The Top 5 Michael Jackson singles…according to you!

Last week I wrote a short tribute piece to the year deceased Michael Jackson and talked a little about his music. At the end, I wanted to hear your thoughts. What was your favourite Michael Jackson song out of his vast discography – which doesn’t even count all the work he did with The Jackson 5.

So a poll was created by me, giving you the choice of choosing a whopping 78 singles which spanned from 1972 to 2009 which could be voted for by you! 223 votes later and the results are in! So what singles got the Top 5 vote?

Find out below:

5. Stranger In Moscow

Album: HIStory

Producer(s): Michael Jackson

Writer(s): Michael Jackson

Earliest release date: November 1996

Chart success: Moderate. The song hit the #1 spot in the US. It cracked the Top 5 in the UK, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy and New Zealand and managed to slip into the Top 20   elsewhere. It did less successfully in his native US, only peaking at #91.

Critical success: The song is among one of Michael’s most critically acclaimed songs. All Music Guide have called it “one of his most haunting ballads”. The New York Times have described the song as “lavishly melodic”. Over on the West Coast, The Los Angeles Times have Stranger In Moscow, is a step removed from the focused paranoia of much of the rest of (HIStory), more akin to the deeper, fuzzier dread of a past perennial like Billie Jean. Jackson imagines himself alone and adrift in a psychic Russia, pre- glasnost, hunted by an unseen KGB: ‘Here abandoned in my fame / Armageddon of the brain’, he sings in the somber, constricted verses, before a sweeping coda kicks up four minutes in and the stalkee suddenly breaks his cool to wail about a desolate, inconsolable loneliness. Here, in this song, is the real genius—and probably real personhood—of Michael Jackson”

My rating: 4/5

I’m  actually a bit surprised that this has reached #5 on the countdown. While it’s one of MJ’s most critically acclaimed songs, the track is rarely seen as iconic as some of his other works. After Michael’s death, the song only reached at the bottom part of the Top 100 charts in the UK and Sweeden (where it actually went Top 5 in both countries originally) but it looks like the people who dropped by here love it so with 5% of the votes, Strangers In Moscow is the fifth most popular Michael Jackson song on this blog.

Produced and written by the man himself, Strangers In Moscow is one of the many autobiographical songs on Michael’s most personal album HIStory. I’m inclined to agree with The Los Angeles Times on their analysis of this song. It sees him step away from the paranoia that makes up the rest of the album and allows us to delve in deeper to the feelings of the man. Michael wrote this song while on tour in Moscow and it accounts his sadness at the media’s treatment of him following the child abuse allegations launched at him in 1993, making him feel friendless and alone.

Lyrically, this track is fantastic. Michael uses Russian terminology such as “Stalin’s tomb won’t let me be” to highlight the misery and loneliness he’s feeling as he walks through the streets of Moscow. The production is really stripped back with only a minor drum loop and a few guitars, leaving room for Michael to showcase his vocals. For the most part Michael’s vocals are restrained until the climax where he lets out his agonising wail and frustration at the loneliness he’s feeling.

I agree with the critics that this is one of Michael’s most lyrically powerful songs. The song’s reflective hook “How does it feel?” is way more effective than you would think too. The only reason I haven’t given this song 5 stars is because I feel that the song is not as catchy or as memorable sonically or vocally as his other works.

Directed by Nicholas Brandt, the video is absolutely stunning and shows why Jackson is not only known as the King of Pop but the King of Music Videos too. The black and white clip fits the theme perfectly as Michael and five other depressed souls watch as the rest of the World walk by in slow motion, embracing the change in weather towards the end. The weather change is obviously a metaphor for how quickly things can change and depicts the rise and fall of Jackson’s profile in the media. The cinematography is top-class with some great slow-mo, CGI induced images of birds flying, wasps buzzing and coffee spilling. Watch the video below.

4. Billie Jean

Album: Thriller

Producer(s): Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones

Writer(s): Michael Jackson

Earliest release date: January 1983

Chart success: Phenomenal; as was the case for many of the Thriller singles. The track got to #1 in USA, Canada, Ireland, Spain, Switzerland and the UK. The song pretty much made in the Top 5 or Top 10 elsewhere. France initially didn’t cop on to the amazing-ness of the song on its original release, it peaked at a disappointing #45 but they redeemed themselves after Jacko’s death bringing it to #1. WAHEY!

Critical success: Much like Strangers In Moscow, the song received good reviews all round with most critics lauding it for its blunt lyrical message and its instant funkiness. The song has unleashed a legacy, influencing many of today’s contemporary stars and being noted at “the best dance record of all time” by the BBC.

My rating: 5/5

With over 5% of votes, this is my personal favourite Michael Jackson track. Produced with the legendary Quincy Jones, the song sees Michael Jackson acknowledge all his crazy stans (stalker fans) and report to a fictitious media that the fictitious child of the fictitious Billie Jean is “not his son”.  Hmm, maybe its time some of today’s contemporary artists wrote a song on this subject matter with the amount of crazy people who’ll attack anyone online for criticising their favourites.

It’s funny, Billie Jean might never have made it on to Thriller if it weren’t for Michael Jackson’s persistence. Co-producer Quincy Jones absolutely hated the track, not caring for the funky bassline and the extended intro to the track. But of course, Michael knew it would be a hit and pushed for it, leading to several arguments between the two.

