Top 20 Michael Jackson Songs

Michael Jackson
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01
of 20

"Got To Be There" (1971)

Michael Jackson - Ben
Courtesy Tamla Motown

The Jackson 5 had released four consecutive #1 charting pop singles followed by two top 2 smash hits in a two-year period of time when 13-year-old Michael Jackson released his debut solo single. "Got To Be There" continued the hit streak by climbing to #4 on the pop charts in the US and #5 in the UK. Chaka Khan later had a top 5 R&B hit covering the song in the 1980s. "Got To Be There" became the title song for Michael Jackson's debut album. The album also included the hit single "Rockin' Robin" as well as covers of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" and Carole King's "You've Got a Friend."​​ "Got To Be There" is the best-known song written by Elliot Willensky who also served as the music coordinator for Tony Orlando and Dawn's 1970s TV variety show.

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02
of 20

"Rockin' Robin" (1972)

Michael Jackson - Rockin' Robin
Courtesy Tamla Motown

For an encore, Michael Jackson released his cover version of "Rockin' Robin" as a single just four months after "Got To Be There." The song had first hit the charts in 1958 in a version by rock and roll singer Bobby Day. Michael Jackson took the song all the way to #2 and it helped firmly establish Michael Jackson's credentials as a solo star beyond his work with his brothers in the Jackson 5. "Rockin' Robin" has been covered by many other artists. It is the only cover of an earlier hit included in the list of Michael Jackson's top 20 pop hits.

"Rockin' Robin" was written by Leon Rene under the pseudonym Jimmie Thomas. He is also well-known for the pop standard "When the Swallows Come Back To Capistrano." Leon Rene founded the Class Records label which released Bobby Day's hit version of "Rockin' Robin."

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03
of 20

"Ben" (1972)

Michael Jackson - Ben
Courtesy Tamla Motown

"Ben," the title song from the film of the same name, was originally intended for Donny Osmond. However, when he was unavailable, it was offered to Michael Jackson. The song from a horror movie about a rat became Michael Jackson's first #1 pop hit. It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song, and Michael Jackson performed it live at the ceremonies. "Ben" lost its Academy Award bid to "The Morning After" from The Poseidon Adventure, but it won the Golden Globe Award for Best Song. When "Ben" hit #1, Michael Jackson, at age 14, became the third youngest artist ever to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Only Stevie Wonder and Donny Osmond were younger. "Ben" is performed in the movie by child actor Lee Montgomery. The Michael Jackson version is played over the closing credits.

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04
of 20

"Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" (1979)

Michael Jackson - Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'
Courtesy Epic

Heading into the recording of his album Off the Wall, young adult Michael Jackson was given strong creative control over his work. He collaborated with producer Quincy Jones to craft this blend of R&B and dance beats that went all the way to #1 on the pop singles chart. Coming in at a length of over six minutes, it was longer than most contemporary hit songs. It was accompanied by Michael Jackson's first official music video as a solo artist. Michael Jackson won his first solo Grammy Award when "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" won Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. Musically, the song is a bridge between disco and the R&B sound of the 80s.

This song introduced Jackson's vocal hiccups that would soon become a trademark of his sound. In concert, he often blended "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" with other songs. The technique included singing lyric lines to the background of the Jackson Five's "Shake Your Body Down to the Ground" and combining it in a medley with other songs from the Off the Wall album.

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05
of 20

"Rock With You" (1979)

Michael Jackson - Rock With You
Courtesy Epic

"Rock With You" was written by Rod Temperton, formerly of the R&B group Heatwave. It became Michael Jackson's second consecutive #1 pop hit single from his album Off the Wall. The song was a midtempo soul and disco hit. It also topped the R&B singles chart as well as going to #7 in the UK. Spending four weeks at the top, "Rock With You" is considered by many to be one of the last major disco hits. The writing and production team of Rod Temperton and Quincy Jones worked together on three songs on Michael Jackson's next album Thriller.

