Michael Jackson passed away in 2009, but his legacy lives on, with his songs being played worldwide on a daily basis. The King of Pop may have had a confusing public and private life, to say the least, but there’s no confusion about his music. He had some of the biggest hits of the 80s and 90s, not to mention his work with his brothers in the Jackson 5 before that.
Dancing aside, Michael Jackson had a musical style all his own. He hit high notes like no one else, added strange flourishes and even giggles to his vocals, and sang in a smooth and clear voice with a whole lot of power. Basically, he had the whole package. So, what are the top 10 Michael Jackson songs of all time? Here’s what I think, starting with…
- Top 10 Michael Jackson Songs
- Need More Great Pop Music?
- The Top 10 Michael Jackson Songs of All Time – Final Thoughts
Top 10 Michael Jackson Songs
Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough (1979)
When we’re talking about as big a music star as MJ, there’s no point in trying to rank Michael Jackson’s top 10 songs. Instead, I’ll just go from oldest to most recent so that we can look at the musical development of this artist. And before this first song, he was a child star and then a teen heartthrob. But, with his fifth solo album, Off the Wall, released in 1979, MJ gave the world something new and special.
“Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” is a Disco-Pop legend. This was the first song he recorded that he also wrote, and you can tell that it was a perfect match. The tune is upbeat, and the melody is perfect for his falsetto. He also sings back up for himself on this track. The guitar is funky, the bass is thick, and the beat will keep people dancing for generations. I don’t think we’ll get enough of this track anytime soon.
Billie Jean (1982)
Michael’s next album was a whopper. After the wide-reaching success of his last album, he wanted to make every song on his sixth album a hit. The result was Thriller, produced by Quincy Jones.
And the hits?
Oh yeah, there were a few. They released seven of the album’s ten tracks as singles, and all of them made it into the Top 10. They were more Pop-Rock and edgy, moving away from the dying disco vibe – hey, this was 1982 already!
“Billie Jean” was one of the biggest Michael Jackson songs from this record. This song has one of the most memorable bass lines ever. Combined with cleverly placed “doo-doos,” it’s just unbelievably catchy.
The verses build up with tension and lyrical darkness, which was new for MJ. And the chorus – “Billie Jean is not my lover – She’s just a girl that – Says that I am the one – But the kid is not my son” – is impossible not to sing along with. This is also the song MJ did his first ever moonwalk to at a live Motown performance.
Beat It (1982)
“Beat It” is another track from Thriller that shot up the charts and has become one of Michael Jackson’s best-known songs ever. The tune won him two Grammy Awards and two American Music Awards, plus it is recognized as one of the greatest songs of all time.
This song is so much edgier and rockier than any of MJ’s earlier work; it represents a total transformation for the artist. The beat is solid and strong, and the music is defined by heavy, distorted guitars. There’s even a guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen. I mean, what more do you want?
Jackson said this song was a Rock song for kids. So, while it’s hard-edged, the title lyric, “Beat It,” is still kind of cute and childish. It’s about growing up and trying to be tough. Just like in the lines, “They’re out to get you, better leave while you can – Don’t wanna be a boy, you wanna be a man – You wanna stay alive, better do what you can – So beat it, just beat it.”
There’s no way we can talk about the Thriller album without including “Thriller,” the song that it was based around. This theatrical song was based on MJ’s love of films and is all about getting yourself excited by watching scary movies.
And then, they turn real!
Well, not really. But, in the iconic video for this song, that’s what happens. Zombies chase MJ and his girlfriend home from the movie theatre, but then decide he’s one of them and start dancing in the street. This zombie shuffle with MJ in his red leather jacket is one of the most iconic images in music video history.
This song is funky, with a mix of Pop, Rock, and R&B thrown in for a perfect jam you can really get down to, zombie or not.
After Thriller’s massive success, five years went by before Michael Jackson put out his next album. During this time, he toured the world extensively, danced and sang on every continent, and was crowned the King of Pop. When Bad came out in 1987, the world was more than ready. This was the best-selling album of both 1987 AND 1988, moving more than 25 million copies.
