Michael Jackson Songs: The 20 Most Lovedby Holly Williams | 08 March 2013
He is, without doubt, one of the biggest selling solo artists of all time (beaten only by rock 'n' roll legend Elvis Presley, the daughter of whom he actually married) and became a global phenomenon after embarking on a solo career from his childhood band the Jackson 5. Whilst he has held the record for the biggest selling album of all time with 'Thriller' for a number of years and has evermore growing sales nearly four years after his death, we thought we'd collate together the global favourite Michael Jackson songs from The Pop Star's back catalogue.
We would like to emphasize that we understand that our top 20 songs may have been different had we looked at other nations' music charts, but this list is based on a point system racking up the number of weeks his singles topped the charts in the US, the UK, France, Spain and Australia only.
20. Heal the World (1992)
It is without doubt that Michael Jackson was an avid philanthropist and this song is probably his hit that most reflects this. The video features the poverty and misery among children in third world countries, predominantly Burundi. It also shares its name with his own charitable foundation that he set up to help some of these children and was donated for use as the anthem for the James Bulger Red Balloon Center; a safe haven for bullied children run by the mother of the murdered toddler who the charity is tribute to. It was rather appropriately performed by Ciara at the 2009 BET Awards to pay homage to the star following his passing in June that year.
Watch the video for Heal The World
19. The Girl Is Mine [ft. Paul McCartney] (1982)
This is the third collaboration MJ had with former Beatle Paul McCartney and appeared on his coveted 'Thriller' album. Although it wasn't one of his most popular works, it reached global recognition and earned its number one spot on the Spanish charts for 3 weeks. It became the subject of two lawsuits, however, when Fred Sanford alleged that Jackson used material from his song 'Please Love Me Now' and when Reynaud Jones and Robert Smith claimed that the track and two other Jackson songs bared close similarity to their own efforts. The lawsuits were later dismissed in Jackson's favour. In 2008, will.i.am remixed the track for 'Thriller 25', though it was slammed by many music critics.
Listen to The Girl Is Mine
18. One Day In Your Life (1981)
'One Day In Your Life' featured on Jackson's fourth solo studio album 'Forever, Michael' released in 1975 and shares its name with his second compilation record. Although the track didn't do so well in the US charts, over in the UK it stayed at number one for 2 weeks when it was released as a single 6 years after its album appearance making it the sixth best-selling single in 1981. Cuban singer Gloria Estefan performed the track in her Liverpool concert during the 90 Millas World Tour while R&B star Kyla also covered it for her album 'Heartfelt' in 2007.
Watch the video for One Day In Your Life
17. Dirty Diana (1988)
This was one of Jackson's more rock-infused singles and appeared on his album 'Bad'. Similarly to 'Billie Jean', it incited much speculation as to what it was about with some suggesting that it was about his close friend Diana Ross and others suggesting it concerned another friend of his, Diana, Princess of Wales. However, co-producer Quincy Jones confirmed that, as with 'Billie Jean', 'Dirty Diana' was also about groupies. Princess Diana did personally tell MJ that it was her favourite of his songs which prompted him to sing it at a performance at Wembley Arena. The song was at number 1 in the US for 1 week and entered the charts again in 2009 following his death after an increase in digital downloads.
Watch the video for Dirty Diana
16. Thriller (1984)
The title single from his 1982 album, 'Thriller' became a huge hit with its voice-over from horror legend Vincent Price and typical horror sound effects like those of a 50s movie and it remained at number 1 in the French charts for 3 weeks plus a further 1 week in Spain. However, the actual song was massively surpassed by the accompanying music video which won Jackson 3 MTV Video Music Awards and global recognition. It features a narrative with MJ on a date with a pretty girl at the movies before running into an army of zombies who perform the iconic 'Thriller' dance routine. The dance has been copied numerous times appearing in films including 'Donga', 'Coming to America' and '13 Going on 30' as well as being famously re-enacted by some prison inmates in Cebu, Philippines in a YouTube video that went viral. Strangely, in spite of the very thematic nature of the song and video, the single cover remains the most shocking thing leaving no indication of the song's concept whatsoever.
Watch the video for Thriller
15. The Way You Make Me Feel (1987)
From the excellent ironically titled 'Bad' album, this track has been quite a favourite with cover artists. It is one of MJ's more romantic numbers, topping both the US chart and the Spanish chart at number 1 for a week each. It was notably performed after his death by John Legend and a devastated Stevie Wonder at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert, and Stevie has been covering at his shows ever since. The late Whitney Houston also sang the song on her I Look to You Tour the following year and Rihanna featured some of the track's lyrics for her own song 'Nobody's Business'.
