Retrospective: 30 Of The Greatest Michael Jackson Songs

By @TrueGodImmortal

This is not going to be an easy list to construct. Michael Jackson is the greatest artist of all time to me. Since his departure from this earth in 2009, his legacy has been preserved and appreciated by many in the world, and his music remains to live on. He's got a number of classic songs and albums over the decades and today, our job is to look and narrow it down to 30 of his greatest songs ever. No, this is not a list in order, because his music is too great for that, but we will look at 30 of his greatest songs of all time. A reminder, this DOES NOT include his Jackson 5 songs and The Jacksons songs, so classics like "I'll Be There", "This Place Hotel", "Find Me A Girl", and others will NOT be on the list. Instead, we'll focus on the greatest solo songs from the King of Pop over the years. The criteria for me is simple, as I look at each album and draw from his music to see what's the best songs over his storied 40 plus year career. Let's get into it.

*Got To Be There (1972)

-I remember the first time I heard this song. A young True was a huge fan of this song that showcased the most mature sound from Michael through his young age. The vocal runs on the hook and the bridges are flawless and for a young Michael, this might have been his greatest moment before reaching the later teenage years. When I look back at his solo career, this is always where I start. The song is undoubtedly a classic.

*I Wanna Be Where You Are (1972)

-"Can it be I stayed away too long... did I lose your mind when I was gone..." always sticks out in my mind. The way Michael delivered this song is unmatched. The production is almost haunting to me now, but I love it. The marriage between vocals and production makes this a flawless track hands down and one of the greatest MJ song.

*Dear Michael (1975)

-I struggled with putting this one or "Just A Little Bit Of You" or "We're Almost There", but this one is just a little stronger as a track and is probably the most underrated song on this entire list. Released at the time of his vocal change, the song is ripe with beautiful production, solid vocals, and is the best song from this puberty fueled era of MJ.

*Rock With You (1979)

-Smooth production and layered vocals takes this song much higher than almost any other song on Off The Wall. I truly can listen to this song over and over, as Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton arranged such a classic production, and Michael coasts over this track. It's really hard to put into words how much I love this song... so I'm not going to even try. Listen for yourself. Watch the iconic video.

*Get On The Floor (1979)

-My personal favorite song on Off The Wall. The disco soul funk vibe of the entire album hits the apex here. I was not a HUGE fan of the disco wave in general, as I can only listen to a handful songs from that era, but this was executed perfectly. MJ and the deeper voiced bridge kills it as well, and should have been the first glimpse that his voice was not as soft as previously thought.

*I Can't Help It (1979)

-Stevie Wonder gifted Michael a true gem. The production and the lyrics definitely are all Stevie, and while I'm sure Stevie could did a great job with this song as a reference track, the vocals of Michael will trump everything else. The way he layers his vocals, the way the production and the vocals combine, everything about this song is perfect.

*Got The Hots (1982)

-Included on the Thriller 25 album Japan version, but recorded back in 1981-1982, this previously unreleased track was legitimately one that could have very well been on the album. It has a similar sound to a majority of the upbeat songs, but I'd prefer this song over a large number of the tracks on the entire album, just to be honest. This is a truly hidden gem.

*P.Y.T. (1982)

-I struggled on putting this song or "Baby Be Mine". If you ask me what's more important, it's this song. If you ask me what I prefer more? It's "Baby Be Mine". Both are iconic but this James Ingram penned gem fits better with Michael on the vocals because of the more playful style he brings. Any other smooth voiced singer would turn this into a pre bedroom anthem, but Michael turns into a fun hit, perfect for the clubs and the car.

*Thriller (1982)

-Dark, yet upbeat. Spooky yet infectious and catchy. This describes probably the greatest moment of the career of Michael Jackson. With a short film to boot for the music video for this song, Thriller is hands down one of the greatest songs in his catalog and probably one of the all time greatest songs ever off impact alone. From the dark lyrics to the the brooding production, this just works perfectly.

*Billie Jean (1982)

-Why would there be a Michael Jackson list without this iconic song? Whether or not they are my personal favorite or if I think some songs lesser known are better, there are just some songs you can't leave off of the list. This is one of them. From the smooth yet slightly funny video to the iconic Motown 25 performance, this song is hands down one of the best and one of the greatest Michael Jackson songs. It's one of my personal favorites as well, and the image associated with Billie Jean is too iconic to ever be ignored or left off a MJ list.

*Human Nature (1982)

-There's not many songs in the history of music that start off as grand as "Human Nature", as the majestic combination of instruments lead us into the iconic "looking... out..." opening words from Michael and then from there, it's almost as if the sky opens up and a slice of heaven comes through the clouds. That might seem a bit over the top, but for some of us who are big MJ fans, there is almost nothing in this world that compares to the sounds of "Human Nature". The production breakdown near the end?? Man... LOOK! CLASSIC!