Eventually MJ got his wish and released it as the second single from the highest selling album of all time Thriller. Justin Timberlake and Pharrell have stated that this is one of their all time favourite songs and I’d have to agree with them. The funky bassline always makes me feel like I’m in some slick sports car in Miami or LA. And like Michael, it makes me want to dance. Although not as good as him. The bridge of this song is also pure magic – absolutely bursting with Michael’s harsh fierce vocals.

Directed by Steve Barron, the video was also revolutionary. By today’s standards it mightn’t be much but it had many iconic and creative moments such as Michael dancing along the sidewalk with little parts of it lighting up like a dancefloor at the disco and introduced the famous white glove. It also had a clever storyline with a twist that saw Michael outsmart the paparazzo following him, who instead gets in trouble for ironically stalking Billie Jean. Watch below.

3. Human Nature

Album: Thriller

Producer(s): Quincy Jones

Writer(s): Steve Pocaro, John Bettis

Earliest release date: July 1983

Chart success: Surprisingly low. Although many people would have heard this song because of the impact of Thriller, it only got into the Top 10 in the US and the Netherlands. It also got into the Top 100 in the UK, Denmark and Switzerland, following his death.

Critical success: Positive. All Music have called it “gentle and lovely”. The New York Times said it had an “irresistible chorus”. said it set the “blueprint for adult R&B”.

My rating: 5/5

This is the fifth single from Michael Jackson’s Thriller and I’m surprised that it scooped the third place on this blog, with over 6% of votes. Why? Well mainly because it was only released in the US (hence its low chart positions), it didn’t have a music video and because it has never gone down as any legendary or overwhelmingly critically praised Michael Jackson single. Which is probably why its known as one of MJ’s most underrated hits.

Produced by Quincy Jones and written by Steve Pocaro and John Bettis, Michael isn’t involved with these songs as much as he was with the other two on this countdown before him. Still, Michael gives a lush, gorgeous performance of the song. The song has a really calming, balmy feel to it while also being quintessentially ’80s and romantic. That Summery, finger snapping melody and the quiet breathy vocals just make this one of MJ’s top songs and would definitely feature in my personal Top 5 too. This is true modern R&B.

2. Smooth Criminal

Album: Bad

Producer(s): Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones

Writer(s): Michael Jackson

Earliest release date: October 1988

Chart success: The song was very successful and goes down as yet another iconic hit for the pop singer. It performed particularly well in European countries, getting to #1 in Belgium, Denmark, The Netherlands and Spain. It also reached the Top 10 in many other countries and was a fixture on many World charts following his death.

Critical success: The song was applauded for its funkiness and pop smarts but many people felt that the songs from Bad failed to live up to the songs from Thriller. Many believed poor Michael had peaked with Thriller and could never top it. The song and Bad (the album) did cement Jackson’s status as an ’80s icon though.

My rating: 4.5/5

Voted by over 6% of you, Smooth Criminal was the seventh out of ten singles from Michael’s 1987 album Bad. The song was written by Jackson himself and co-produced with Quincy Jones. Like the writer and producer, Smooth Criminal was very much a continuation of the Thriller sound.

I love this track too and the only reason it doesn’t get the full 5 stars is because I feel that too many rockstars have cover it hence making the song overused and less enjoyable. Well who could blame them with an instantly recognisable funky guitar riff playing at various intervals through the song. Once again, Michael’s vocal delivery has to be praised with a hushed whispery stance taken on during the verses and a switch between gruff and falsetto heavy chorus, which really empahsises the urgent hook of the song “Annie, are you OK?” The track is one of Michael’s signature hits and it was introduced to a whole new audience when one-hit wonder rockers Alien Ant Farm covered the song in 2001, with huge success too.

The video for the track is a mini-movie, very much influenced by gangster movies and The Godfather trilogy. This mini-movie concept is currently back in fashion with self proclaimed Michael Jackson fans Lady GaGa and Ne-Yo paying homage to him in their most recent videos. Watch below.

1. Man In The Mirror

Album: Bad

Producer(s): Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson

Writer(s): Siedah Garrett, Glen Ballard

Earliest release date: January 1988

Chart success: Phenomenal. The song reached #1 in the US on its original release but following his death, the song reached the upper parts of charts around the World and stayed there the longest out of all his releases.

Critical success: The song is revered as one of Michael’s greatest songs of all time.

My rating: 5/5

With a whopping 10% of the vote, you guys voted Man In The Mirror as the top Michael Jackson song of all time. I’m not surprised by this result because I think this song now holds a place in a lot of peoples’ hearts. It has such an important message of self improvement too. It even had Chris Brown bawl his eyes out at the recent BET awards when he performed this song at the recent BET awards.

Released as the fourth single from Bad, Jackson didn’t actually write this song but you believe he did with his powerful and heartfelt vocal performance. This is an absolutely stunning ballad from start to finish with a great message. How many of today’s pop ballads have a similar message? None. So with that, I’ll allow you to watch the video of many inspirational men and women who worked on self improvement and those who never did in MJ’s critically acclaimed Man In The Mirror video.

Overall, I’m pleased with the Top 5 Michael Jackson songs chosen here. It’s great to have some site interaction and know all your thoughts. Nearly every Michael Jackson song got a vote apart from the terrible remix of The Girl Is Mine, The Notorious B.I.G. collaboration and the novelty releases with cartoon family The Simpsons and the Eddie Murphy collaboration. I’m surprised the iconic Thriller had so little votes (although I agree that its nowhere near his best song) and was also surprised by the low performance of the rocky Beat It.

Although it did take me ages to do this post, I’m happy I did it and look forward to doing something similar in the future. Sound off below in the comments box about what you think of the Top 5.


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