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Michael Jackson - The Story & the Songs

VO: Raphael Daigneault

Thriller, Smooth Criminal, Beat It, Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough... These are not only songs of the best Michael Jackson songs; they're some of the best pop songs of all time AND some of the best songs of the 20th century...period. But how did Michael Jackson get so famous? How did Michael Jackson influence others? Learn how Michael Jackson changed music by learning about the Gloved One.

You can't rank the music without knowing the legend, so we're bringing you "The Story and the Songs"; a music show covering the bios and top 10s of the most influential artists of all time. On this episode, we tackle Michael Jackson's biography and best songs.

Thank you to SOUNDCENTRAL for allowing us to film in their store. You can find all kinds of great musical goodies by visiting their online shop:

Be sure to give your opinion on which artists we should cover next! https://www.WatchMojo.comsuggest/Artist+of+the+Day:+The+Story+and+the+Songs+-+VOTE+FOR+THE+NEXT+FEATURED+ARTIST!


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The Story & the Songs: Michael Jackson

The pint-sized frontman for the Jackson 5, and a pop icon like no one had ever seen. We now know Michael Jackson as the King of Pop, but how did that come to be? How did MJ grow from the smooth and groovy sun-shining roots of his family band to the solo R&B and pop genius he became? This is The Story and the Songs; I'm your curator Eric Cohen, and I'm going to moonwalk you along the light-up sidewalk that is the musical journey of... Michael Jackson.

While you're watching, why not be a “Smooth Criminal” and tell us what you think in the comments, let us know your favourite MJ factoid and give us your personal Michael Jackson Top 10 – shamon!

Alright, we know the moves so now let's get to the song and dance. Here's Part 1 – The Story.

Early Years

Michael Joseph Jackson was born on August 29, 1958 in Gary, Indiana. He first got into music in 1964 when he joined his older siblings in the band, The Jackson Brothers, as a backup musician and vocalist. The group changed its name to The Jackson 5 shortly after Michael started sharing lead vocal duties with Jermaine.

The Jackson 5

Though Jackson’s father was a very strict disciplinarian, Michael was a natural talent whose vocals and dance moves quickly turned him into The Jackson 5’s main draw. The group signed with Motown Records in 1968 and released four number 1 singles on the label, including “I Want You Back” and “I’ll Be There.”

Solo Success

Jackson released four solo albums on Motown, including his solo debut: the January 1972 album, Got to Be There, and August 1972’s, Ben. The title track of this sophomore effort gave Jackson his first number one solo single. Meanwhile, in June 1975, The Jackson 5 signed with Epic Records and became The Jacksons.

“The Wiz”

Between 1976 and 1984, The Jacksons released six albums. It was during this period that Michael met Quincy Jones while he starred in the 1978 film, “The Wiz,” an African-American remake of the Wizard of Oz. Jones then went on to produce Jackson’s 1979 record, Off the Wall, which produced four Top Ten singles, such as “Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough” and “Rock With You.”


Though Michael had not yet officially left The Jacksons, his solo career was taking off. Next up was 1982’s Thriller, which became the best-selling album of all-time and won Jackson seven Grammys and eight American Music Awards. Seven of Thriller’s nine tracks became Top 10 singles, including “Billie Jean,” “Beat It” and “The Girl is Mine,” a duet with Paul McCartney. The Jones-produced record not only solidified Jackson’s staying power, but also helped bring the music video to the next level.

The Moonwalk & the Pepsi Incident

1983 saw Jackson reunite with his brothers during a live television performance on the show “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever.” On that same special, he debuted his now-trademark dance move, the moonwalk, during a solo performance. The next year, Jackson and his brothers were filming a commercial for Pepsi Cola when Michael’s hair was accidentally set on fire. This injury is credited by many as having prompted Jackson’s obsession with plastic surgery, though his look had begun to change prior to the Pepsi fiasco.

A few months later, he went on tour with his brothers to promote his last album with The Jacksons, Victory. Jackson donated all funds from the Victory Tour to charity.

Super Stardom

While Jackson had collaborated a second time with Paul McCartney on the 1983 single, “Say Say Say,” their friendship ended when Michael acquired the publishing rights to most of The Beatles’ songs by purchasing ATV Music’s catalogue in 1984. The next year, Jackson showed his philanthropic streak when he co-wrote the charity song, “We Are the World” with Lionel Richie. The single was recorded with a super-group of musicians and millions of dollars from its sales were donated to famine relief.

Topical Trivia: Patent US5255452A details a shoe which grants a “method and means for creating anti-gravity illusion.” Its inventor? One Michael J. Jackson.

Physical Changes

By the mid-1980’s, Jackson’s physical appearance began to change more obviously. He underwent a few cosmetic surgeries as well as treatments for vitiligo, a disorder that lightened the color of his skin. Tabloids were also spreading outrageous rumors about his personal life during this time.