"Rock With You" was the second consecutive #1 hit single from the album Off the Wall. The album firmly established Jackson as an adult recording artist. He also became a leader in developing the future sound of R&B music.

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06
of 20

"The Girl Is Mine" with Paul McCartney (1982)

Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney - The Girl Is Mine
Courtesy Epic

Michael Jackson has said that working on "The Girl Is Mine" with Paul McCartney was one of his favorite studio experiences. However, many critics gave the song mixed reviews. Jackson wrote the song in response to Quincy Jones' suggestion that he write a song about two men fighting over a girl. He woke up in the middle of the night with the idea and sang everything into a tape recorder including the instrumental arrangement. It was released as the first single from the ​Thriller album project. It peaked at #2 on the US pop singles chart and sold over a million copies. "The Girl Is Mine" was subject to two plagiarism lawsuits in 1984 and 1993. Michael Jackson won both cases. 

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07
of 20

"Billie Jean" (1983)

Michael Jackson - Billie Jean
Courtesy Epic

"Billie Jean" is the second single released from the Thriller album and the first #1 hit. It stayed at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks. It stayed even longer at the top of the R&B chart lasting nine weeks. Michael Jackson said the song is about the groupies encountered by himself and his brothers when touring as the Jacksons. It received almost universally positive critical reviews and won two Grammy Awards including Best R&B Song.

In the recording and production of "Billie Jean," Jackson and producer Quincy Jones had multiple disagreements, but the singer won out on most of them in the end. Quincy Jones wanted to call the song "Not My Lover" to avoid confusion with tennis star Billie Jean King. He also wanted to cut the intro to the song, but Michael Jackson insisted that was the part of the song that made him want to dance.

The music video is a landmark. It became one of the first clips by a black artist to receive extensive play on MTV. Jackson introduced his famous "moonwalk" dance when performing "Billie Jean" live at the taping of the Motown 25 TV special in 1983. In the wake of Michael Jackson's death, "Billie Jean" returned to #4 on the pop singles chart.

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08
of 20

"Beat It" (1983)

Michael Jackson - Beat It
Courtesy Epic

"Beat It" was the most rock-oriented of Michael Jackson's singles up to the time. It included a blistering guitar solo from Eddie Van Halen, member of the rock group Van Halen. The accompanying music video is one of the most acclaimed of all time. "Beat It" won a Grammy Award for Record of the Year and went to #1 on the pop singles chart. It went to #1 in a number of other countries around the world. Michael Jackson also won the Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal, a rare occurrence for a black singer. The music video including dancing gang members is one of the top music videos of all time. Along with "Billie Jean," it tore down color barriers at MTV.

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09
of 20

"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" (1983)

Michael Jackson - Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'
Courtesy Epic

"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" is arguably the song from Michael Jackson's Thriller that sounds most like his music from the preceding album Off the Wall. He borrowed the line "Mama-say Mama-sa Mama-koo-sa" from Manu Dibango's proto-disco classic "Soul Makossa." Makoosa is a music style that originated in the central African nation Cameroon. Manu Dibango sued Jackson and ultimately settled out of court and waived future rights to this song, but not rights to the use of "Soul Makossa" in future recordings.

Released as the fourth single from Thriller, the song went all the way to #5 on the US pop chart and #5 on the R&B chart. "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" was originally written to be recorded by Michael Jackson's sister La Toya. 

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10
of 20

"Say Say Say" with Paul McCartney (1983)

Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney - Say Say Say
Courtesy Columbia

After Paul McCartney helped contribute the hit single "The Girl Is Mine" to Michael Jackson's album Thriller, Michael Jackson returned the favor by working on "Say Say Say" for Paul McCartney's Pipes of Peace. It was an instant success and was promoted by a music video directed by Bob Giraldi who had worked on the "Beat It" clip. "Say Say Say" was a #1 hit in the US and a #2 success in the UK. It became Michael Jackson's seventh top ten hit during the 1983 calendar year. "Say Say Say" was originally recorded during the sessions that led to Paul McCartney's 1982 Tug of War album, but it was not released until 1983. The recording was produced by George Martin, the legendary British producer who worked with the Beatles throughout their career.

