60 Great Michael Jackson Songs You Almost Certainly Haven't Heard - Part Three

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41. "Can’t Let Her Get Away" (1991)

The first half of Dangerous is Teddy Reilly's. Michael worked with three producers on the album, and Teddy's are some of the standout tracks, like "She Drives Me Wild", which uses car sounds to create a wall of percussion, and "Remember the Time", which is in my Top Three MJ Tracks Ever. I chose this one, though, as it's grown on me, and what used to sound rather flimsy has acquired an early 90s New Jack Swing authenticity. Sandwiched between "Remember the Time" and "Heal the World", it gives a flavour of what a weird listening experience Dangerous is. Plus it features the only instance of Michael rapping I know of.

42. "Will You Be There?" (1991)

Dangerous was the closest Michael got to a concept album, and the concept was "everything". The second half featured hits like "Black or White" and "Who is It?", but then steadily grew in pomp and stature, via rock, gospel and classical music. The official video has a bunch of whales leaping in it (it was on the Free Willy soundtrack), but I've chosen this, the full album version because a) I am a nerd and b) the full version gives you some sense, I hope, of what a disorientating and powerful listening experience Dangerous is. Over seven minutes long, it incorporates a portion of "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's Ninth, before launching into a gospel song pleading for understanding and forgiveness. Needless to say, I obliged.

43. "Gone Too Soon" (1991)

Michael wrote this song from Dangerous about Ryan White, a young man who raised awareness about HIV/AIDS before his untimely death in the early 1990s at the age of 18. It's beautiful, but made even more so by this live performance, at Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration, no less.

44. Sonic the Hedgehog III soundtrack (1994)

A lot of Michael’s projects got junked in 1993. Not surprisingly, as he'd just been accused of child sex abuse. One of the casualties was the soundtrack to Sonic the Hedgehog III he, a keen gamer with his own arcade in his basement, was working on. I was a Sonic and Sega fanatic, but had no idea who was really behind the music of he third instalment of my favourite game, though on reflection it should have been obvious. Another fan, James Hansen, better known as "Qjimbo", did make the connection, and his theory was finally proved a few years ago.

45. "They Don't Care About Us" (1995)

Anger had long been a key component in Michael's music. It fuelled songs like "Billie Jean" and "Dirty Diana", for instance. But the HIStory album saw his anger come to the fore, sometimes overwhelmingly so, in the case of "Scream", its first single. He'd been accused of something heinous, and seen his career on the brink of total collapse, and he wasn't happy. The album is cluttered and furious, but this track is a minimalist masterpiece. Michael reportedly spent weeks just getting the sound of the snares right. One reason you might not have heard it is because it was banned on MTV: now co-opted by the "Black Lives Matter" campaign, the song's message and Spike Lee-directed video was deemed too controversial in 1996.

46. "Stranger in Moscow" (1995)

Depression in a song. Michael heard about the allegations against him while he was on tour in Russia. This beautiful song, about "armageddon of the brains", is the result. His artistry means you don't need to have been holed up in a hotel in Moscow while the paparazzi surround it, or even necessarily sympathise with him, to appreciate what he's going through.

47. "Smile" (1995)

Michael and cover versions don't usually end well. His version of "Come Together" is fine at best, and he was never really enthusiastic about other people covering his songs. But this, his version of the Charlie Chaplin classic, is heartbreakingly lovely. His brother Jermaine sung it at his funeral, but no-one can compete with Michael's ability to keep just the right side of schmalz (c.ref. "She's Out of My Life"). It didn't get an official video so here's a fan-made one of Michael smiling a lot. We are nothing if not a literal bunch.

48. "Much Too Soon" (1995)

This lovely track was apparently recorded for the HIStory album, but didn't see the light of day until Sony slapped it onto Michael, the first album released after Michael died. Sigh.

49. "On the Line" (1996)

This song played over the opening credits of Get on the Bus, Spike Lee's film about the 1995 Million Man March, but wasn't featured on the soundtrack. No idea why. Written By Babyface, it eventually got a release in 2004 on Sony's money-spinning compilation The Ultimate Collection.

50. "Morphine" (1997)

It's hard to believe this track exists, given what it presages. Alternating between hard rock and a shimmering classical melody, it comes as a shock when you realise the word he's singing is "Demerol", the name of the heavy-duty painkiller he became addicted to in the 1990s. The "rock" parts come from the POV of the drug, with the quieter, more lucid sections meant to represent the sound of a doctor reassuring him. In 2009 it became stranger and sadder still, as Demerol was among the drugs found in his system when he died.

