Don’t stop til you get enough
Some of the most interesting aspects of Michael Jackson’s long and storied career can be measured in straight numbers. The first four Jackson 5 singles – “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There” – all went to No. 1 on the charts, making them the first artists to achieve such success. Michael performed or produced at least 60 Top 40 singles in his lifetime. His Thriller album had seven Top 10 hits out of nine songs, and follow-up Bad yielded five consecutive chart-topping singles between 1987 and 1988 – two records that have yet to be matched.
But who would quantify such a groundbreaking artist solely on the songs everyone knows? We invite you to take a look at some of Michael Jackson’s most exciting and intriguing moments outside of what you probably already know.
“One Day in Your Life”
When Michael left Motown in the 1970s, his old label wisely timed releases of unreleased songs around Michael’s newer projects. This song, released in 1981, has a hauntingly beautiful performance from Michael, clearly in the middle states of puberty. It went nowhere in America but topped the British charts. Bizarrely, Motown and archive label Hip-O Select began taking orders for a vintage MJ project, Hello World: The Motown Solo Anthology, mere weeks before his passing.
“This Place Hotel”
The Jackson family (minus Jermaine, who was married into the family of Motown head Berry Gordy) departed for Epic Records in the ‘70s, working with soul producers like Gamble and Huff before striking it big on their own with Destiny and Triumph, two tight albums of killer dance cuts. Few critics have placed these records in their proper context; Destiny predated Off the Wall by a year and Triumph was the last thing Michael recorded before Thriller. Both records show that Michael’s ascendancy to pop heights wasn’t just pure luck, as this spooky single from Triumph proves.
The E.T. Storybook
Michael Jackson won a record-setting eight Grammys in 1984. Seven of them were for Thriller, but the eighth was for an extremely rare book-and-record he recorded to tie into the success of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The song he recorded for the set, “Someone in the Dark,” has seen release as of late, but the Jackson’s bizarrely captivating narration of Steven Spielberg’s film has yet to see a digital release.
“Say Say Say”
“The Girl is Mine,” the first single off of Thriller, was the first of several collaborations with Paul McCartney. But it’s clearly the worst track on the album; it’s cheesy enough for Kraft to argue for co-writing credit. Much better is the track that ended up on the ex-Beatle’s 1983 album Pipes of Peace. It’s not a classic by any means, but at least you can dance to this one – always a sign that a Michael Jackson song is successful.
The Jacksons were a musical family, through and through. Michael, Jackie, Jermaine, Tito and Marlon were The Jackson 5, Randy (not that Randy Jackson) would replace Jermaine in The Jacksons and sisters LaToya and Janet would have their own fortunes as solo artists (clearly Janet did better). But the oldest Jackson child, Maureen (nicknamed Rebbie), stayed out of the spotlight for all of the 1970s and had fleeting success in 1983 with this dance track, written and produced by her most talented of younger brothers.
“State of Shock”
Jackson legendarily disliked performing with his brothers once he was an established solo star, but 1984’s Victory had him along for the ride with all of his brothers. Though the subsequent tour was a massive success, the album had only one hit, the rock-tinged “State of Shock,” performed as a duet with Mick Jagger. Even better than the finished version, though, is an unreleased demo performed by Jackson and his co-writer on the song – Freddie Mercury of Queen!
“We Are Here to Change the World”
In 1986, Jackson starred in Captain EO, a 15-minute 3-D film directed by Francis Ford Coppola for Disney’s EPCOT Center theme park. As the titular space explorer, Jackson and an assortment of floppy puppets sought to beat bad guys with the power of music. The King of Pop cut two songs for the attraction; one, “Another Part of Me,” was the sixth single from Bad. The other, “We Are Here to Change the World,” wasted away in obscurity before being dug up for a box set in 2004.
Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker (Arcade/Sega Genesis)
After Thriller, Michael Jackson had big dreams about taking the film world by storm. Outside of the aforementioned Captain EO and never-materialized plans to star as Peter Pan in Steven Spielberg’s Hook, the closest he got was Moonwalker, a hodgepodge of long-form videos that range from appealingly weird (the Claymation chase scored to Bad track “Speed Demon”) to borderline disturbing (the “Bad” clip re-enacted with children). Even more forgotten than Moonwalker is the video game it inspired, where Michael has to save children by turning into a robot and, ultimately, beating the tar out of Joe Pesci. (I wish I was making this up.)
“Do the Bartman”
How fitting it was that Jackson, the perpetual child that he was, counted eternal 10-year-old Bart Simpson as one of his favorite characters? He went as far as to co-write this acceptable dance tune that became a cult hit in the 1990s. Fun fact for Simpsons geeks: Jackson was only credited on the song as John Jay Smith – the same pseudonym he’d use for a guest appearance as a burly psych-ward inmate who thinks he’s Michael Jackson.
“I’ll Be There 1991”
Pepsi sponsored Michael Jackson’s endeavors during three world tours, and he dutifully shot commercials for the cola makers in return. Although most of the ads had him singing silly Pepsi-centered rewrites of “Billie Jean” or “Bad,” this subtle clip has Jackson turning back to an early Jackson 5 hit, with the help of an icon from his past. If there was an ad that could move you to tears, this might be it.
“Stranger in Moscow”
It’s easy to argue that Michael Jackson stopped setting trends and started following them in the 1990s, working with the hottest producers from Teddy Riley to R. Kelly. But this track, a mournful ballad from 1995’s mostly-forgotten HIStory, shows Jackson hurt, angry and confused over the legal issues that began dogging him a few years prior. Most pop stars don’t give us such a clear look into their feelings, but Michael did here, if only for a minute.