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11
of 20

"Thriller" (1983)

Michael Jackson - Thriller
Courtesy Epic

The song "Thriller" was written by Rod Temperton who wrote Michael Jackson's #1 pop hit "Rock With You." It is best known for the short film music video directed by John Landis, who was well-known at the time for his work on the hit movie An American Werewolf In London. The song includes a spoken word segment from veteran horror film actor Vincent Price and features classic horror movie sound effects like creaking doors, howling dogs, and thunder. "Thriller" became the seventh top 10 pop hit from the album Thriller and went to #1 on the dance club chart. In 2009, the "Thriller" music video was added to the National Film Registry.

The song "Thriller" was originally called "Starlight." According to Rod Temperton, Quincy Jones said, "You managed to come up with a title for the last album, see what you can do for this album." He wrote down two or three hundred possible titles and settled on "Midnight Man." That was when the one word "thriller" entered his mind and wouldn't let go.

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12
of 20

"I Just Can't Stop Loving You" (1987)

Michael Jackson - I Just Can't Stop Loving You
Courtesy Epic

"I Just Can't Stop Loving You" is a Michael Jackson duet with rising R&B singer Siedah Garrett that became the first single from his album Bad. Siedah Garrett co-wrote "Man In the Mirror," another #1 Michael Jackson hit from the Bad album. Reportedly Barbra Streisand and Whitney Houston were first choices as duet partners for the song, but they turned it down. It went to #1 on the pop singles chart and kicked off a string of five chart-topping hits from the Bad album. "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" became only the second Michael Jackson song to hit #1 on the adult contemporary chart.

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13
of 20

"Bad" (1987)

Michael Jackson - Bad
Courtesy Epic

Michael Jackson's "Bad" presented him as an edgier artist than in the past. Celebrated film director Martin Scorsese worked on the accompanying music video. The clip also featured a young Wesley Snipes. The plot and dance sequences were heavily influenced by the song "Cool" from legendary musical West Side Story. "Bad" was a #1 pop hit single, and it also went to the top of the dance club chart and the UK pop singles chart. Reportedly, early planning for "Bad" considered having the song be a duet between Michael Jackson and Prince. A new remix of 'Bad" reached the top 20 on the dance chart in 2012.

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14
of 20

"The Way You Make Me Feel" (1987)

Michael Jackson - The Way You Make Me Feel
Courtesy Epic

Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel" rolls along to a congenial shuffling beat. It continued the hot streak of #1 hits from Bad. It was also a top 10 pop hit in most major pop markets around the world going to #1 on the R&B and Dance Club charts in the US as well. It even crossed over to the top 10 on the adult contemporary chart.

Michael Nesmith of the Monkees produced the music video for "The Way You Make Me Feel." The full version of the video is nine and a half minutes long. "The Way You Make Me Feel" was intended to show a flirtatious side to Jackson's personality after "Bad" presented the edgy streetwise elements and "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" showcased the lover. Michael Jackson's sister La Toya appears in the music video as a friend of the girl he wants to meet.

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15
of 20

"Man in the Mirror" (1988)

Michael Jackson - Man In the Mirror
Courtesy Epic

Unlike many of Michael Jackson's biggest hits of the period, "Man In the Mirror" was not written by him. It was co-written by Siedah Garrett, his duet partner on "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," and Glen Ballard, best known for his work with Alanis Morissette. Gospel artists The Winans and the Andrae Crouch Choir are included among the backup vocalists. "Man In the Mirror" received a Grammy Award nomination for Record of the Year. It is one of the most inspirational songs in Michael Jackson's catalog. Michael Jackson does not appear in the accompanying music video. Instead, it compiles a montage of major news events of the last half of the 20th century. "Man In the Mirror" hit #1 on pop and R&B charts and climbed to #2 on the adult contemporary chart.