*Beat It (1982)

-I kept this one on the list for the purpose of legacy. This video? Iconic. This song? Iconic. Do I personally think it's his best? Not really, but the truth be told, MJ coasted over this track, which was the most rugged we had heard him in his career. What sticks out about this song to me now is the infectious hook, which is actually much more layered and has way more lyrics than you realize. The chant of "just beat it" is the more memorable part of it, but the whole hook is just dope. The song itself is greatness, but the hook is what elevates it even higher.

*The Lady In My Life (1982)

-I really could have put the entire Thriller album on this list. Yes, I know, there's no "The Girl Is Mine" or "Baby Be Mine" on this list (both are great), but this is my personal list and choice, and they missed the list just by THIS much. However, this song? This one right there? If there was ever a such thing called a Michael Jackson bedroom anthem? This was it. The smooth sounds, the horns, the vocals, the adlibs, everything about this song is amazing. It's the moment when MJ says "you're every wonder in this world to me" and the horns beautifully come in that I knew this was a true classic and would be seen as one of my all time favorite MJ songs.... if not my all time favorite.

*Fly Away (1987)

-Now, you might not even be aware of this song in general, but if you have one of the Bad special edition albums or Bad 25, then you've heard this song. The production is what brings you in for the split second it begins, but when MJ sings "our love's in motion...", you instantly know you're in for a treat. I found this song years ago, and it's become one of my personal favorite MJ songs. I can't fathom how "Speed Demon", "Leave Me Alone", and one other song that I won't name (it's on Bad though... and a hit and a really good song, but not on this list) stayed on the album, but he didn't put this gem on it. Bad truly is his greatest album ever to me, and to be completely honest, if he had made this project an official double album, it would likely be my favorite project overall in music. It's that great.

*Bad (1987)

-I imagine this song wouldn't have been as great if they went with the idea of putting Prince on it. I love the idea of Prince vs MJ on a song, but this song wasn't the one for the collaboration. It needed the feel of Michael talking to an adversary of greater proportions, and in this case, it feels like MJ is firing back at the entire world. The production is almost at a dizzying pace, but that adds to the rare aggression Michael displays in this song. If anything, this is one of his greatest songs for the unveiling of a more aggressive side of MJ, and also gave me a video that stuck me with using the term "Joe College" regularly.

*Another Part of Me (1987)

-I consider this song the "worldwide anthem" of MJ. The production is funky, and the message is strong. MJ was about universal love and his fans and this song is really like a gift to them and the world over. My only bad memory of this song was that it was featured first in Captain EO, but with a message of global unity, positivity, and an underlying theme of overthrowing the racism, sexism, and all around divisive behavior from the world, this song is one of the brightest moments for MJ period as an artist.

*Man In The Mirror (1987)

-Now come on. We knew that this was going to be on this list. One of the top 3 most iconic songs from MJ ever. It's the song that pushed Bad to nearly 40 million copies worldwide to be honest, IMO. It represented everything that Michael seemed to be now as an artist for sure. He was on a worldwide mission evolved from the funk and soul sounds of previous efforts, instead his music crossed barriers. This song sounded almost like gospel pop, as he spoke of making a change in his life and the world over, continuing the team of "Another Part of Me", but looking more so internally. The best part of the song? The adlibs, the choir, and the final bridge on the album that sets up an epic close to the song. Classic.

*Dirty Diana (1987)

-Bad has to be seen as the most rugged album from MJ. It's not even close in reality. He goes right at the nature of crazed female fans, or shall we call them groupies, who have their way of seduction. This particular groupie is a soul stealer and she keeps showing up to play with Michael's mind. The song is really a great precursor to the rock tinged songs MJ would utilize in later albums, and this is the best of those type of tracks that he made. Every MJ fan loves Dirty Diana and rightfully so. Many have speculated if this song was about someone in particular in reality, like Diana Ross or Princess Diana, who was very fond of MJ, but... we'll just assume it was about groupies in general.

*Smooth Criminal (1987)

-When we speak iconic music, this music video has to be one. The song gained new life through the video and while on first listen and watch, this song wasn't my favorite, there was no way for me to deny it. Smooth transitions all over the production, while the "Annie, are you okay" line remains in music history. The whole song is just one big catchy anthem, and as I mentioned in previous songs on this list, the video elevated the song as well. You can't have a MJ list without "Smooth Criminal", you just can't at all.

*I'm So Blue (1987)

-Another hidden gem from the King of Pop. The bluesy sound of the production gives way to some infectious vocals from MJ in the beginning and throughout the song he continues this. The song seems to be a bit more somber than his average upbeat track, but this song was a leftover from the Bad sessions that should have made the final tracklist. I mean, it is really one of his best overall songs, and if you haven't heard it yet, please do so. Now.

*In The Closet (1991)

-I can't say enough about this song. Sure the video is pretty interesting as well, but the song takes New Jack Swing and puts a great spin on it. Michael weaves through the hook and verses accompanied by some sultry female vocals/voice, and he absolutely kills it. This song hits the apex when you get to the hook, but the verses are just as quotable as the hook. That's also what makes this song stick out to me. The whole song is a quotable (though I understand it can be tough to decipher all of the lyrics on the verses).