The title track, “Bad,” is another rock-edged song written by the dynamic duo of MJ and Quincy Jones. The song is about a young man trying to escape the poverty and violence that surrounds him, but who ends up being taken over by it.
This is MJ drawing attention to social issues while also taking on a character role as a singer. How did it do? “And the whole world has to answer right now – Just to tell you once again – Who’s bad?”
Smooth Criminal (1987)
Another edgy song from Bad is none other than fan favorite, “Smooth Criminal.” While this song was by no means the biggest hit on the record, it eventually became one of Michael Jackson’s best-loved songs. In this track, he blends R&B and Rock in a perfect mix to create an edgy song about crime and violence.
The song is held down by a strong rock beat. But it’s the synth riff that’s so infectious. MJ sings low and high, and nearly raps in this song, showing off his true vocal talent. All in all, this song is just cool. It was also turned into a popular heavy cover by nu metal band Alien Ant Farm, who gave it an even harder edge in 2001.
The Way You Make Me Feel (1987)
Not every song on Bad was so hard, though. With “The Way You Make Me Feel,” MJ still wanted us to remember that he can sing bright, fun, upbeat music as well. This song is a mid-tempo, swinging R&B-inspired Pop song. It still has a Heavy Rock drum sound to stay consistent with the rest of the album. But, other than that, it’s really sweet and cute.
I mean, look at these lyrics. “I never felt so in love before – Just promise, baby, you’ll love me for evermore – I swear I’m keepin’ you satisfied – ‘Cause you’re the one for me.” So sweet! There’s no reason why this song wouldn’t have shot straight up to #1 and become one of the top 10 Michael Jackson songs of all time.
Man in the Mirror (1987)
You want a soulful ballad? You got one! “Man in the Mirror” is a slow R&B, Pop-Rock ballad that is one of the best Michael Jackson songs.
The song starts quietly and sparsely, with just Michael singing over a beat made of claps and snaps. Then, the keyboards sweep in building up the energy. When the bass and solid drum beat come in, the song becomes very powerful. But when the choir comes in, ooh, chills!
Most of Michael’s older ballads were sweet love songs. But this one is more of a love song to the self. Taking a lyrical lead from Gandhi, MJ sings, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror – I’m asking him to change his ways – And no message could’ve been any clearer – If you wanna make the world a better place – Take a look at yourself and then make a change.” Inspired and inspiring!
Black or White (1991)
Jackson took another long break between albums. This time, it took four years to release 1991’s Dangerous, partly because of massive touring and picking up numerous awards. He was just too busy being pop royalty.
But, when Dangerous finally came out, it was once again a big change in the artist’s work. This album took another music direction, influenced by Hip-Hop, Industrial music, New Jack Swing, and the overall musical landscape at the time.
“Black or White” is by far the most memorable track from this album. It has Rock, Pop, Rap, and Dance elements fused together, making it fun and funky. This is a song about racial equality and acceptance. And the iconic video was an enormous success. Especially the long chorus showing dozens of faces of different races morphing into each other.
You Are Not Alone (1995)
While MJ made some fun, energetic songs, he also sang some of the sweetest ballads in Pop history. One of his best is “You Are Not Alone” from his 1995 double album HIStory. This is classic crooning Michael at his finest.
The song is a simple, and maybe even a bit cheesy, R&B track. But MJ singing over the simple beat and keyboard chords is still magical. His singing is both vulnerable and soulful. And lyrically, this song is very uplifting – “You are not alone – I am here with you – Though we’re far apart – You’re always in my heart.” Let the key changes build higher and carry you away!
Need More Great Pop Music?
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The Top 10 Michael Jackson Songs of All Time – Final Thoughts
This wasn’t an easy list to put together. If you remember Michael Jackson as a Rock, Dance, or Pop artist, you’re wrong. He was all of that and more. Starting as a solo artist in the 80s, he quickly gained popularity until he was arguably the biggest, most recognized artist of his time. The King of Pop has yet to be dethroned.
Whether you agree with my list or not, you can’t argue that these are ten great songs. They all have a special place in music history and the hearts of Michael Jackson fans, past, present, and future.
Until next time, happy listening.