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16
of 20

"Dirty Diana" (1988)

Michael Jackson - Dirty Diana
Courtesy Epic

"Dirty Diana" returned Michael Jackson to the heavier rock sound of "Beat It." The guitar solos are by Steve Stevens, best known for his work as Billy Idol's guitarist. Early suggestions were made that the song was either about Diana Ross or Princess Diana, but Jackson later confirmed that like "Billie Jean," "Dirty Diana" is a song about groupies. It received mixed reviews from critics but became the fifth consecutive #1 pop hit from the Bad album. The song's performance on the R&B chart was weaker, only climbing to #8. It was also a top 5 hit on the UK pop singles chart.

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17
of 20

"Black Or White" (1991)

Michael Jackson - Black or White
Courtesy Epic

"Black Or White" was the first single from Michael Jackson's album Dangerous, and it was released with tremendous fanfare. The song was co-written by Michael Jackson and Bill Bottrell, who later co-wrote Sheryl Crow's Grammy-winning breakthrough single "All I Wanna Do." John Landis directed the music video with guest stars Macaulay Culkin, Tess Harper, and George Wendt. It was given a worldwide simultaneous premiere to an estimated TV audience of 500 million. The music video generated controversy for sexually suggestive material in the latter part of the clip. The song was a #1 smash hit around the world and hit #1 in the US after just three weeks of release. It had the quickest trip to #1 since the Beatle's "Get Back" in 1969. "Black Or White" earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal.

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18
of 20

"Remember the Time" (1992)

Michael Jackson - Remember the Time
Courtesy Epic

Michael Jackson's "Remember the Time" incorporated elements of the then-popular new jack swing style. It was co-written and co-produced by Teddy Riley, a key architect of the style. "Remember the Time" went to #3 on pop singles charts in both the US and the UK. It also topped the R&B chart and went to #2 on the dance chart. It was the second hit single from the album Dangerous. Michael Jackson dedicated "Remember the Time" to Diana Ross. 

The music video was directed by film director John Singleton, Academy Award-nominated for Boyz n the Hood. It was an expensive production and included guest appearances by comedian Eddie Murphy and basketball legend Magic Johnson among others. It also featured Michael Jackson's first on-screen kiss.

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19
of 20

"Scream" with Janet Jackson (1995)

Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson - Scream
Courtesy Epic

In 1995 Michael Jackson and his sister Janet Jackson put together their musical response to tabloid journalism with the bracing single "Scream." The song was the first recorded collaboration by the pair since Janet Jackson provided backing vocals for her brother's 1982 hit "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Things)" from Thriller. "Scream" was accompanied by one of the most critically acclaimed and expensive music videos of all time. Mark Romanek directed the clip and it earned 11 MTV Video Music Award nominations. It won the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video. The song itself peaked at #5 on the pop singles chart and topped the dance club chart. "Scream" was released as the lead single for Michael Jackson's compilation album HIStory: Past, Present, and Future Book 1. "Scream" earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals. The album earned a nomination for Album of the Year.

"Scream" was written and recorded after never proven allegations of child sexual abuse on the part of Michael Jackson, and his subsequent decline in health. When Janet Jackson expressed an interest in working on the project, she brought her frequent collaborators, songwriters and producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, along.

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20
of 20

"You Are Not Alone" (1995)

Michael Jackson - You Are Not Alone
Courtesy Epic

Michael Jackson's final #1 pop hit single was written by R&B singer R. Kelly. It became the first song in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 to debut at #1. It was Michael Jackson's second single from the compilation album HIStory: Past, Present, and Future Book 1. The song hit #1 across pop, adult contemporary, and adult pop charts as well as going to #1 in the UK. "You Are Not Alone" earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal. Both R. Kelly and Diana Ross have recorded cover versions of "You Are Not Alone."

The accompanying music video co-stars Michael Jackson's then-wife Lisa Marie Presley. It generated tabloid headlines for the semi-nude scene of the pair. The clip is also notable for its homage to the painting of Maxfield Parrish.

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