On this day 59 years ago, the world was blessed with the birth of one Michael Joseph Jackson. From his humble beginnings in Gary, Ind., he would rise to a worldwide level of stardom that most entertainers can only hope to achieve. Eight years after he left us, his music lives on and continues to fuel our fondest memories.
I can remember my first time seeing him live. It was 1984 during the Jacksons’ Victory Tour, and it was the first concert I had ever been to. They made a stop at Dodger Stadium. I stayed on my feet the entire time, and I never sat down. I sang every lyric to songs old and new at the top of my lungs, and when it was all over, my voice was hoarse, and my love for Michael was cemented.
Thirty-three years later, nothing has changed. I still love Michael Jackson. I will fight you over Michael Jackson. DON’T NOBODY BETTER SAY NOTHING BAD ABOUT MICHAEL JACKSON.
In honor of the Thriller-Maker’s 59th, I decided to ask some of my co-workers at The Root to help me come up with a list of our favorite M.J. hits. His entire catalog is worth listening to, but to us, these are the standouts.
I believe it was Deputy Editor Genetta Adams who said that she likes this song because you can hear him crying as he sings it. The emotion he is able to convey with just the sound of his voice is incredible, and as Senior Editor Yesha Callahan points out, this particular video lets you see the emotion and vulnerability in his face. This song is easily one of his top 10 best songs ever.
Both our weekend social editor, Corey Townsend, and I agreed on this, and I think the reason we agree is that we both probably know the choreography to this video by heart. The song is a good song, but the video made it a hit. Michael Jackson didn’t just make music videos; he made musical mini movies. If you don’t start dancing in your seat when this song comes on, don’t talk to me.
Our editor-in-chief, Danielle Belton, picked this as her fave, and I have to agree. The lyrics are classic, and Michael makes us feel every bit of it when he asks: “Could it be I stayed away too long? Did I leave your mind when I was gone?”
There’s an ongoing office debate about whether Off the Wall or Thriller is Michael’s best album. Genetta believes it’s Thriller, but others, like VSB’s Panama Jackson, say it’s Off the Wall. I love both albums dearly, but I lean more toward Off the Wall simply because it’s pure Mike. And on this song, when he says, “I’m melting like hot candle wax,” I want to melt with him.
Here’s one that doesn’t always appear on lists of Michael’s greatest hits, but it’s an early performance that shows you he had star power and vocal range even at a young age. Our copy chief, Teresa Ridley, and contributing editor Angela Helm both put this on the list, and I have to agree—it’s classic, vintage Michael. As Angela said to me in Slack, Michael “was singing the blues! No little boy should sound like that!”
This song was a unanimous vote, and I’m going to be honest, I’m sharing this particular video because I want you to cry the way we were all crying as we watched it together in Slack this morning.
This is young Michael at his purest, and for that reason alone, this song makes the list.
This was the fourth single released off the Thriller album, and the rumor is that Michael actually wrote this song for his sister La Toya but ended up recording it himself instead. And it’s still a jam.
“Billie Jean” is an all-time favorite for most everyone, I think, and while I love the original video for this song, it was his performance of this song on the Motown 25 special that made it a legend and made Michael the king of the moonwalk. I remember watching this performance live on television, up way past my bedtime, but daring my parents to make me go upstairs before I got to see my favorite singer perform on that show. My whole family was screaming in the living room that night. This performance can still bring me to tears when I watch it.
OK, fine. Here’s the original video for the song, too:
There’s no official video for this song, and that makes me sad, because this is off Mike’s 2001 album, Invincible, and the first time I heard it, Anil Dash sent it to me over AOL Instant Messenger (this was pre-Twitter, people) and I lost it! Written by the ladies formerly known as Floetry, this song throws M.J.’s voice back to the Off the Wall, “She’s Out of My Life” days. It’s just pure Michael. This song is in my personal top five.
Because you are going to respect this man’s gangster and his dance moves at the same damn time.
No one voted for this, but I wasn’t going to leave it off the list, either. The video alone makes this song one of the most epic Michael Jackson songs of all time. That man broke the music-video genre with this one. The night this video premiered, I stayed up waiting for it. Everyone in my house was asleep, and I woke up my mother and my brother when it finally came on. This video was genius. Michael Jackson was a genius.
Did we leave anything off? Let me know in the comments.