51. "Ghosts" (1997)

In 1996, Michael spent a heck of a lot of money making Ghosts, a 40-minute film that had a very limited run in cinemas and even premiered at Cannes the following year. No-one really knew why, and (almost) no-one saw it, which is a shame, because it won awards for its impressive choreography and its stunts included Michael moonwalking in a fat suit and tearing off his face to become a skeleton. This funky track headlined it, once again returning to Michal's favourite subject: ghosts and ghoulies. (That was a crotch grabbing joke.)

52. "The Way You Love Me" (1999)

The hastily produced posthumous album Michael wasn't the first time Sony had released this offcut from the Invincible album. They'd actually already released it on 2004's The Ultimate Collection, but when you've got money to make, what are a few details, huh? It's okay though. This is such a spritely love song, with, surprisingly for Michael, no hideously painful underbelly to speak of, fans were happy to hear it again. Okay okay, so some of us might have signed a petition. WHAT OF IT

53. "She Was Lovin' Me" (1999)

This brilliant song was destined for the Invincible album, until it wasn't, and other, much worse songs, were added instead. We will never know why, but at least we got to hear it, in both its original R&B version and its tarted-up, much rockier form, on Xscape. No prizes for guessing which one I prefer; it's got shades of TLC and Rodney Jerkins-era Whitney.

54. "We've Had Enough" (2000)

Michael does away with the chorus altogether in this song about social inequality, leaving the song to build and build instead, until all hell breaks loose at the end. Another MJ song that gets a frequent airing at protests, so maybe you've heard it at one of those, you REBEL.

55. "Butterflies" (2001)

Oh my GOD. "Butterflies". "Butterflies!" Invincible is.... not Michael's greatest. "Break of Dawn", "Heaven Can Wait" and "Heartbreaker" are good, but it's too long, there are too many weak tracks, and Michael's full of the joys of fatherhood, which has never boded well for any musician ever, with the possible exception of John Lennon. But "Butterflies" makes up for ALL of it. Written by Marsha Ambrosius of British duo Floetry, it is just unspeakably pretty, and Michael produces one of the best vocals of his career, his voice ramping up octaves at just the thought of touching a woman. It made a dent on the American R&B charts, but nowhere else, on account of a dispute between Michael and his record company (Sony - oh, have I mentioned them?).

56. "Whatever Happens" (2001)

Mysterious song this, sung in the third person. No idea what it's about ("he's afraid what they've been doing ain't right"), but it's very pretty, with a symphonic sweep and rhythms that linger. That's Carlos Santana on guitar. Oh, and it's Michael whistling.

57. "Cry" (2001)

This one definitely falls in the "Earth Song" camp, so if you don't like key changes and crazy ad libs, then give it a miss. (And seriously, rethink your priorities.) Okay, so Michael sings about ending war and changing the world, but three minutes in it all goes weirdly discordant, with a -guess what? - gospel choir, and I start to feel a bit strange, like he might be right or something. It passes though. Don't worry.

58. "Shout" (2002)

This slice of rock-funk was released on the B-side of "Cry". How very old school.

59. "I Am a Loser" (2003)

Aw. Self-explanatory, really. Apparently written after Michael heard one of his studio engineers mournfully utter the phrase, it was never released in any form and I've probably set off some alarm in the estate vault even including it here. It's so sweet though, and stripped of Michael's usual self-aggrandisement. "Let me win one time," he sings at the end.

60. "One More Chance" (2003)

This was the only new song on Number Ones, a(nother) compilation of Michael's greatest hits released in 2003. AFAIK this was the last song Michael recorded fully and gave permission to be released, except for 2008's "Hold My Hand" ft. Akon, but I'm going to assume he wasn't really thinking straight for that one. The video was shot from behind one day in late 2003, with a view to filming from the front the following day; that evening, Michael was told the police were once again raiding Neverland. He never returned for the next day's filming, or any filming, in fact. The result is an odd, lopsided video, which only adds to the poignancy of seeing him perform where the audience should be.

I actually thought it'd be hard to come up with 60 songs you may not have heard, but here I am, at 60, and there's more - J5 songs, demos and album deep cuts like "Lady in My Life" and "Get On The Floor". Oh well. The point is, Michael is so much more than Thriller, and his music will outlive everything else.

Happy 60th Michael, wherever you are.

 

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