weapon on his 1987 album. While the title track had the most enduring success and the epic 16-minute video directed by Martin Scorsese, this simple song will floor you every time it's played, and probably the only MJ song you could pull off singing to your love interest--and have it be 100% guaranteed to work.

5. "Beat It" (1983, Thriller)
With a rockin' guitar riff courtesy of Eddie Van Halen, this was the ultimate crossover hit, earning Michael an even wider audience and enduring legion of fans. Synonymous with songs about courage like Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger," but so much better, someone is probably listening to it right now to get pumped up before a game.

6. "Thriller" (1984, Thriller)
Though most serious (read: cynical) critics deride this as a "silly diversion" from an otherwise perfect album, it's survived thanks to its iconic dance (seen at weddings and prisons the world over) and groundbreaking, widely-seen music video, and chilling laughter from the one and only Vincent Price, here to "terrorize y'alls neighborhood."

7. "Black or White" (1991, Dangerous)
Talk about your comebacks. After doggedly fighting rumors about everything under the sun in the late '80s, Michael burst back onto the scene with this ode to racial harmony, sticking it to the man, and of course, catching the attention of a lady. The monstrously expensive video featured a multi-cultural cast and (still) mind-blowing "morphing" technology. But then there's also the extended version where MJ crotch-grabs his way through an anti-racism rant, but what would he be without controversy?

8. "Say Say Say" with Paul McCartney (1983, Pipes of Peace)
Following the immensely popular but terrible (see below) duet "The Girl is Mine," the Beatle and the King of Pop collaborated again, and this is how you do it. Incredibly catchy (and definitely more Paul's style than Michael's), it's no wonder it went to #1 to close out the year.

9. "Smooth Criminal" (1988, Bad)
Any doubts as to whether or not Michael still "had it" were resoundingly shut out with this funk-infused track. The mind-blowing video certainly had something to do with its inclusion on this list (fast forward to 7:16 for the antigravity lean), but this is one of his best regardless. Smooth indeed.

10. "Remember the Time" (1991, Dangerous)
You'll definitely remember the first time you heard this, about as romantic (without veering into sappy territory) as Michael ever got. Recalling his first love, you can't help but feel nostalgic for simpler times, a track that sums up Michael quite well.

1. "Heal the World" (1992, Dangerous)
This spot could really be held by any of his maudlin hits, from 1984's charity single "We are the World" to HIStory's "Earth Song," this represents MJ at his sappiest and least effective. His desire to go straight for the heartstrings even threatened to ruin some of his biggest hits like "Man in the Mirror."

2. "2 Bad" (1995, HIStory)
Even the greatest artists recycle their past successful material, so you can't hold that against him. But a guest rap from Shaquille O'Neal (fast forward to 3:45)? That's unforgivable. And really, nearly any track from HIStory could hold this spot. It's easily his worst album.

3. "The Girl is Mine" with Paul McCartney (1982, Thriller)
The first collaboration between these guys was a monstrous hit, and also an atrocious back-and-forth about Paul and Michael's giggly fight over a girl ("I told you: I'm a lover, not a fighter"). It's about as lame as they get.

4. "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" with Siedah Garrett (1987, Bad)
Romantic? Nah. Just pathetic. A big swelling string arrangement covered in syrup. Gag.

5. "In the Closet" (1991, Dangerous)
A horribly misguided attempt to stave off rumors that he was gay (or something else), this slinky and downright gross jam (and its accompanying NSFW video) about "our love/woman to man" is just depressing.

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