Michael Jackson is one of the greatest entertainers the world has ever seen. Not only was Michael a talented singer, but his intricate choreography and showmanship catapulted him to icon status. Throughout his career, he transcended genres while revolutionizing the music industry. From groundbreaking tours, high production music videos on par with short films, to being the first Black artist with significant video rotation on MTV—Michael broke barriers and paved the way for future artists. Here are 35 songs for the perfect King of Pop playlist.
Michael had such a strong voice as a teenager and was particularly distinctive from other singers who were popular at the time. That voice shines through on his single “I Wanna Be Where You Are”, which was a top 20 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
By the late 70s, the disco era was a dominant genre and Michael alongside his collaborator Quincy Jones made sure to implement the sound on his fifth solo album Off The Wall. The album’s lead single “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough" helped Michael earn his first solo Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
“Thriller” is the song and video that made Michael Jackson a cultural phenomenon. The video was more like a short-form movie, showing videos could be creative art. The video became a pinnacle for Halloween theme and scary movie references.
The album title track for “Bad” allowed Michael to fuse more pop and rock elements. The video for "Bad,” another short film, became an additional blockbuster in his videography work that inspired other artists.
As the frontman for one of the most famous music groups of all time, Michael always had star power. In 1971, he released his solo debut single “Got To Be There,” which became a top five hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
In the early ‘90s, more R&B artists were venturing into the New Jack Swing era and in order for Michael to do that, he called on Teddy Riley to produce songs on the Dangerous album. His video for “Remember The Time” was a star-studded affair with cameos from Eddie Murphy, Magic Johnson, and Iman. In true Michael fashion, the video featured an insane dance routine with eye-catching costumes.
Keeping with the disco theme for his Off the Wall album, Michael released his smooth dance track, “Rock with You.” Penned by renowned songwriter Rod Temperton and produced by Quincy Jones, the song is perfect to play at any party, club, or Soul Train line.
“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” is the opening track on Thriller which sonically sounded more like the disco sound that Michael had on his previous album. Even without a video, the song became a top five hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
The album title track for “Off the Wall” is sure to put anyone in a good mood. It’s the type of track to play when someone may be feeling down, but should make the most out of life. As Michael says in the song, “Life ain’t so bad at all, when you live it off the wall.”
The production on “Beat It” is so infectious because it truly showcased Michael as an all-around rock star, with Eddie Van Halen playing a sick guitar solo on it. The video became one of Michael’s most popular visuals due to the dance synchronization between two rival groups.
The Siedah Garrett duet “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” was the lead single to Michael’s seventh album Bad. The single peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
By the time Michael Jackson released his album Thriller, disco was becoming a thing of the past, so the singer and Quincy Jones decided to move in a different direction. His single “Billie Jean” enlisted a fusion of R&B, pop, and funk. It was essential in showcasing Jackson’s new style such as the sequined glove and his signature moonwalk that he debuted on the Motown 25 special.
“Man in the Mirror” is all about Michael realizing the blessings in his life and that other people aren’t as fortunate. Once he takes a good look at himself and his life, he knows he can make some changes in order for the world to be a better place.
On his single “Human Nature,” it showcased Quincy Jones pushing Michael into more of a pop and soft-rock sound. The song became a top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, and was later sampled by artists such as Nas and SWV.
One thing fans could always count on is Michael releasing songs that made people want to dance. He did just that on his single “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing),” in which he’s telling a lady how much he admires and desires to love her.
“Another Part of Me” was the sixth single released from Michael’s Bad album. On this track, Michael wanted to amplify the thought that people should unite to see brighter days. "Another Part of Me" was a top 20 single on the Billboard Hot 100.
Michael teamed up with Paul McCartney on their smooth duet “The Girl Is Mine.” From just looking at the title, it's evident that these two talents are fighting over a girl. "The Girl is Mine" was the first single released from Thriller and it topped the R&B charts.
