Michael Jackson, 'People Make the World Go 'Round': 1972
Of the many covers of this timeless classic, Mike's version is my favorite. I like to open or end my sets with this one. People don't so much dance to it as they just bask in awe of the emotional intensity of such a young child (he was 14 in 1972). On the dance floor, some may close their eyes tight in the moment because the music fills and overwhelms them.
Captions by Rhome "DJ Stylus" Anderson
Jackson 5, 'Can't Get Ready for Losing You': 1972
The brothers Jackson amp up the energy on a tune originally recorded by another artist, in this case a bluesy Willie Hutch. Young Michael's high tenor soars. Unreleased for many years, it was a rarity included on a 1995 Jackson 5 compilation. Even when people don't know this one, they rock to it as if it were always their favorite song.
Jackson 5, 'Dancing Machine': 1974
This is such a Soul Train-line song that its inclusion here is obvious. Couples can do the bump to this one. Bust the robot on the horn break. And the rhythm section in the chorus evokes classic b-boy jams so that dance fiends can even get their uprock on.
Jackson 5, 'Forever Came Today': 1975
This cut is equal parts disco, classic Motown and gospel. The Jackson 5 morphed it — originally a single performed by Diana Ross and the Supremes — into a churchified stomper. The break two-thirds into the tune is where the magic happens, with Mike's ad-libbing riding the rhythm guitar and bouncing bass line. Do a church scoot at this point. No one will judge you. And if you have a sanctified MLK paper fan, even better.
The Jacksons, 'Show You the Way to Go': 1977
Michael's voice was really reaching maturity on this tune, and combined with Gamble and Huff's arrangement, it's pure beauty. I like to extend both the intro and the vamp at the end for maximum pull on the heartstrings. The bass line, vibraphone, strings and subtle rhythm guitar are a stepper's delight. Couples can really have a ball with this one and get grown and sophisticated with it.
The Jacksons, 'Blame It on the Boogie': 1978
Originally written and performed by Brit soft-rocker Mick Jackson, in the hands of Michael and his brothers it took on a new energy as an anthem to boogying with abandon. I've seen people do "YMCA"-type hand gestures to act out the chorus, or just borrow moves from the Jacksons' iconic video. Like so many of the best Jackson cuts, the breakdown is inspired. Sunshine. Moonlight. Good times. Boogie.
Michael Jackson, 'I Can't Help It': 1979
Quincy Jones on the production, Stevie Wonder on the writing and composition, and a gorgeous melody that Michael takes to a vulnerable and yearning place. In a DJ context, it's a jazz tune that works as a slow jam or an end-of-night closer, or as a contrasting selection to cap a segment of high-energy tunes. There are also so many great covers, samples and remixes of this song that the creative mixing possibilities are vast.
Michael Jackson, 'Rock With You': 1979
The snare fill that counts off the tune is the equivalent of "You had me at hello." Once the crowd hears that, it's straight cheers and group karaoke. Everyone loses any inhibitions about singing in public when this song comes on. Fellas, when you hear this song, this is your opportunity to close the deal. That stranger you met on the dance floor just might become your next special someone, thanks to the magic of MJ.
The Jacksons, 'Can You Feel It': 1980
It might not be a coincidence that the Jacksons were on the Epic record label when this was released, because this jam is the definition of epic. Mike's vocal is so transcendent. He trades lead with his brother Randy, who is the calm setup for Michael's emotional explosion. Dancing to this song in a room full of equally joyous people is the closest any of us will ever get to spontaneously levitating.
Michael Jackson, 'Wanna Be Startin' Something': 1982
The coda to this song is so explosive that sometimes I just have to rearrange it on the fly and start with that first. Anyone with an ounce of soul shouldn't need to be prompted to clap once Mike "hee-hees" and "woos" through an interpolation of the intro to Manu Dibango's "Soul Makossa": "Mama-say mama-sah ma-ma-koo-sah!"
Jermaine Jackson (Duet With Michael Jackson), 'Tell Me I'm Not Dreamin' (Too Good to Be True)': 1984
Yes, this is technically Jermaine's song, but Michael couldn't utter a note on any song without making it his own. With its sultry '80s synth work at a sweet-spot tempo (not too slow or fast), this jam inspires Solid Gold-style body rolls all over the dance floor.
Michael Jackson, 'Can't Let Her Get Away': 1991
Who had the biggest record of the entire new jack swing era? Michael Jackson. Teddy Riley gave Mike some serious heat when they connected for the Dangerous album. And while "Jam" and "Remember the Time" get the most burn, it's good to remind folks how hard the other tracks on the album banged. This jam will have folks sweating like in the dance scene from House Party.
Michael Jackson Featuring Janet Jackson, 'Scream': 1995
So enormous. This song almost makes you feel like moshing, and when the guitars kick in after Janet's odd spoken interlude, I've seen it happen. Musically, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis serve up more of that urgent future funk that made Rhythm Nation 1814 so amazing. When the dance floor needs catharsis, I drop this song.
Michael Jackson, 'You Rock My World' (Trackmasters Remix Featuring Jay-Z): 2001
The original version was another banger from the undeservedly slept-on Invincible album, but when the King of Pop met hip-hop's G.O.A.T., it cranked even harder and still does. Because of this gem, I forgive so much of the Trackmasters' usual derivative production. Mike could really kill it in every era of R&B. If the dance floor is bubbling properly during a loop of Jigga's "clap" refrain, all hands in the room will come together right on time.
Michael Jackson, 'Butterflies': 2002
Any DJ that doesn't play to women is doing it wrong. Dropping this at the right point in the evening is like setting off a love bomb in the room. The hardest dudes achieve a glide in their two-step that they didn't know was possible, and the ladies will belt the chorus like they're in the shower and no one else is around. For extra impact, lead with the a cappella section of Mike's first verse before blending in the full song.