Michael Jackson is the undeniable King of Pop, and he always will be. Very few artists have been able to turn their highly acclaimed studio albums into something resembling Greatest Hits collections, but just one look at MJ’s discography and it’s abundantly clear that’s exactly what he did. Even some of his album tracks have gone on to be just as popular as some of his singles (“Dangerous,” “Workin’ Day and Night,” “The Lady In My Life,” etc.) thanks to breathtaking live performances, or even unprompted radio play. Nonetheless, there have still been a few songs that have slipped through the cracks, and I have compiled the 10 best ones from his adult career (Off The Wall up through his untimely passing) that just don’t get the same recognition as his hits, but deserve to! All of the tracks are non-singles, because even though some songs (“Leave Me Alone,” “Give In To Me,” “Stranger In Moscow,” “Blood On The Dance Floor”) weren’t exactly chart-toppers in America, they found success on a global scale (all of the aforementioned songs were top-5 UK hits.)
In ABC (pun intended) order:
BABY BE MINE
One of only two tracks not released as a single from Michael’s epic Thriller album, “Baby Be Mine” is a gem that completely holds it own next to classics like “Billie Jean,” “Human Nature” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” The song is a light and bubbly R&B pop tune with a funky bass line that dazzles with an incredible vocal delivery from MJ, his multi-tracked backing vocals being the secret standout. For an album that is so renowned for its 7 hits, had Michael decided to extended the project just a little longer, he would’ve easily gotten 8.
BREAK OF DAWN
Michael Jackson’s final studio album, Invincible, was riddled with issues and ended up not spawning the upwards of 6-7 singles that most of his projects produced. Clearly in the running for “what would have been” was “Break Of Dawn.” The smooth, R&B song harks back to some of his finest soulful moments from Off The Wall and Thriller, but manages to feel completely current and relevant. The song strangely ended up being included on his Number Ones compilation album, despite not being released as a single, which only solidifies the hit potential it embodies.
I CAN’T HELP IT
Off The Wall was one of the greatest statements in pop music history. Largely considered to be the beginning of the most important and legendary portion of Michael’s career, the project was a sweeping success with hits such as “Don’ Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and “Rock With You,” but one of the most incredible moments on the record came in the form of “I Can’t Help It.” Co-written by Stevie Wonder, the song has one of the grooviest bass lines in MJ’s career, which pairs perfectly with its catchy melody and pitch-perfect delivery. The track is easily one of his finest R&B moments.
IS IT SCARY?
15 years after Michael unleashed “Thriller” on the world, he revisited the haunting themes with two out of the five new tracks on his Blood On The Dance Floor/HIStory In The Mix album. The first, “Ghosts,” was released as a single in its own right, promoted with Michael’s longest short film to date, while the other, “Is It Scary?,” which even shares some lyrics with its sister track, had to take the backseat. The song brilliantly folds in elements of rock, dance, funk, and even opera, to create a dark musical landscape that somehow still manages to be an incredible pop song.
KEEP THE FAITH
1991’s Dangerous was easily Michael Jackson’s most audacious album, breaking from the production partnership with Quincy Jones that gave us Off The Wall, Thriller, and Bad. Jam (pun intended)-packing the disc with 14 tracks covering everything from new jack swing to rock to gospel, one of the record’s dark horse highlights, “Keep The Faith,” is easy to get lost in the shuffle. Co-written with Siedah Garrett and Glen Ballard, the geniuses behind “Man In The Mirror,” the song acts as joyous epilogue, equipped with an incredible choir-assisted climax. Not to mention, the track features one of Mike’s most authoritative vocal deliveries on record, really making for an incredibly powerful track.
Michael Jackson and rock and roll have always had a special relationship (“Beat It,” “Dirty Diana,” “Give Into Me,”) but he took it to an entirely different level with 1997’s “Morphine,” lifted from Blood On The Dance Floor/HIStory In Mix. The 6 and a half minute song was not only written, arranged, and produced entirely by Michael himself, but he also plays guitar (alongside Slash) and drums. The song features a clear industrial, almost metal sound and lyrically discusses his personal issues with drugs. “Morphine” is a bonafide epic that doesn’t get nearly the amount of attention it deserves.
ON THE LINE
There is no other pop artist who has so consistently mastered the art of integrating a choir into their songs quite like Michael Jackson. Sure we all know and love “Man In The Mirror,” “Heal The World,” “Will You Be There?,” and “Earth Song,” but one of his most successful usages comes in the form of one of his least-known tracks, “On The Line.” Originally released on a bonus CD in a box set that also included his Blood On The Dance Floor/HIStory In The Mix album and short film for “Ghosts,” the track is the kind of inspirational ballad that only Michael could pull off. The song just beautifully builds and builds into a soaring climax that’s so big, it’s almost impossible not to visibly emote. “On The Line” is just really, really powerful and special.
SHE DRIVES ME WILD
When Michael embraced the new jack swing sound and brought legendary producer Teddy Riley on board, the end result was absolutely magical. The Dangerous album opens up with 6 straight Riley-productions, including the hits “Jam,” “In The Closet,” and “Remember The Time,” but tucked in the mix is one of their most under-apprecaited works, “She Drives Me Wild.” The song is a frenzied dance/hip-hop track with a rap from Wreckx-N-Effect woven into the middle. With MJ’s growling vocals in the verses juxtaposing perfectly with the atmospheric, multi-tracked choruses, the song packs so much punch that it’s hard to believe how much it’s ignored.
THIS TIME AROUND
The HIStory: Past, Present & Future, Book 1 album showed an entirely new side of Michael Jackson… an angry, bitter, jaded side. The record openly discussed the personal issues he was facing in his life at the time, and one of his most blunt tracks, “This Time Around,” may not be one of his most remembered, but is certainly one of the best of the lot. Continuing with the musical themes of HIStory‘s predecessor, Dangerous, the track is a flavorful dancy, hip-hop number that features a guest spot from the Notorious B.I.G. Add on top of that one of the rawest vocal deliveries MJ has ever released and a deliriously catchy chorus, and you’ve got yourself a damn good song.
Just when you think you have Michael Jackson figured out, he’s bound to throw a curveball at you. “Whatever Happens,” the penultimate track from his final album, Invincible, does just that. Featuring Carlos Santana on guitar, the song sees Michael strip things down to an orchestrally-assisted Latin folk sound layered perfectly underneath his powerful vocals. “Whatever Happens” takes Michael to a place no one would have expected him to go, and he pulls it off effortlessly, almost as if that’s the kind of music he’d been making for 30 years. The song is far and away one of his crowning achievements that, unfortunately, wasn’t given the proper venue to earn itself the recognition it deserves.