By Jonathan Hatchman
Not dissimilar to the assassination of JFK, it seems that everyone can recall exactly where they were when Michael Jackson was pronounced dead on June 25th 2009. Regardless of personal preferences and stances towards his music, there can be no denying that Jackson was, indeed, one of the most famous and iconic musicians to ever grace our planet. Dying tragically at the young age of just 51, it seems unbelievable that five years have passed. So tying in with the anniversary of his death, here’s a selection of ten brilliant, grossly underrated Michael Jackson songs. Of course, ‘Thriller’, ‘Bad’ and ‘Billie Jean’ are incredible pop hits, but here’s an alternative guide to the King of Pop’s outstanding back-catalogue.
I Wanna Be Where You Are – (Got To Be There 1972)
At the tender age of 13, the extremely talented young Michael Jackson released his third solo single ‘I Wanna Be Where You Are’, shining a radiant spotlight upon the artist’s remarkable singing voice and having been covered by a huge quantity of musicians ever since, including versions by Marvin Gaye, The Fugees, Beyonce Knowles and more.
Girlfriend (Off The Wall – 1979)
Released in 1979, Michael Jackson’s fifth studio album ‘Off The Wall’ was accompanied by four single releases, including classics such as ‘Rock With You’ and ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’, but the album’s final release – ‘Girlfriend’ was the only song that didn’t chart with a top ten position in the UK singles chart, or at all in America. Written by Paul McCartney the track is the first joint effort between the two legendary artists, they later teamed up for ‘The Girl Is Mine’ which featured on Jackson’s following album ‘Thriller’, as well as ‘Say, Say, Say’ and ‘The Man’, both featuring on McCartney’s ‘Pipes Of Peace’.
P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) – (Thriller 1982)
The penultimate single from the musician’s widely acclaimed ‘Thriller’, ‘P.Y.T.’ is one of Jackson’s fastest songs, upholding a funky disco edge with a bombastic bass line and wonderfully delivered vocals. Another flawless pop hit from Michael Jackson’s golden era..
Human Nature – (Thriller 1982)
Released in 1983, albeit not in the UK, ‘Human Nature’ wasn’t quite as successful as previous ‘Thriller’ releases ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Beat It’, yet the song is, arguably, one of the album’s finest slices of gentle, harmonic “soft rock” blissfulness.
Say Say Say – (Pipes Of Peace 1983)
Following Paul McCartney’s input on ‘The Girl Is Mine’ on Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ – released the previous year – the artist joined forces with the former Beatle for ‘Say Say Say’, an infectious pop hit that features percussion, guitars, bass and synthesisers all played by McCartney, while most of the track’s lyrics were written by Jackson.
Just Good Friends – (Bad 1987)
One of the only two songs from the ‘Bad’ album not to be released as a single was a duet with none other than Stevie Wonder. Having performed the severely underrated song together just once, in 1987, the track is perhaps one of Jackson’s finest duets of his career, with a near-perfect combination of his trademark high tenor vocal style with Wonder’s remarkably soulful croons and classic organ solo.
Leave Me Alone – (Bad 1987)
Written by Jackson and released in February 1989, ‘Leave Me Alone’ is a, ultimately, a musical message to the World’s tabloid media sources pursuing the artist’s gradual distancing from reality. Conveying a dominating funky piano and guitar line composition, ‘Leave Me Alone’ is, most certainly, one of ‘Bad”s most underrated single releases.
Give In To Me – (Dangerous 1991)
Just one of the single releases from 1991’s ‘Dangerous’, ‘Give In To Me’, often described as Jackson’s finest attempt at performing a hard-rock ballad, features Guns N’ Roses’ Slash for the track’s guitar duties. Having already teamed up with the likes of Eddie Van Halen (‘Beat It’) and Steve Stevens (‘Dirty Diana’) earlier in his recording career, this time delivering an intense, throaty vocal snare that’s taken over by an incredible, anthemic guitar solo.
Stranger In Moscow – (HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I 1995)
Come 1993, Jackson’s recording career was, arguably, over. With his reputation absolutely destroyed by a swarm of child sex accusations, of which he was later cleared of, although – sadly – the damage had already been done. Still, a handful of incredible recordings followed but were nowhere near as commercially successful as his four classic albums – ‘Off The Wall’, ‘Thriller’, ‘Bad’ and ‘Dangerous’. One of those great recordings was ‘Stranger In Moscow’, released in 1996, originally intended as a poem, the track is an astonishingly beautiful, slowed down R&B ballad and an staggering return to form.
Cheater – (The Ultimate Collection 2004)
Originally scheduled to appear upon 1987’s ‘Bad’ album, ‘Cheater’ is a funk-filled number that comprises one of the artist’s deadly infectious choruses, although for some reason or other Jackson wasn’t entirely impressed with the final recording, thus missing the cut for the album’s track listing, appearing 17 years later upon his ‘The Ultimate Collection’ album.