On Michael's single “The Way You Make Me Feel,” he's putting his emotions on display as he tells a woman how she knocks him off his feet. The single became a No. 1 hit across a number of Billboard charts including the Hot 100 and Hot Black Singles.
Michael's single “Dirty Diana” is somewhat of a different territory for him. This track is all about how a groupie is trying to seduce him, but he's too smart to fall for it. Life of a pop star.
Music videos from Michael seemed to be inspired by films that he saw. For “Smooth Criminal,” the visual was centered around a 1930s gangster style movie. It’s another video that features one of his most famed dance sequences and includes the shocking “anti-gravity” lean dance move.
Fans were well aware that Michael loved animals and it was evident when he released an ode to a pet rat, "Ben." The track was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song and became Michael's first solo number one hit.
Due to Michael's otherworldly fame, he was subject to a lot of criticism, rumors, and tabloid headlines. As a response, the single “Leave Me Alone” showcases Michael pleading for a woman to stop bothering him, but in reality, he’s telling the media to quit publishing rumors.
While Michael was dealing with negative press, he released “Scream”—a duet with his sister Janet Jackson as a response. This was the first time Michael got to work with production and songwriting duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, longtime collaborators for Janet. The futuristic video was recognized as the most expensive music video created at the time.
In 1991, Michael Jackson released his eighth studio album Dangerous. Not one to rest on his laurels, he moved forward with a different sound and set of producers. The album’s lead single “Black or White” is a rock-heavy pop track in which Michael is calling for unity among people from different backgrounds.
Throughout his career, Michael was very philanthropic and believed in helping disadvantaged communities. His single “Heal the World” displays how Michael wanted all communities to come together to help make the world a better place.
"Who Is It" is the fifth single from Michael's Dangerous album. In the song, Michael tells how he gave every bit of himself to a lover with hopes of being with them forever. However, his lover ends up leaving him and he's trying to figure out if someone else stole their heart.
For fans who saw the movie Free Willy, the theme song came from Michael's single, “Will You Be There.” The song became a top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and won the MTV Movie Award for Best Song in a Movie.
“Jam” isn’t the most popular single from the Dangerous album, however the music video for it showcased two of the biggest entertainers in the world—Michael Jackson alongside Michael Jordan. The video was pretty simplistic for Jackson’s standards as it displays Jackson playing basketball, while Jordan tries to learn some dance moves. Two greats learning from each other in this video was a moment in time.
Although the song wasn’t released as a single, “Workin’ Day and Night” was a fan favorite on Michael’s album, Off The Wall. Other artists have sampled the track including George Duke, Will Smith, and even his sister Janet.
Although it wasn’t one of his most popular singles, the Teddy Riley-produced track “Ghosts” had one of his best music videos. In perfect Michael form, he created a short film written by Stephen King and of course, featured an epic dance routine.
In addition to his philanthropic efforts, Michael was no stranger to speaking out about the problems of the world. “They Don’t Care About Us” is a protest song about the racial, societal, and criminal injustices. The song gained traction decades later when it was used as a rallying cry at Black Lives Matter protests.
Although it wasn’t released as a single, “The Lady In My Life” is a sweet ballad in which Michael is pouring his heart out (yet again). He’s enamored by his lady and tells her how he will treat her as they grow old together. It’s a perfect love song.
Michael went on a six-year hiatus before he released his final album Invincible in 2001. Once again, he wanted to work with producers who were redefining the sound of this new decade. Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins produced the album’s lead single “You Rock My World.” The video featured cameo appearances by Marlon Brando and Chris Tucker—the latter who was known for imitating Michael in some of his films.
On Michael Jackson’s final single “Butterflies,” it gave him a laid-back neo soul sound thanks to songwriters Andre Harris and Marsha Ambrosius. It’s a great love song in which Michael is smitten with a potential lover and wants to give her affection because she gives him a fluttery feeling.
Mya Singleton is a freelance writer and photographer based in Los Angeles. Her work has also been featured on The Sports Fan Journal and AXS. Feel free to follow her talking all things music on Twitter @MyaMelody7.