*Remember The Time (1991)

-The epitome of smoothed out New Jack Swing music. Probably the best New Jack Swing song of the 90s, Michael literally floats over this Teddy Riley production, with one of his strongest and most catchy songs ever. The hook, the verses, and better yet the video are all memorable and epic. The final vocal run near the end as Michael screams out "do you remember girl!!!??, what about, what about..." is honestly one of my favorite moments in music. It's just the way he goes off that makes it so special and when you take into consideration how smooth the rest of the song is, this felt like MJ employing a bit more emotion into the end. Truly classic. One of my top 5 favorite MJ songs ever and truly one of his 10 greatest songs ever.

*Who Is It (1991)

-When MJ sings from a space of feeling used, lonely, or even heartbroken, he creates something special. This track is no different. The production here is slower yet feels more engaging, as the strings build almost a suspenseful sound that leads into a much deeper voiced Michael singing from a place of assumed hurt or pain. The hook is where the pace picks up and man..... it is one of my favorite hooks from this era of Michael, probably 2nd under "Remember The Time". There was no way I could make this list without this song.

*Give In To Me (1991)

-The rock tinged track is another personal favorite where MJ shows his range. The hook is what really brings me into the song as I listen intently to the hook and sing along nearly every single time. Out of all of the MJ tracks here, this might be the most overlooked when considering the depths of which MJ went for this particular track. The guitar work on this song however is actually amazing also, something that most don't talk about.

*Will You Be There (1991)

-I really can't believe I'm putting the theme from Free Willy on this list in a way. I remember never being a big fan of the song as a kid. Then, as I got older, I came to appreciate how epic and beautiful the song is. It's a monumental track, with amazing vocals, minimal yet strong production, and MJ really kills it on this song. It's one I could listen to over and over again. The choir arrangements, along with the keyboards to carry it make this such a great song. It's a shame I didn't appreciate this as much when I was younger, but I absolutely love this song and it certainly deserves a spot on this list.

*They Don't Care About Us (1995)

-His most politically charged song sees MJ opening his eyes to the reality of the world. He took a risk with this song, as it has small glimpses of anti-semitism, and also speaks directly to the racism leveled against people of color and the reality that they don't actually care about us. It throws a lot of shots at the government and the system in place, which is absolutely amazing to witness the biggest star in the world do while still at a high in his career. For that, there's no denying this song a spot on the list.

*Earth Song (1995)

-I think this song is included because it is the evolution of the world songs that Michael had made over the years. Sure, he went left on a lot of songs on this particular album, but this is a relevant cry for help as the US still faces global warming issues, some more extinction for animals, and more earth related issues for the world. The production here is glorious too, and Michael sings his soul out on this track.

*Break of Dawn (2001)

-You didn't hear very much traditional R&B from Michael, but he went to it in a way for his Invincible album In 2001. This song was really smooth, laid back, and a true bedroom anthem, one that Michael flawlessly coasts over. I loved that we saw a bit more of the deeper vocal Michael on this album, as it showed even more maturity in his music. This is my 2nd favorite song from Invincible and a true gem in the catalog.

*Butterflies (2001)

-And here is my favorite song from Invincible. The production sounds just like that Philly Neo Soul style sound that Floetry, Bilal, Musiq and others were using, but Michael puts his own spin on it of course. Speaking of Floetry, Marsha Ambrosius helped penned this gem and assists with the background vocals as well. This song is really another classic in the long standing catalog of MJ and because of what it represents, I had to put it on the list over "You Rock My World", which sounded more like standard MJ than a different sound for him.

*This Is It (2009)

-I wish this song would have been released and Michael could have performed this. I loved the way this song sounded, from the way they did the production to how MJ sounds. Including this song is bittersweet however because it's one of the last songs I've really been able to listen to since most of the posthumous thrown together tracks don't do it for me, except "Loving You", which sounds much more completed.

The hardest part of choosing this list is that MJ has so many great songs that DIDN'T make it, but could have. Hell, his unreleased and more hidden tracks could have made this list, like "Free", "Don't Be Messin' Round", "Streetwalker", "Cheater", "Carousel", "Monkey Business",  and a few others, while hits like
"Black or White", "Baby Be Mine", I Just Can't Stop Loving You", "The Way You Make Me Feel", "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough", "Heal The World", and a few others also missed the list. Why? There's honestly no reason why besides the fact that when I went through his career and all of his music, the 30 that made this list stuck out more in terms of song quality over the ones that didn't make the list. The crazy part? The songs that didn't make the list are still classic in their own right. Honestly, I'd have to make a Top 50 or 75 songs list for Michael to really salute the work he put in over the decades. If I could, I'd put every single song he had released on this list, because to be honest, MJ has never put out a bad song on an album.... before 1995 at least. This was probably the toughest list I've ever had to write because MJ is so dear to me as an artist that I wanted to include representation of MJ in each era he had, while also giving love to his classics. However, there are 30 of the greatest Michael Jackson songs, but we all know this list could go on and on and on. This is just a testament to his legacy.



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