Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Top Five Songs Written By Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson has garnered heaps of well-deserved praise for his gifts as a singer, performer and dancer over the years. But his songwriting abilities are frequently underrated or completely overlooked. I've run into many otherwise musically knowledgeable people who didn't even know he had written and composed many of his best and most iconic tracks. They were under the impression that all of his songs were written by others.

The pop/soul superstar was more than just a song-and-dance man or producer's puppet but an extremely creative artist who played a integral part in the creation of his own sound and musical direction. So with that in mind, I decided to put together a list of what I think are the top five songs MJ wrote and composed.

1) Billie Jean - This song is epic in every way. I can say without hesitation that "Billie Jean" is one of the greatest pop songs ever recorded, from its pulsating bass/drum intro to MJ's anguished vocals to the haunting string and synth flourishes. And let's not forgot the incredible chorus. He's touched on similar themes of paranoia, betrayal and fear on other tracks but never more brilliantly than on "Billie Jean."

2) Beat It - Rock, pop and R&B wrapped into one exhilarating package. "Beat It" boasts a monster riff that any rocker would be proud to call his or her own, and MJ bites into every verse with a sense of urgency and clenched anger. And the icing on the cake is Eddie Van Halen's face-melting guitar solo.

3) Stranger In Moscow - MJ's voice aches with sadness on this beautiful, atmospheric meditation on loneliness and isolation. The song is magnificently arranged with gorgeous harmonies and delicate synth lines--a criminally underrated gem.

4) Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough - I like how the intro is just MJ speaking softly over a hypnotic synth bass line and slight percussion, and then suddenly, the track explodes into this amazing whirlwind groove. From the soaring string parts to the percolating guitar and keyboard riffs to MJ's soul-stirring falsetto, this cut is pure sonic joy.

5) Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' - This was the perfect track to kick off side one of Thriller. The propulsive bass line drives this gargantuan groove, and MJ delivers his verses in funky rapid-fire succession. The song is a rhythmic masterpiece, full of tight brass jolts, infectious keyboard lines and hyper-kinetic guitar riffs. It reaches its climax on the African tribal chant, which is heightened by the multi-overdubs of MJ chanting "mama-say-mama-sa-mama-coosa!"

Other great MJ-penned songs that just missed making the cut:
  • Smooth Criminal
  • Streetwalker
  • Bad
  • Working Day and Night
  • Dirty Diana
  • This Place Hotel
  • Leave Me Alone
  • The Way You Make Me Feel
  • Who Is It

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