Michael Jackson’s Musical Legacy: My 10 Favorite MJ Songs

UPDATE: This was written three years ago upon hearing about Michael Jackson’s untimely death. Since today is the anniversary of his death, I thought I republish this post. It feels like ages ago but yesterday all at the same time. Luckily we’ll have his music with us forever to remind us how much of a musical genius he really was before the eccentric behavior started to occur.

I, like the majority of you out there, am in complete shock hearing the news about Michael Jackson. Even as I type this, I’m in a state of denial and can’t actually believe all the media reports. No matter how much of a punch line Michael Jackson has become the past few years, he will always be that phenomenal performer we all grew up listening to. Michael Jackson was a musical genius and no one will ever come close to his “King of Pop” moniker. Period. Rather than focus on his scandals, silly antics or his plastic surgery, I’m going to focus on his musical legacy. I will never forget my awe when I first saw him do the moonwalk during the Motown 25 television special. What looks silly now, was truly magical to the millions of people watching TV that evening. I’ve decided to list my ten favorite Michael Jackson songs of all time. Though Michael Jackson passed way today at 50 years old, his music will live on.

michael-jackson-thriller12. Thriller – Album: Thriller – Released 1984
Okay so I lied. I couldn’t narrow it down to just ten songs. What has become a Halloween anthem of sorts, this epic video with Vincent Price’s narrative is eerily awesome. Like many of his releases, Michael Jackson’s videos often outshined the songs themselves. This one being the best example of that. The dance routine in this video has been replicated many times from movies like “13 Going On 30” to a viral video created by a bunch of prison cellmates in the Philippines.

michael-jackson-smooth-criminal11. Smooth Criminal – Album: Bad – Released 1988
This single took a bit for me to warm up to, but after seeing the video and the dance move where MJ and his dancers leaned to one side in unison was epic. Best part of the song is when he chants “Annie Are You Okay, Annie Are You Okay”. lol. Proving his music can stand the test of time, Alien Ant Farm did a wicked cover of this song in 2001. Make sure you google the video. They pay homage to all of Michael’s signature moves and iconic imagery.
michael-jackson-remember-the-time10. Remember the Time – Album: Dangerous – Released 1992
I remember the biggest gripe I used to have when this song came out was the ridiculous arguments my friends would have with each other about how the video and the lyrics weren’t cohesive. See, the video took place in Egyptian times with Eddie Murphy and Iman as the ruling couple while a lyric in the song stated something about calling Iman on the phone. My idiotic friends would argue that phones didn’t exist during ancient times… Um DUH.. This is why I no longer hang with them. lol. Anyway, Love the song. Love the video. Enjoy.
michael-jackson-screamjpg9. Scream – Album: HIStory – Released 1995
Admittedly, not his best song by a mile but it’s his only duet with his sister, Janet whom I have loved since she starred as Penny in Good Times. Wow, I’m totally dating myself now. At the time, this video made big news because it cost over one million dollars to produce- the largest budget ever for a video at that point. I love how Janet played the ugly sister while Michael played the “pretty one” in the video.
michael-jackson-shes-out-of-my-life8. She’s Out Of My Life – Album: Off The Wall – Released 1980
Anyone who knows me knows that I love me my ballads. Brian always teases me that I am obsessed with Adult Contemporary radio stations when we do road trips. What can I say, I love to sing in the car and pretend I am good. Out of all his ballads, I had a hard time deciding which ballad I would include in this list. In the end, “She’s Out of My Life” beat out “Ben” which BTW was a love song to a rat. Creepy.
michael-jackson-man-mirror7. Man In The Mirror – Album: Bad – Released 1988
After achieving superstar status, Michael began to write socially conscious songs such as “We Are The World”, “Black or White” and “Man in the Mirror”. The latter is my favorite with it’s mid-tempo beat filled with poignant lyrics. The video shows clips of historic world events escalating in their violence to a nuclear explosion. The video end with a call out for world peace. Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality would be proud. During American Idol 7, Kris Allen did a rendition during the semifinal rounds which propelled him into the finals. The rest is history.
michael-jackson-i-cant-stop-loving-you6. I Just Can’t Stop Loving You – Album: Bad – Released 1987
By now you know that I love my ballads. But what I love more than ballads are ballad duets. I love singing duets by myself and and changing my voice to mimic the person singing. Yah, I know I’m a big ol NERD. When this song first got released, people couldn’t tell if it actually was a duet since Siedah Garrett and Jackson had such similar voices. I searched high and low for a video but the best I could come up with was live performance in Bucharest.
michael-jackson-way-you-make-me-feel5. The Way You Make Me Feel – Album: Bad – Released 1988
In hindsight, the video is actually quite creepy. Premise: This odd looking jerry-curled man follows you down the dark streets until you go out on a date with him. Done before restraining orders were the norm, MJ screams, gyrates, and hops on cars til model Tatiana Thumbtzen gives him a kiss. All joking aside, this third single from the Bad album was his best from this album. During Michael’s 30th anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden, Miss Britney Spears joined him on stage for a surprise duet.
michael-jackson-billie-jean4. Billie Jean – Album: Thriller – Released 1983
During music class in elementary school, our teacher- Mr. Heinz- would let us sing a pop song at the end of every class if time permitted. I’ll never forget the time he let us sing this song for the first time and listened to the lyrics. Once he learned what the song was about, he immediately stopped the music, grabbed the film from the overhead projector and ripped up the sheet in front of us and began a sex-education lesson. lol. Priceless. PS. Show of hands of those who wished the sidewalk would glow as you stepped on the blocks. Sigh. Too bad life wasn’t a music video.
michael-jackson-girl-is-mine3. The Girl Is Mine – Album: Thriller – Released 1982
Paul McCartney and Michael collaborated twice to record two great singles. “Say, Say, Say” and “The Girl is Mine”. Realistically though, “The Girl is Mine” should’ve been renamed to “The Songs are Mine” since the duo had a big documented public battle of the Beatles song book which MJ bought at an auction. If I’m not mistaken, the two never were the same after this feud which was a shame since they made a great duo.
michael-jackson-rock-with-you2. Rock With You – Album: Off The Wall – Released 1980
Picture It. Tacky flashing green lights. An even tackier glittered shirt-pant outfit. Sounds delicious, doesnt’ it? This video is complete camp but despite that the song is pure gold. It’s one of those songs when you hear it you immediately get into a good mood and want to hit the wedding reception dance floor. Michael was so cute back then.
michael-jackson-pyt1. P.Y.T. – Album: Thriller – Released 1983
P.Y.T. = HANDS DOWN. BEST. MICHAEL. JACKSON. SONG. EVER. Literally, the song has been on repeat while I’ve been writing this article. Michael Jackson you will be missed. xoxo Donovan

