It’s been four years since the King of Pop passed away. If you’ve been reading us for awhile, you know how big of an influence that Michael Jackson is on this website. The Popblerd crew wanted to put some of our favorite MJ jams together and describe why we enjoy them so much.
Man In The Mirror
Wow … it’s already been four years since the King of Pop passed away? It’s one of those deaths that you’ll always remember where you are were when you heard the news break. I was with my 4-year-old son at a Seattle Mariners game – nice seats we scored from work. I heard a lady say that so-and-so passed away, at first eavesdropping I thought she said Magic Johnson (which would’ve been a HUGE shock as well), so I tapped her on the shoulder and asked, “Come again?!” When she told me it was Michael I was just in as big a shock. When we left the game I thanked her for ruining my day.
My mom grew up a big MJ fan so Michael’s music was prevalent in the Johnson household, and I’m proud to say that my now 8-year-old can quickly shout out “Michael Jackson” when he hears the distinctive voice of one of the greatest artists ever.
We’re supposed to choose our favorite? There are so many jams that get me up and out of my chair – anywhere – that it’s hard to choose. However, there’s one song that gets me singing out loud, and as I’ve gotten older and realized life is more than just about ourselves, it’s became a theme song for the community and charity work that I love being a part of. My pick, “Man in the Mirror”. Shamone!
These days, I tend to gravitate to” Man in the Mirror.” Although MJ had no hand in its initial composition, it so perfectly matches his worldview. The song acknowledges the proliferation of pain and injustice in the world, but argues that ultimately, we’re all complicit unless we contribute to a solution, in ways both small And large. Musically, the song has one of the most incredible builds, growing in intensity with each turn of the chorus. Though the words are not his own, MJ’s vocals are dripping with emotive sincerity, the urgency in his delivery paralleling the song’s gradual build. It was one of the first songs to have sparked my own social consciousness as a kid, and it continues to prompt reflection today.
Rock With You
So hard to name one track, but if pressed to do so, I’d go with “Rock with You.” It’s got a classic sound, and like the best of Michael Jackson’s catalog, it’s damned near impossible to sit still when it’s playing. Justin Timberlake at his peak could never touch a groove like that. If I get a second choice, it’s “Who’s Loving You,” from back when MJ was with the Jackson 5. Damn, is that an awesome, soulful vocal performance.
These days, a remix is more often than not an excuse to throw a heavier beat on an already upbeat track with an occasional dubstep breakdown or siren blaring, rendering a playlist no more than a high-energy version of Muzak. When a remix stands out, it is either for an absolutely amazing re-do of an existing track (think Toni Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart” in the mid-90s) or for an amplification of an already brilliant upbeat song. Michael Jackson’s “Rock with You” was already a pop song of epic proportions when Frankie Knuckles got his hands on the original vocal tracks in 1996, but the combination of Michael and Frankie on vinyl is much greater than the sum of its parts. From the minimal piano intro laying bare Jackson’s pleading vocal to the swelling strings lifting the track into the stratosphere, “Rock with You” becomes a tribute both to the timeless nature of MJ’s voice as well as to the genius of Frankie Knuckles in honoring a song’s spirit while transforming it into a House anthem. Frankie’s Favorite Club Mix of “Rock with You” represents the way I remember Michael: full of life, love and soul.
Whenever I think of MJ, I think of being kid, hearing that funky horn break in Danicng Machine and doing the robot, it’s an automatic, systematic response.
Recently – and perfectly timed, I guess, with the sad anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death – I was reminded of how amazing “DANCING MACHINE” by the Jackson 5 is. This track still holds up. I always thought this track was from later-period Jacksons. Its actually from 1974! This is a JAM – give it a listen: pure funk, dig those back-up vocals, that percolating bass line…and Michael sounding older than his years. “Automatic, systematic…” he starts out, with an insistence and urgency. There’s three songs in one here – the funk in the verses, that chorus, the Temptations/Four Tops-inspired “shhh-bop, shh-bop”…that horn breakdown. “Dancing, Dancing, Dancing…she’s a dancing machine…” There’s a LOT going on here, and a LOT to remind anyone how influential MJ and his brothers were.
Will You Be There
I’ll say “Will You Be There”, to champion an underrated one (since people generally associate it dismissively with Free Willy). A stirring, epic gospel symphony that’s also in the tradition of the best Michael Jackson songs: melodic, toe-tapping, gorgeously produced, and performed to the impassioned hilt by Jackson himself.
(Via Mike B.)
She’s Out Of My Life
As a sucker for a good ballad, I’d go with “She’s Out Of My Life”. Beautiful melody, an emotional, vulnerable vocal performance, everything is there to make this a classic ballad. It’s still my favorite MJ song to this day.
(Via Mike A.)
Asking me what my favorite Michael Jackson song is not quite like asking me which of my sons is my favorite, but it’s a very hard choice to make. Rather than go with “Billie Jean”, “Never Can Say Goodbye”, or “Maybe Tomorrow”, I’m going with a song that is one of his last great songs. It’s a song with Carlos Santana and would’ve been a hit if Sony got off their ass and marketed Invincible, like at all.
Give In To Me
I’ll admit it: I didn’t follow MJ very closely post-Thriller, but the one track that always stood out was “Give In to Me,” from Dangerous. A final, Slash-infused dose of 80s-style hard rock (Nevermind would symbolically knock Dangerous out of the #1 spot), this track has a menacing atmosphere, ass-kicking guitar work by the aforementioned G&R axeman and a nearly unhinged vocal by Michael. Most rock-oriented radio stations overlook this track, and it’s a damn shame they do.