Watch the video for The Way You Make Me Feel
14. Smooth Criminal (1988)
'Smooth Criminal' from album 'Bad' is probably best known for the 1988 movie adaptation 'Moonwalker' which starred Jackson and Joe Pesci ('Goodfellas' star). It was the main theme song throughout, though the movie version where Jackson performed the dance routine at the nightclub was considerably longer than the album version. It was particularly well-received in Spain, topping the charts in 1988 and re-entering at number one in 2006 for a total of 6 weeks. Jackson's famous anti-gravity lean also made its debut with this song with the star patenting a complicated mechanism that allowed him to perform it. The most popular cover version of this song is by Alien Ant Farm, though violinist David Garrett recorded a classical instrumental version for his 'Encore' album.
Watch the video for Smooth Criminal
13. Man in the Mirror (1988)
One of the reasons Michael Jackson was such an important figure in entertainment was his penchant for writing deep and meaningful songs with timeless messages and global significance. 'Man in the Mirror' is a fine example of this and became one of his most critically acclaimed singles, even being nominated for Record of the Year at the Grammys and remaining at number one in the US for 2 weeks. His use of a Gospel choir on the track makes it all the more special and his inspiration for the song is put across on the video which features clips of various events in history including Ethiopian famine, Live Aid, the Kennedy assassinations and the Vietnam War as well as various important figures from Adolf Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan to Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi. Cover versions of the song include renditions from James Morrison, 'Glee' and acoustic guitarist Tuck Andress.
Watch the video for Man In The Mirror
12. Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough (1979)
From the early 'Off the Wall' album, this track is one of Jackson's first major solo hits earning him his first Grammy since leaving his brothers and introducing most of the characteristic Jackson vocals such as vocal 'hiccups' and his falsetto. The accompanying music video was his first since going it alone and the song earned a number one spot on the US chart for a week as well as a further 3 weeks in Australia. It has since been covered numerous times with a version being recorded by Chris Tucker and Adrienne Bailon for the film 'Rush Hour 2' and such artists as Westlife, U2, Prince and Usher performing the seminal track on their various tours.
Watch the video for Don't Stop Til You Get Enough
11. I Just Can't Stop Loving You [ft. Siedah Garrett] (1987)
The 'Bad' album's hit single 'I Just Can't Stop Loving You' was originally meant to feature vocals from Barbra Streisand or Whitney Houston but neither were available to record which is when Quincy Jones suggested Siedah Garrett who had previously co-written 'Man in the Mirror'. It was another one of Jackson's romance hits and remained atop of the UK charts for 2 weeks (one week more than the US); it even reached number one on its re-release in 2012. The song was performed by Gloria Estefan and James Ingram during the Michael Jackson 30th Anniversary Special and has also been covered by jazz artist Chuck Loeb and 'Glee' in a 2012 tribute episode.
Watch the video for I Just Can't Stop Loving You
10. Blood on the Dance Floor (1997)
'Blood on the Dance Floor' served as the first song to be released from his 1997 remix record 'Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix'. It is one of a handful of songs by Jackson with a chilling and somewhat grisly storyline with the video focusing on a salsa dancer called Susie who seduces the star by table-dancing above him before producing a switchblade. It had limited popularity in the US which contrasted massively to the reception in Europe. The song was at number one for 7 weeks in Spain, plus 1 week in the UK.
Watch the video for Blood On The Dance Floor
9. You Are Not Alone (1995)
This track was composed by R&B star R.Kelly who, after presenting the demo to Jackson, co-produced it with him before later covering it himself. It appeared on MJ's 'HIStory' album and earned him a Grammy nomination on its release and while it peaked at number one in several countries, the UK particularly favoured it with 2 weeks atop the charts. It's a beautiful song with a touching message, but it hasn't been without controversy. Aside from regularly being criticized for the video's scenes of semi-nudity with him and his then wife Lisa Marie Presley, it has also been the subject of plagiarism when Belgian composers Eddy and Danny Van Passel accused R.Kelly of stealing their tune. The court passed a judgement whereby the rights for the track were given to the Van Passels and any airplay of the MJ track was banned, however it is a verdict that is only recognised in that country.
Watch the video for You Are Not Alone
8. Beat It (1983)
'Beat It' has to be Jackson's biggest rock song of his career. Featuring on his 'Thriller' record, the song includes a guitar solo from Van Halen's Eddie Van Halen and is often lauded as a pioneer in 'black rock' music. It won MJ two Grammy awards and helped him achieve a top 5 position on the charts at the same time as 'Billie Jean' which is a particularly rare feat. The song remained at number one for 3 weeks in the US plus a further week in Spain. One of the most shocking things about this seminal hit is the video which he had feature around 80 real members of notorious rival gangs the Crips and the Bloods to not only add realism, but also to make some kind of peace among them just like the song suggests. 'Beat It' has been covered many times, most notably by rock bands Fall Out Boy and Pierce the Veil. will.i.am remixed it for 'Thriller 25', but it was not much liked by critics.