1986 saw Jackson collaborate with directors George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola on a short and innovative 3D film called “Captain EO,” that was shown at Disney theme parks. By 1987, Jackson’s next album, Bad, was finally released. Though it was not as successful as Thriller, it did spawn several number one singles, such the title track. The Bad World Tour that followed ultimately became the highest-grossing tour of all-time.


1988 saw Jackson’s first autobiography, “Moonwalk” hit number 1 on The New York Times best sellers’ list. That same year, he also converted some property into a home and amusement park in California and renamed it Neverland Ranch.

During the first part of his career, Michael Jackson went from being a child star to being one of the world’s biggest entertainers. Of course, there would be much more to come.

Topical Trivia: MJ's Neverland amusement park was co-designed by Macaulay Culkin.


After renewing his contract with Sony in 1991, Jackson released his eighth record: Dangerous. A year later, he took the Dangerous album on tour and founded the charity organization, “Heal the World Foundation” to help disadvantaged children.

Topical Trivia: For re-signing with Sony Music in 1991, Michael was to star in a superhero film called “MidKnight” about a mild-mannered man who becomes a singing and dancing phenom every midnight. Sony pulled the plug on the project as MJ became mired in controversy.

Child Abuse Allegations

In 1993, the first of the infamous child sexual abuse allegations against Jackson came to light. This first suit was settled out-of-court with a payment of $22 million to the Chandler family, though the singer admitted no wrongdoing. The next year, Jackson wed Lisa-Marie Presley, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1996.

“HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I”

The double album, HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I, was released in 1995, and featured a disc of his greatest hits and another disc of all-new songs. This became the best-selling multiple-disc album of all-time, and featured the tracks, “Scream” a duet with his sister Janet Jackson, and “You are Not Alone,” which holds the Guinness World Record as the first ever single to debut at number one on the Billboard Hot 100.

Community Commentary:

What I loved about Michael Jackson is how he branched out into so many different genres

Marriage to Deborah Jeanne Rowe

Meanwhile, Jackson had remarried his friend and nurse, Deborah Jeanne Rowe. During this time, the couple had two children: Michael Joseph Jackson Jr, or Prince, was born in 1997 and Paris-Michael Katherine Jackson in 1998. The couple divorced the next year. Though Jackson did not release a full album of new material during this time, he did come out with 1997’s Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix, which became the best-selling remix album ever released. His tenth and last studio album, Invincible, was released in 2001 on Epic Records, following Jackson’s dispute with former label, Sony.

Balcony Incident

His third child, Prince Michael Jackson II, better known as Blanket, was born in 2002, though the mother’s identity was unknown. A few months after his birth, Jackson briefly dangled the boy over the balcony of a Berlin hotel in a move that was subsequently widely criticized by the media.

Media Criticism

The media criticism didn’t stop there. A 2003 Martin Bashir documentary called, “Living with Michael Jackson,” showcased a controversial scene of Jackson holding hands with a young boy. Following this, the singer was once again accused of child molestation. However, when the trial ended in 2005, Jackson was acquitted on all counts and he later relocated to Bahrain.

London Residency

2009 started off as an exciting time for MJ fans, when the star announced a 50-date London residency that would begin in July of that same year. The “This Is It” concert series would mark Michael Jackson’s comeback, and the 50-year-old artist began a rigorous training schedule.


However, fans were ultimately shocked and saddened when on June 25th, 2009, Jackson died of cardiac arrest while in Los Angeles in the midst of rehearsals. His personal physician, Conrad Murray, would later be charged with involuntary manslaughter after it was discovered that he had administered a lethal amount of prescription drugs to the singer shortly before his death.

Community Commentary:

Ronin Crawford


A worldwide outpouring of grief followed the news of his passing. Several websites crashed and sales of his music drastically increased. In October 2009, a documentary based on the rehearsals of his sold-out concerts’ became the highest grossing documentary or concert movie of all time. At the end of 2010, a compilation brought together all of Jackson’s short films on the DVD box set, Michael Jackson’s Vision. Ubisoft released a video game, called “Michael Jackson: The Experience” during this same time. Shortly thereafter, the first new album of previously unheard and completed Jackson recordings, entitled Michael appeared as well.

Renowned for his musical versatility, dance choreography, and humanitarian efforts, his influence on pop culture is immeasurable. Though he may no longer be with us, Michael Jackson will live on forever through his music.

Alright, well I think we can agree that was a lot of ground – and a bit of controversy – to cover, but now we're going to cover some ground and create a bit of controversy of our own. That's right, we're going to sift through the best of what MJ gave us and give you our Top 10. The only thing is, with a solo-catalogue this rich, it would be a crime to leave anything out, so with that in mind we made the ballsy call to exclude Jackson 5 material, as well as covers, collaborations, and duets. “Say, Say, Say” what you want in the comments, but we had to draw the line somewhere.

Here we go with Part 2 – the Songs.

