Our Top 10 Michael Jackson songs list takes a look at the career and songs of one of the most famous personalities of all time. Standing somewhere in between Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Prince and James Brown was Michael Jackson. Where he ranks among the greatest of all time is not important for this article. The songs he has left behind surely is. The songs and only the songs and the stories behind them is what our Top 10 Michael Jackson songs article is all about. However, it was no easy feat to pick just ten Michael Jackson songs. The man released four albums in a row Off The Wall, Thriller, Bad and Dangerous that combined together issued thirty singles with more than half of them breaking the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Furthermore, many of them hit number one, That’s not counting all his other solo albums from the 1970s and the period after Dangerous.
Unlike most of our top 10 articles with the exception of a few, we thought we would spice this one up a little. We first present our traditional top 10 list in which we choses our favorite top 10 Michael Jackson songs. This list factors in commercial sales, chart successes, fan favorites and of course some of our own opinion. Its all in fun. Following the initial Top 10 Michael Jackson songs list will be additional lists focusing on specific periods of his solo career in order so that we could mention so many of the other great Michael Jackson songs. This list only incudes Michael Jackson songs from his solo career. It does not include songs he recorded as a member of the Jackson Five or The Jacksons.
# 10 – P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)
We open up our Top 10 Michael Jackson songs list with the first of four tacks on this list taken from the Thriller album. Seven singles from this LP were top 10 hits so it was tough to choose from this album without filling up most of this top 10 list. The first Michael Jackson song we picked from the Thriller album was the smoking track “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing).” The song was released as the sixth single from Thriller. It just broke the Billboard top 10 peaking at number 10. The song was written by Quincy Jones and James Ingram.
# 9 – Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough
Continuing with our top 10 Michael Jackson songs list we go back to the album that was released before Thriller. In 1979, Michael Jackson released the album Off The Wall. The record would be the first Michael Jackson album to be produced by Quincy Jones. This was a completely new sound for Michael Jackson and the world ate it up. Five singles were released from the album. We present the album’s lead single here entitled “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” After release the song went straight to number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
Disco music was still popular at the time in 1979 but was starting to fade as new wave bands like Blondie, The Cars and a host of others were beginning to dominate radio. However, artists like Donna Summer were still going strong keeping disco alive and helped this hit r&b disco tune form Michael Jackson explode on the charts. This is the one that started Michael Jackson’s glorious run into the 80s. Michael Jackson was only 21 years old when he released the Off The Wall album.
# 8 – Black Or White
This one presents a huge leap in time from Off The Wall past Thriller and into the Dangerous album. Michael Jackson’s “Black Or White,” stands as one of the last great Michael Jackson singles. Michael Jackson threw all musical styles into this one. Basically that’s what the song was about, crossing all genres, races and stereotypes. There was a deep message presented in this song fueled by powerful guitars, soulful and hot dance grooves and of course Michael Jackson’s pitch perfect vocals. This was a fun one.
Michaels Jackson’s “Black Or White,” was released on his Dangerous album in 1991. After an amazing run with Quincy Jones that helped turn Michael Jackson into the so called King Of Pop. Jackson turned to Bill Bottrell, Teddy Riley, and Bruce Swedien to produce this album leaving Quincy Jones behind. Released as the first single from the album, the song “Black Or White,” was a huge hit. “Black Or White,” went straight to number one on the U.S. Billboard Hit 100. The list of other countries around the world in which the song hit number one is just too long to list. There were nine singles released from the Dangerous album over a span of two years. No other studio album with the exception of Michael Jackson’s Bad album has ever had nine singles released from the record. Thriller had seven, Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A. had seven singles as well as Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction, but none that we could fine had nine singles released.
# 7 – Smooth Criminal
This one has one of the most killer bass lines Michael Jackson has ever written, and the boy did wrote some killer bass lines throughout his career. Michael Jackson’s song “Smooth Criminal,” was released as the seventh single from the Bad album. The song was released as a single a year after the record had been issued in 1987. The song broke the Billboard Hot 100 peaking at number seven. However, like most Michael Jackson songs it hit number one in multiple countries around the world including The Netherlands, Spain, Belgium and Iceland. The song was written by Michael Jackson and gloriously produced by the legendary Quincy Jones.