Watch the video for Beat It
7. Ben (1972)
'Ben' was MJ's first ever number one solo hit, recorded when he was just 14 for the film of the same name. It was originally written for Donny Osmond to sing, but he was unavailable due to touring commitments. But Jackson surprised everyone by winning a Golden Globe for the track and hitting number one for one week in the US plus a further 8 weeks in Australia. Notable covers of the song feature on Boyzone's album 'A Different Beat' and Connie Talbot's 'Over The Rainbow' album; Faith No More even performed it on their tour while many parodies have also been made including on 'The Simpsons' and 'The Wayans Bros.'.
It may come as a surprise to some that 'Ben' is above 'Beat It' on our list, but we would like to note that while the US gave the latter 3 weeks atop the charts, Australia knocked it below 'Ben' when it achieved massive popularity overseas.
Watch the video for Ben
6. Rock With You (1979)
Not as well-known as some of his major hits, but much loved among many devoted fans, this was widely seen as one of the last big disco hits. It appeared on his 'Off the Wall' album and was written by Rod Temperton from Heatwave who also wrote 'Thriller'. As well as being re-released in 2006, it continues to be covered by a variety of artists including Brandy, Chuck Loeb and Ashanti with Chris Brown, Kelly Clarkson and Mariah Carey also performing it on tour. It topped the charts for 4 weeks in the US and 1 week in Spain.
Watch the video for Rock With You
5. Earth Song (1995)
'Earth Song', from album 'HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I', is the biggest number one hit for Jackson in the UK topping the charts for 6 weeks but it surprisingly failed to chart at all in the US. MJ had a history of releasing songs of global importance (such as 'Heal the World', 'Man in the Mirror' and 'Beat It' as we've mentioned) but 'Earth Song' has got to be the first that directly addressed the issues of environment and animal cruelty. The video was a thought-provoking montage shot in four regions and won Jackson a Grammy nomination in 1997. It has been covered by the band Fossils and by Charice & Ne-Yo and remains one of Europe's Michael Jackson favourites.
Watch the video for Earth Song
4. Bad (1987)
The title single from his 1987 album is one of the more 'edgy' of his biggest hits. Although it was initially meant to be a duet with Prince, it still worked out as one of his major landmark singles. It is accompanied by an 18 minute long video directed by Martin Scorsese and featuring a narrative about a boy from the 'ghetto' who comes back after a lengthy stay at a private school to find that he's not as 'bad' as he used to be. MJ has confirmed that it is in fact based on a true story that he read about in an article that ended much worse than his own version. It was at number one for 2 weeks in the US and was a major hit in Spain with 14 whole weeks atop the charts making it the most popular of his singles in that country.
Watch the video for Bad
3. Say Say Say [ft. Paul McCartney] (1983)
This collaborative single wasn't actually released on any Michael Jackson album but instead appeared on Paul McCartney's 'Pipes of Peace' record. It's technically not really 'featuring' one or the other, rather it is a duet that they chose to add to McCartney's album after 'The Girl Is Mine' went on to 'Thriller'. We felt that it had to be included, however, after it topped the US chart for 6 weeks. The music video was one that introduced the concept of a narrative to videos with McCartney and MJ playing two sly (albeit charitable) conmen called Mac and Jack.
Watch the video for Say Say Say
2. Billie Jean (1983)
'Billie Jean' is widely considered as one of the most revolutionary songs of its time following its release on his 'Thriller' album and its video features some of Jackson's most incredible trademark dance moves. The storyline of the song has been subject to much debate with many analytical minds suggesting it is based on a woman who was hospitalised after harassing MJ for months over allegations that he fathered her twins despite him having never met her. He has, however, explained that it is in fact based on the numerous groupies he and his brothers encountered in Jackson 5. The song was initially slammed by co-producer Quincy Jones but ultimately won him two Grammys and featured in his famous (and disastrous) Pepsi commercial. Covers of this much-loved track have been done by punk band The Bates, Linx, Ian Brown and Chris Cornell; it was even performed by Westlife on their Face to Face tour.
Watch the video for Billie Jean
1. Black or White (1991)
This track is without doubt the world favourite topping the charts in 15 countries after its release in 1991, partly due to the fast growing globalisation of music sales in the early 90's. It featured on his eighth studio album 'Dangerous' and its counterpart video turned into an equally major hit. It wasn't without controversy, however; the last four minutes of the video were cut on MTV and similar networks after it showed the star performing a 'sexually suggestive' dance including numerous of his famous crotch grabs and him zipping up his flies. Despite the taboo performance though, it has been covered by 'Glee' in a 2012 episode and even parodied on several occasions by the likes of Weird Al Yankovic, hip hop outfit Das Racist and even rock group Genesis.
Watch the video for Black Or White
They are not necessarily the most respected songs for die hard fans and this is not including the numerous hits he had with Jackson 5 such as 'I Want You Back', 'ABC' and 'I'll Be There' but it cannot be argued with that these are some revolutionary tunes for the music industry. There is always the possibility that MJ could even achieve a posthumous number one; it is not unlikely that one of his songs could be re-released in other circumstances.