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21. "Behind the Mask" (1982)
This song may be well-known to you, but not Michael's version. He actually got his hands on the song long before Eric Clapton did, and is credited as one of the songwriters after adding the middle eight. Recorded during the Thriller sessions, then rerecorded and released first by his frequent collaborator Greg Phillinganes and then Clapton, Michael's version of the track wasn't put out until after his death in 2012.
22. "Someone in the Dark" (1982)
Not only did Michael and Quincy record Thriller in three months over the summer of 1982, but they also recorded a spoken work soundtrack to Stephen Spielberg classic E.T. Yep, Michael narrated an audio version of the whole film, because that was the sort of thing people did in 1982. Kind of like Audible, but for a pre-VHS age. He also contributed songs, including this one about his love for E.T., redolent of "Ben", his lonely 1972 ode to a rat, proving Michael saved his greatest love songs for animals and kids. (Shut up.) Anyway, E.T. himself chimes in at the end, which is the closest to a duet between Michael and a fellow extra-terrestrial we’re ever gonna get. Like with the film, if you think it’s sappy, then you don’t have a heart.
23. "Baby Be Mine" (1982)
The track you're least likely to recognise from Thriller, and my ring tone. Compared with the other album tracks, it's lightweight, but I can't think of a better vocal performance by Michael. His voice gulps and soars and yells as he sings. Every time I hear it, I think, ooh, someone's listening to a very rare MJ song, then I get it. It's me. It's always me. Phone call.
24. "The Man" (1983)
I love Paul McCartney, but he's responsible for some of the worst songs in Michael's canon, from "Say Say Say" and "The Girl is Mine", which was inexplicably the first single released off Thriller, before "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" and "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" and "Thriller" even, to the execrable "Girlfriend", which almost (almost) ruins the Off the Wall album. This much nicer cut from the Pipes of Peace album is a tonic. I like the claps especially. It was remastered in 2015, and given this video, which shows Michael kicking it with the McCartneys and just about pulling off looking like a normal person.
25. "Centipede" (1984)
Michael was white-hot in the years 1978-1985, doing little except writing and making music, some for himself, some for his family and some for other people. For Diana Ross he wrote songs like “Eaten Alive” and “Muscles”, and of course he wrote “We Are the World” for the USA for Africa fundraiser. And then there was this, for his older sister Rebbie, an ode to a multi-legged arthropods that presumably has some other, smuttier meaning, but I’ve never been able to figure out what it is. Knowing Michael though, it might just be about centipedes.
26. "State of Shock" (1984)
Michael released one album with his brothers after Thriller catapulted him into super stellar stardom, and you can feel his discomfort in most of the tracks. On the plus side, the other brothers got their chance to shine, contributing a few good songs without much interference from their little brother, and on the minus, well, what I just wrote, but again. This is the stand-out track, written by Michael and recorded first with Freddie Mercury, a version so far lost to time and the Neverland vault, then with Mick Jagger. Mick tries his best, bless him, but very few people can keep up with Michael at his doh dum diddly doh dah best.
27. "Loving You" (1985)
Sony reworked a bunch of Michael's unreleased tracks for 2014's XScape album, but had the decency to release the originals alongside them. Many fans (myself included) felt Michael's unfinished versions were better than their "updated" ones, but this one was the exception. A contender for the Bad album, it was dumped in favour of "I Just Can't Stop Loving You". Boo.
28. "We Are Here To Change the World" (1985)
Sometimes, when I imagine myself on Desert Island Discs (don’t pretend I’m the only person who does this), and I have to pick just one MJ song to sum up everything I love about MJ, I pick this one. It was recorded for Captain Eo, the George Lucas-directed 3-D film he made for Disneyland, starring him as an intergalactic saviour of the universe through dance. What. Angelica Houston played the baddie. It was a SERIOUS PIECE OF WORK. I'd pick the song not just to be bloody-minded - it's a hilarious chunk of 80s space funk designed to be part of a Disney extravaganza that hasn't aged well - but because I genuinely believe it sums up what made Michael so bloody brilliant. It's catchy and uplifting, of course, but it's also so earnest, like he really, really believed he could save the world with his music, like a kid might, and I want that to be true too, Kirsty. I mean, whoever. Ahem.
29. "Don't Be Messin' Round" (1986)
Bet you weren't expecting Michael to go bossa nova on you, but here we are, with a song about a guy who can't help but get a bit handsy with his missus on the dance floor. Engineer Matt Forger is on record as saying this is the song Michael went back to the most after first setting it down during the Bad sessions, reworking it and rerecording it, but never felt he got it quite right. I disagree.