# 6 – Bad
There probably never has been a more eagerly awaited follow up album than Michael Jackson’s Bad. After the phenomenal success of the Thriller album, millions wondered if Michael Jackson could repeat that success. The answer was an album that spawned nine hit singles, two more than Thriller and multiple number ones. There was a five year gap between the Thriller album and the new record Bad. The first single released from the album was Michael Jackson’s “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” When I first heard the song , I thought it was an odd choice to be released as the first single, in fact I think its one of the weakest songs on the album. Of course, it was a wonderful song, but it just did not have the energy and excitement that so many of the other songs on the record would have.
The song “Bad,” was released as the album’s second single. It should have been the debut single release. This was the type of song everyone was waiting for. The song went straight to number one on the Billboard Hot 100. It hit number one in multiple countries around the world including Spain and The Netherlands. “Bad,” was a bold in your face statement from Michael Jackson. This was one that everyone loved.
# 5 – Rock With You
As we enter the second half of our top 10 Michael Jackson songs list we turn once again to the brilliant 1979 album Off The Wall. Quincy Jones hands are all over this record. Just take a listen to Quincy Jones Award winning album from 1980 entitled The Dude and you can hear the comparisons in productions values and arrangements to the Off The Wall album. “Rock With You,” was released as the second single from the record. It was a slick one. Michael Jackson’s vocal on this one defines a master class in soul singing with a pop feel. Just about a perfect recording in so many ways. The song was written by Rod Temperton.
# 4 – Off The Wall
And speaking of the Off The Wall album. Our favorite song from Michael Jackson’s brilliant 1979 album has always been the great title cut “Off The Wall.” The song was released as the third single from the album. The song also became the album’s third straight top 10 single. “Off The Wall,” peaked at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1980. “Off The Wall,” was another great song written by Rod Temperton.
# 3 – Thriller
You don’t get much bigger in the popular music history of the 1980s than the next three songs. “Thriller,” was the title track of Michael Jackson’s legendary album Thriller. The song was released as the album’s seventh single. While they may have waited until the end to release the song as a single, it did not make this one any less important than the singles previously released before it. In fact it is one of Michael Jackson’s most enduring songs which is the reason we placed it at number three on our top 10 Michael Jackson songs list.
The song became a dance cultural phenonium based on the iconic video released along with it. It has become the most popular Halloween song of all time. The inclusion of Vincent Price on the track was a brilliant decision by the producers of the album. “Thriller,” was a watershed moment in MTV History as it had become the longest video ever played on the channel. There is no denying when one thinks of the history of the 1980s, the song “Thriller,” instantly comes to mind. Want to see something scary?
# 2 – Beat It
If someone mentioned to you in 1979 or 1980 that the late Eddie Van Halen and Michael Jackson would collaborate together on a song on Michel Jackson’s next album, you would have thought we lived on Jupiter. One of the most surprising and stunning moments on the Thriller album was the track entitled “Beat It,” that featured Steve Lukather of Toto fame on that classic guitar lick and Eddie Van Halen playing that mad guitar solo. Featured may not be a strong enough word. Eddie Van Halen’s guitar solo and Steve Lukather’s famous guitar riff fueled the power of this song turning it into one of the most head turning songs of the decade. This was a master collaboration between giants in the music industry. Michael Jackson, Eddie Van Halen and Steve Lukather who probably never got the credit he deserved at least from fans for his contributions to the songs. Steve Lukather also played bass on the track.
The song “Beat It,” also featured the great Jeff Pocaro on drums This was basically Toto with Michael Jackson singing lead vocals and Eddie Van Halen making a guest appearance. Toto was the 1970s and 80s version of the Wrecking Crew who played on all those great 1960s and ealrly 70s pop hits by various artists.
As you probably already know, “Beat It,” was a number one single. The song went straight to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. The song also went to number one in Canada, The Netherlands and Spain. The song was written by Michael Jackson.