I forgot to mention that I was fortunate enough to watch Michael in person during his Victory Tour in 1984 at BC Place. How cool were my parents that they took my bro and myself to watch Michael and his brothers perform?. We even had floor seats. What’s your favorite Michael Jackson song, video or memory?

  • Awesome list Donovan. What a sad, sad loss for music & dance today. As weird and crazy as MJ has been in the last years, there is absolutely nobody like him and nobody has impacted the music of today like him. He will be sorely missed. Sad, sad, sad.

  • Dan

    I’m so happy you took this approach and focused on his music Donovan. I listened to his music all night last night and it hit me just how revolutionary his work truly was.

  • Don

    great list Donovan, I’m with you on your top 5. Say Say Say and Human Nature would be in my top 10.

    I think Thriller was the first album I ever owned, and P.Y.T. was played more than any other song on the album. MJ’s music has always had a place in my life, yesterday was a sad day.

  • MikeB

    I’ll never forget my childhood friend and I and the excitement that night back in 1982 (we were 11) and the silence that ensued as we watched…gazed………were entranced by that 14 minutes!

    It was one of the BEST things we ever saw and talked about and watched over and over again.

    I’ll miss MJ, the one I remember is pop superstar of the 70s and 80s.
    I can forget the last 15 or so years, it really had no impact on my life.

  • MikeB

    I am talking about the Thriller Video.
    That’s me, always leaving stuff out.

  • a_h07

    mj alrready died,,may allah blless u mikael..

  • Shiraz

    You are a Music Moron , you have no skills

    Correct Ranking
    #1 Thriller
    #2 Billie Jean
    #3 The way you make me feel
    #4 Beat it
    #5 BAD (And Smooth Criminal)
    #6 Dirty Diana
    #7 Who is it ?
    #8 They don’t really care about us
    #9 Black or White
    #10 You wana be starting something
    #11 Heal the world
    #12 don’t really care about us(With full un cencored lyrics)
    #13 Thriller Encore
    #14 Billy Jeans Ecore
    #15 Stranger in Moscow

  • For the casual fan, I think buying a compilation album is good enough since they already cover most of his chart topping hits. Michael Jackson has had several greatest hits albums made throughout the years.

  • karma

    Hmm, Stranger in Moscow would go to the top 5 in my list. Man in the mirror too!
    thanks for this though, was a nice read.

  • Michael Jackson Tips

    Michael Jackson’s Birthday Tribute! All his Best Videos in HD! http://su.pr/1g3fGG

  • Mai



    You are not alone

    Stranger in Moscow

    I’ll be there

    Who is it

    Ghosts ( the whole film ^_^)

    Man in the mirror

    Remember the time

  • Alicia

    hmm not sure i agree with you about your number 1 choice – i do like PYT but it’s definitely not my favourite. I prefer Will You Be There, which is not very well known unfortunately. If you haven’t heard it yet, i am asking you nicely to LISTEN TO IT NOW!!!! lol

  • rissa

    well,its the sad truth. PYT is my alltime favorite MJ song.i wasnt lucky enough to see him live concert.hes so cool. and cute

  • Thriller is the one that is in my memories. When it came in market, I was school student.I bought bought this video from my pocket money and it is still in my collection.

  • JacksonsMike

    I’d put D.S and Tabloid Junkie up there somewhere! 1 and 2.

  • Listened to his music yesterday…still gets me!

  • BritneyLover

    Surprisingly ‘Stranger in Moscow” has taken the top spot for my fav MJ song… it’s beautiful, it’s haunting, and represented his misunderstood side wonderfully at the time of its release. The video very fitting, too…it gives me chills.