#10 – “Black or White” (1991)

The first single off Dangerous’ treated listeners to an unforgettable medley of pop, rock and dance. Add a powerful message about race, a rap breakdown and some heavy metal guitars, and this worldwide chart-topper made MJ the first artist with a Billboard Hot 100 number one in the ‘70s, ‘80s’ and ‘90s. Its music video also made history when 500 million tuned in for its television premiere.

#9 – “The Way You Make Me Feel” (1987)

The way this song makes us feel is in love! Thanks to its funky R&B, blues harmonies and pop flavors, Bad’s third single took us on a rhythmic and romantic journey straight to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Its sexy music video had the King of Pop flaunting his incomparable dance moves while trying to win over a beautiful woman – which he does, of course!

#8 – “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” (1979)

As the first solo single from his first non-Motown album, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” proved Michael could find success when he took over singing and songwriting duties. By capitalizing on the disco era, the upbeat chart-topper melded pop and funk with an unforgettable melody and won Jackson his first solo Grammy. It also introduced many vocal techniques that would later become his trademarks, including his unmistakable falsetto.

#7 – “Rock with You” (1979)

Jackson followed up his first single from Off the Wall with this pop, funk and R&B-infused track. Thanks to its sensual beat, smooth vocals and carefully arranged strings and horns, this number-one song makes you want to rock with Michael all night. As one of the biggest and probably last smashes of the disco craze, “Rock With You” also had us boogie-ing with its simple, sparkly but effective music video.

#6 – “Smooth Criminal” (1987)

Even though we’re not quite sure who Annie is, and whether of not she is – in fact – okay, there’s no way you’ll ever forget the fusion of funk, dance and pop that made “Smooth Criminal” one of MJ’s signature tunes. You’ll also probably never forget seeing the Gloved One break out the anti-gravity lean in the video to this fast-paced Jackson-penned number.

Community Commentary:

Bro Buzzers
I feel like Smooth Criminal should of been up higher

#5 – “Man in the Mirror” (1988)

Though he was most known for his versatile vocals and unrivalled choreography, Jackson also used music to convey powerful themes. So “Man in the Mirror” wasn’t the entertainer’s fourth straight chart-topper off Bad for nothing: by skillfully incorporating a gospel choir, the Grammy-nominated tune simultaneously enhanced its pop, R&B and soul flavors and strengthened its inspiring theme.

#4 – “Bad” (1987)

While clad in black leather and leading a group of street dancers, Michael really showed us who’s bad. Martin Scorsese’s music video for the title track of his 1987 album was the perfect accompaniment to the song’s dance pop: it not only confirmed that Jackson could adapt his style to suit the music, but it also allowed him to display his cool moves in the process. The song itself also became a number one smash.

Topical Trivia: “Bad” was actually meant to be a duet with Prince, but his royal badness didn't want to sing “your butt is mine.”

Community Commentary:

5:57 “Your “butt” is mine....”?

#3 – “Thriller” (1983)

Whether it’s the red leather jacket, those dancing zombies, or Vincent Price’s haunting voice-over, you can’t help but think of the music video when it comes to this song. While a creepy bassline and some synthesizer gave “Thriller” a supernatural feel, it’s the song’s catchy chorus and funky disco sounds that thrill us most. The title track was also the best-selling album’s seventh Billboard Hot 100 top-ten single.

#2 – “Beat It” (1983)

Though he was known more for pop, soul, R&B, disco and funk, Jackson showed he could rock hard with “Beat It.” By mixing heavy guitars, including Eddie Van Halen’s driving solo, with rhythm and blues and an unforgettable backbeat, Thriller’s third single topped both the pop and R&B charts. The success of the Grammy-winning tune and the popularity of its much-aired music video also helped make Michael an international superstar.

Community Commentary:

Wooooooow ok, great list but HOW do you make a Top 100 MJ list with NO honorable mentions?? lol that HM list should have like, 7 SONGS! "They don't really care about us" "Remember the Time" "Human Nature" "Jam" "Scream" "You Are Not Alone" "Rock My World"....and that's just 7 lol, we need a top 20 MJ list.

#1 – “Billie Jean” (1983)

With its unmistakable bass line and Michael’s trademark vocal hiccups, “Billie Jean” so captivated music fans that it topped the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks. Its perfect blend of dance, pop and R&B cemented Jackson’s place in music history while its video helped popularize MTV and shatter racial boundaries. MJ further solidified his pop culture presence when he busted out the moonwalk during a television performance celebrating Motown.

Well, we did it – but how did we do? Be sure to let us know, or hit us up with some tasty tracks or deep cuts you think we should have included. If all this has you in an MJ mood you need to ride a little further, we have plenty of Jackson content including Top 10 Michael Jackson videos, and Top 10 Michael Jackson Moments.

But before you go, let me ask you this: what's your favourite Michael Jackson era? Have a favourite? Too tough to call? Let us know in the comments, and see you next time – I'm Eric Cohen, and this has been The Story and the Songs.

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