I have always appreciated Michael Jackson’s legacy and impact on the world both musically and culturally, however, with the exception of Remember The Time (IMO Michael’s greatest single of all time) I’ve never really connected with his biggest hits. That’s not to say I wouldn’t get up and dance to Billie Jean at a wedding or sing along to Rock With You if it came on the radio, but rarely if ever would I seek these songs out when looking for something to listen to. As a child of the 80s who’s lived through some of Michael’s biggest moments as a solo artist it’s possible that I’ve just heard them all a few too many times.
With that said I would still consider myself a fan, but more so of his lesser known and sometimes less successful work. When compiling a list of my favourite MJ songs it became apparent to me that I lean towards the more soulful, mid-tempo songs. Case in point – Stranger In Moscow. At the time of release this was Michael’s lowest charting song in the US, though it did fare better internationally. For me Michael is at his best when writing about his personal experiences. With these songs not only do I feel the lyrics more deeply, I believe you can hear a difference in his vocal delivery.
Another favourite is I’m So Blue. This song was recorded during the Bad sessions but never made the final album. Upon listening it’s easy to hear why it didn’t make the cut as tonally it doesn’t really stand out against more obvious hits such as Smooth Criminal and The Way You Make Me Feel. The song was eventually released on the 25th Anniversary Edition of Bad in 2012 and since then has been on regular play by me. I’ll admit, the production does border on cheesy, but Michael’s vocal especially during the latter half of the song is so heartfelt that it saves the song from becoming a full on cheese board with crackers and grapes.
The same can be said for one of my guilty pleasures, Childhood from the HIStory album. The song does not shy away from sounding like it should roll over the credits of Disney film, in fact it fully and unashamedly embraces it (as does the song’s video). But if you really focus on the lyrics and not the production, the song is actually pretty devastating, even more so now Michael is no longer with us. It could be said that Michael brought on much of the public and media interest in to his life and supposed eccentricities. In fact for a time he was seemingly the one pushing the “Wacko Jacko” persona (Hyperbaric Chamber anyone?) and the HIStory album very much feels like Michael trying to reframe the negative image that had been created. I would go so far as to say that Childhood is lyrically the most vulnerable Michael was ever heard on record, and it’s that honesty that makes me connect so deeply with this song.
Honourable mention must be given to I Can’t Help It (Off The Wall), Baby Be Mine (Thriller), Free (Bad 25th Anniversary Edition), Loving You (Xscape) and of course Butterflies (Invincible). The latter was written by one of my all time favourite artists Marsha Ambrosius. More on her to come.
Currently playing: Thank U, Next – Ariana Grande