30. "Fly Away" (1986)
Michael recorded this for Bad, but ended up giving it to his sister Rebbie, as he felt it was more of a song for a woman. Hmm. Okay. I get it. Sony released his version on Bad 25, the album rerelease that came packaged with a live concert and a Spike Lee documentary for its 25th anniversary in 2012. I am so old.
31. "Streetwalker" (1986)
This offcut from Bad was legendary on early-internet MJ forums. Dropped in favour of "The Way You Make Me Feel", it was considered by so many who worked on the album to be a missed opportunity that it leaked somehow, long before it was included on Bad 25. Listen once and the line "I never met a girl just like you, I'm so crazy, don't you break my heart, cos I loooove you" will be stuck in your mind forever.
32. "Abortion Papers/Song Groove" (1986)
This one's a bit weird, but this is Michael Jackson we're talking about here, so buckle up. "Abortion Papers" is essentially a pro-life song, sung from the POV of a wannabe father ("signing your name against the word of God" - eesh). Michael himself was wary about releasing the song, writing in his notes that he didn't want to "upset any girls" (did I mention I love him?), but Sony were less concerned and released it three years after his death. Tbf it's so funky, I'd dance to it even if the lyrics denied the holocaust. (They don't.)
33. "Do You Know Where Your Children Are?" (1986)
Another one to power through if lyrics leave you squeamish. With a title taken from a well-known American TV PSA, this one's about neglected children and what might happen to them when their parents weren't looking. Yeah, yeah. I get it. But this was a regular theme of Michael's, long before he was accused of anything. It's also damned good.
34. "I'm So Blue" (1986)
And here we are, back full circle back to the first song Michael ever wrote, "Blues Away", number seven in this list. Another breezy song about ever-present blues. "They told me, you should sing a song / of happy, when you're feeling blue / I've been singing, for so very long / Still crying, tell me what should I do." I don't know what was really going on in Michael's life, but I feel his music provides more of a clue than we realise.
35. "Leave Me Alone" (1987)
Quite a well-known cut from Bad, but there's a chance you don't know it if you only bought the album on tape or vinyl. That's because it was offered as an extra track only to people buying it on CD, in a bid by Sony to get us buying the new format of compact discs. But mainly though, I've included it because it's so underrated on an album of wall-to-wall hits. If someone could loop the opening groove, the first twenty or so seconds before Michael's vocals kick in, I don't think I'd ever need to listen to anything else in my life.
36. "Get It" (1987)
Stevie Wonder duetted with Michael on "Just Good Friends" on the Bad album, but it was Michael's side of the favour that is the better song. Appearing on Stevie's Characters album, it didn't benefit from Quincy's production skills, but Michael manages to deliver a transformative vocal performance, having seemingly been revving for hours before he arrives in the song with the second verse. The same is true of "Can You Feel It?", when he finally takes over the singing reins from brother Randy and the whole song leaps into life. Michael's vocals are underrated: they could launch a great song like "Man in the Mirror" into outer space (do NOT attempt it at karaoke is all I'm saying), or take a so-so song and rivet listeners to their headphones, as in this case.
37. "If You Don’t Love Me" (1990)
I can't put my finger on who or what Michael sounds like here. Something off the Grease soundtrack? The middle eight is pure Beatles. Whoever it is, it definitely isn't Michael Jackson, which is maybe why this track never made it onto the Dangerous album.
38. "She Got It" (1990)
Michael worked with producer Bryan Loren in the earlier Dangerous sessions, a collaboration that begot "Do The Bartman" for The Simpsons but not much else. Their work is the most Prince Michael's ever sounded. Michael could never sing about sex without worrying about religion though, something that didn't really bother Prince until later in life. Still, it's nice to hear Michael cutting loose for a change. Even if it does mean him singing about the size of a lady's bottom.
39. "For All Time" (1990)
I just love this track. The end. Sony credited it as an offcut from the Thriller sessions when they released it in 2008, which makes sense, as Michael co-wrote it with Steve Porcaro, the keyboardist and songwriter of Toto who wrote the beautiful Thriller track "Human Nature". The tone of Michael's voice makes me more inclined to think this particular version was recorded later for Dangerous, though. Fans, huh. Don't you just love us?
40. "Who Is It?" (1991)
We're fully into Dangerous territory here, so let me warn you: things are about to get DETAILED. Dangerous is my jam. I was 11 when it came out, I fell in love with Michael listening to it, and I still believe it's his greatest album ever. QUOTE ME. This is a great, great song, made famous when Michael beatboxed it for Oprah. Also, Michael wore a suit in the video. A suit. Like normal people wear. With no buckles or gold bit or anything. Chuh.