Can you believe it’s been 7 years since Michael Jackson passed away? It feels like it was just last week. His legacy is far from gone, however, and this week, we’ll be taking a look at and celebrating what made MJ the true King of Pop.
When it’s all said and done, Michael was first and foremost a singer at his core. His songs changed and inspired the world for over forty years, and will continue to do so as his legacy lives on. His music made us laugh, cry, think, and dance, and it even scared us, but at the heart of it all was the desire to entertain us. On the seventh anniversary of his death, let’s remember the essence of his career – his greatest songs from his greatest albums.
“Rock With You” – Off the Wall (1979)
There is something wonderfully simple about the Off the Wall album in that it seems like it has only one goal: to make you dance. Its funky beats transcend its disco themes to give us something that can easily still be enjoyed today, especially for one of the album’s best songs, “Rock With You.” This smooth yet fun song, written by Rod Temperton (who also wrote “Thriller”), spent four straight weeks at number one on the pop charts, and is considered to be one of the last hits of the disco era.
Just like its short film, the song “Thriller” itself is a staple of music history. Its bass line is instantly recognizable, the sound effects give it an authentic scary feeling, and Michael’s vocals are amazingly top-notch. And of course, there’s horror film legend Vincent Price’s iconic rap verse and bone-chilling laugh, which were recorded in only two takes. The song became the seventh top-ten hit single from the album, and whether it’s Halloween or not, “Thriller” is and will always be a classic.
“Billie Jean” – Thriller (1982)
Yes, Thriller gets two songs on this list, for obvious reasons. Another of Michael’s signature songs with its own distinctive bass line, “Billie Jean” helped to propel the album to unprecedented success to make it the best-selling album of all time. The single topped charts in the US and around the world, and its short film helped knock down racial barriers on MTV by being the first video by a black singer to be shown in heavy rotation on the channel. Although the identity of “Billie Jean” has been debated, Michael himself said that she was based on countless groupies that he and his brothers used to encounter at shows. However, the song is best known for popularizing his signature dance move, the moonwalk.
The second number one hit single off of the album, “Bad” made it cool to be bad. Especially with the image presented in the accompanying short film, and his repeated lyric of “Who’s bad?” daring critics to refute his superstardom, the song gives Michael an edgier “bad boy” look. And yet even with this image in mind, the song still has a positive message, which Michael expressed in his autobiography Moonwalk as “when you’re strong and good, then you’re bad.”
“Black or White” – Dangerous (1991)
“Black or White” was the first single off of Dangerous and was the quickest song since the Beatles’ “Get Back” to top the Billboard Hot 100, doing so in just 3 weeks and staying at that spot for a total of 7 weeks. The song’s lyrics promote racial harmony and world unity against an easygoing beat, which Michael complements by dancing with various cultures from around the world in the video. The video also features an extended version of the song’s intro with George Wendt, Tess Harper, and Macaulay Culkin, who also performs the rap verse later on.
“HIStory” – HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I (1995)
While “HIStory” didn’t receive as much attention as Michael’s other title tracks (since it wasn’t released as a single from the album), it certainly still is one of his greatest songs. It’s beyond powerful and motivational, with messages such as “Keep flying until you are the king of the hill” and “Everyday create your history.” The song is also contains many historical quotes, including ones from Muhammad Ali, Queen Elizabeth, and Neil Armstrong, and several important dates, such as Jackie Robinson’s birthday and the date of the first shuttle launch. When mixed with Michael’s authoritative vocals, it creates a truly historic song.
Despite the controversy that surrounded his life, Michael Jackson still loved and gave to the world from the bottom of his heart, for which we should be eternally grateful. His legacy is unparalleled. He could move his body like no other, and his voice was beyond pure. He was an amazing father to his three children, was a true friend and voice for the planet, and was an incredibly gifted entertainer and musical genius. And that’s why Michael Jackson was, is, and forever will be the King of Pop.
Long live the King.