Essential Downloads: Michael Jackson

 

By Jack Sharkey, February 2, 2017

 

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s groundbreaking and iconic half time performance at Super Bowl XXVII, here’s a quick look at the songs from the King of Pop that you really should have in your library.

 

Billie Jean (1982). If you were lucky enough to catch Jackson’s televised performance from the American Music Awards then you saw history in the making, because everything changed after that night: What we expected from our pop stars and what our pop stars were expected to achieve. Strip away the ubiquity of the track and listen to it as if it was your first time.  

 

Beat It (1982). Those synthesizers! Those Linn drums! MJ at his mid-twenties best and oh yeah, a freebie guitar track from Eddie Van Halen who just so happened to be in the studio that day.  

 

The Way You Make Me Feel (1987). An overlooked gem of a pop song, it’s simple and familiar and that’s what makes it so brilliant.

 

Man In the Mirror  (1987). As great as this song is its probably not one of Jackson’s best performances (his performance borders on cliché) but once you look past all of that the song itself is just fabulous.

 

Rock With You (1979). Disco reigned supreme in 1979 but it was Jackson’s throwback to the cool of early 70’s Motown that was a crossover #1 hit (his second consecutive Number 1 from his fifth solo album Off the Wall.

 

Black Or White (1991). Within half a decade, Michael Jackson’s reign as King of Pop would be over and he would largely be relegated to the ash heap of tabloid television as his legal and financial issues mounted, but, the complete craftwork involved in all facets of Black Or White make this song a must-have.

 

Rockin’ Robin (1972). Originally a hit for Bobby Day in 1958, the Jackson Five had a huge hit with Rockin’ Robin in 1972. This was the song that made Michael Jackson a bona fide pop star and not just a kiddie rock curiosity.

 

Ben (1972). On the heels of his Rockin’ Robin breakout Jackson scored a solo hit with this love song to a rat. Okay, so it was the theme to the movie of the same name and it won the Academy Award for best song, but still, it’s a love song to a rat. A rat.

 

 

For a few years in the 1980’s Michael Jackson was the biggest star the world had ever seen. Elvis and the Beatles were huge within their own cultural orbits, but Michael Jackson transcended and eclipsed everything that had come before (and will likely ever come again). Sure these songs are part of our collective musical consciousness, but don’t let that stop you from digging in and enjoying their beauty and majesty. You just have to scratch through the over-playing to get to the essence. Hit the record store when you’re ready to dive in, but in the meantime, these are 10 Essential Downloads to get you started.

 

 

 

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