# 1 – Billie Jean
When we first started this list we kind of figured we would wind up with “Billie Jean,” in the number one spot. How could we not place “Billie Jean,” at number one. “Billie Jean,” was the song that ignited the sales of the Thriller album that far exceeded what anyone in the Michael Jackson camp had probably ever expected. We are not just talking about a multi-million selling album. We are talking about the biggest selling album of all time. It all started with the release of the song “Billie Jean.”
“Billie Jean, “ was not the first single released from the Thriller album. The first single released was the duet between Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson entitled “The Girl Is Mine.” The album’s first single did well as it peaked all the way up to number two on the Billboard Hot 100. The song went to number one in Spain. Still, it wasn’t the type of song that made millions want to go out and buy the entire album.
The entire music industry was turned upside down the night Michael Jackson appeared with his brothers on the television special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever. After reuniting as part of The Jackson Five for a performance, Michael Jackson appeared on stage for a solo performance. What followed was an spectacular presentation of the song “Billie Jean.” During the performance Michael Jackson performed his soon to become famous Moonwalk. The world was blow away by Michael Jackson’s performance on television that night. The song “Billie Jean,” blew up all over radio. MTV Jumped in it and began showcasing the video made for the song. This was a groundbreaking moment for MTV because they had pretty much neglected black performers on the channel up to that point. Between the televised performance, and MTV’s heavy rotation of the song “Billie Jean,” sales went through the roof for the Thriller album. It was the start of an unbelievable run of seven straight singles released from the album all breaking the Billboard Top 10.
Some may ask what was it about the song “Billie Jean,” that made people go nuts over it. Of course, the moonwalks and the live performance of the song ignited the excitement, but without the substance of a great song, that enthusiasm would have faded quickly. “Billie Jean’s,” opening drum groove caught the listeners attention instantly. The equalization used on the drums cut brilliantly through all types of speakers. The drums’ simple drum groove that sounded so sonically good and felt so soulful was embraced by fans of all music. The minor chord bass line that crept in was both mysterious, sensual and totally addictive. So many of the Motown classics had started out with bass lines to die for from groups like The Temptations, The Four Tops and many others. Michael Jackson had been around that music all his life. He understood the power of Jamie Jamerson’s bass playing. It was clear those songs had inspired that bass line in “Billie Jean,” in a much more modern day sense.
The keyboard part that entered the song presented a syncopated rhythm that set the tone for the rest of the song. Michael Jackson delivered one of his greatest vocal performance of all time on the song turning “Billie Jean,” into the biggest selling single of his career and a defining moment in popular music history.
Top 10 Michael Jackson Songs from the 1970s
(1970 to 1978)
(Pre – Off The Wall period)
# 10 – I Wanna Be Where You Are (1972)
# 9 – Morning Glow (1973)
# 8 – Ain’t No Sunshine (1972)
# 7 – Happy (1973)
# 6 – With A Child’s Heart (1973)
# 5 – Just a Little Bit of You (1975)
# 4 – Ease On Down The Road (1978) The Wiz
# 3 – Ben (1972)
# 2 – Rocking Robin (1972)
# 1 – Got To Be There (1971)
Top 10 Michael Jackson Songs from the 1990s & 2000s
(1992 to 2014)
(Post – Dangerous period)
# 10 – Love Never Felt So Good (2014) posthumous
# 9 – One More Chance (2003)
# 8 – Cry (2001)
# 7 – Butterflies (2001)
# 6 – Childhood (1995)
# 5 – Stranger in Moscow (1995)
# 4 – Blood On The Dance Floor (1997)
# 3 – You Rock My World (2001)
# 2 – You Are Not Alone (1995)
# 1 – Scream (1995)
The Alternate Top 10 Michael Jackson Songs
This one is fun, it includes Michael Jackson’s entire solo career and stands as an alternative to our previous top 10 Michael Jackson songs list. No songs from the previous top 10 lists were used for this one.
# 10 – We Are The World
# 9 – The Girl Is Mine
# 8 – In The Closet
# 7 – She’s Outa My Life
# 6 – Human Nature
# 5 – Dirty Dianna
# 4 – Remember The Times
# 3 – The Way You Make Me Feel
# 2 – Wanna Be Starting Something
# 1 – Man In The Mirror
Top 10 Michael Jackson Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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