By Rodimus Dunn
With the recent release of Michael Jackson’s newest album “Michael,” we thought it was a good time to decide which of his albums was the greatest. The answer clearly isn’t Michael, as it’s comprised of previously unreleased material. Why Sony would think that such a collaboration of songs would have successful sales is beyond me, especially considering the controversy surrounding its authenticity (there are rumors that the singing voice in some of the songs isn’t even Jackson). Furthermore, Sony re-released all of Jackson’s albums shortly after his death, so everyone already has their fill of his music. So to make things easier for you, we’ll end the debate about which of the King of Pop’s albums truly was his best.
5. HIStory- This album was easily MJ’s most marked release, but it wasn’t his greatest success. I say that somewhat tongue in cheek as it sold over 7 million albums in the United States alone. HIStory of course peaked at #1, like all of his albums (save for Michael), won a Grammy award, and had a #1 single in You Are Not Alone. Disc 1 was a compilation some of his greatest hits, while disc 2 contained all the new work. What everyone remembers about the album are the iconic videos for Scream and You Are Not Alone. Scream was the 9 million dollar duet with little sister Janet Jackson. Who doesn’t remember where they were the 1st time they say that video? You Are Not Alone featured Michael and then wife Lisa Marie Presley. The images of the King of Pop and the King’s daughter lying naked together are unforgettable. The video for “They Don’t Care About Us” was directed by Spike Lee, but the song is more remembered for the alleged anti-Semitic lyrics (which Jackson vehemently denied). Lastly, the album has a Beatles cover, “Come Together,” and presumably a rather pejorative song about the district attorney who was attempting to prosecute MJ, “D.S.”
4. Off the Wall- People generally respect this collection as MJ’s first real solo endeavor, but most don’t realize how good this album really is. I know Off the Wall sold over 8 million copies in the US, but I see it as somewhat of an MJ indie album as the casual fan doesn’t realize the extent of its success (especially in light of its successor Thriller). ‘Wall was actually tied for MJ’s second highest selling album in the US, won a Grammy award, it was his first work with Quincy Jones, and along with Thriller, it is the only other MJ album in the Grammy Hall of Fame. There was one iconic video, “Rock with You,” and two #1 singles “Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough” and the aforementioned “Rock with You.” And despite having only 10 songs, this amazing release produced 4 top ten hits. Not bad work for a 21 year old aspiring star.
3. Dangerous- Compared to some of his earlier work, many critics panned this CD as sub par even though it sold over 7 million copies in the US (over 32 million worldwide), won a Grammy, and had 4 top ten singles. Dangerous was Jackson’s first full length CD (14 songs and over 76 minutes long), first solo album without Quincy Jones (it was produced by then 23 year old Teddy Riley and Bill Bottrell), and the first solo project that took more than his usual 6 months (it took around 16 months). Although Dangerous had an additional 3-5 songs compared to his usual, it is much more known for the iconic videos and collaborations. “Black or White,” the biggest hit on the album had a national debut on MTV, VH1, BET, and Fox. When else has a music video ever aired simultaneously on four different networks? Also in the video were appearances from Macaulay Culkin and Tyra Banks. The morphing faces scene at the end had almost never been seen previously, even though now it’s completely second nature. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the end of the video where MJ broke car windows, grabbed his crotch incessantly, and pulled up the zipper on his pants. “Remember the Time” had appearances from Magic Johnson, Eddie Murphy, and Iman. You had to have some kind of pull to have gotten all those people together in 1991. “Jam” had vocal collaboration from Heavy D, and the video had Michael Jordan playing basketball and dancing at the end. “In the Closet” featured MJ and Naomi Campbell, with vocal collaboration from the Princess Stephanie of Monaco (it was originally supposed to be Madonna). For what it’s worth, Dangerous is considered the highest selling new jack swing album of all time.
2. Thriller- As of today, this is the best selling album of all time…and will probably keep that title since illegal downloading has severely reduced album sales. Total figures are in the range of 65-110 million records sold, 29 million of those from the US. MJ and Quincy Jones recorded 30 songs for the album, and settled on this 9 track, 7 Grammy award winning masterpiece. Of those 9 songs, 7 singles were released, 7 were top 10 hits, and 2 reached #1. The success of Thriller turned MJ into a global icon and he never looked back. Maybe his greatest moment came during Motown’s 25 anniversary celebration on March 25, 1983, when Jackson publicly performed the moonwalk for the first time. That move alone stole the show, and significantly contributed to the success and sales of the album as approximately 50 million viewers watched that program. What more is there to say about this amazing album? Jackson made a duet with Beatles legend Paul McCartney (“The Girl is Mine”), the guitar rift in “Bad” is from none other than Eddie Van Halen, and in 2009, Thriller became the first album to have more than one million downloads in one week. If all that isn’t enough three absolutely iconic videos came from the LP: “Thriller,” “Beat It,” and “Billy Jean” (it’d be four if I counted Weird Al Yankovich’s parody of “Beat It” entitled “Eat It”).
1. Bad- Some may say that it’s sacrilege for anything other than the highest selling album of all time, Thriller, to be MJ’s best, but it’s a close second. It was absolutely impossible for Jackson to sell more albums than Thriller did. How could any of Michael Jordan’s sons be better basketball players than their father? Following 8 million albums sold for Off the Wall and 29 million from Thriller, 8 more million from Bad was an incredible accomplishment. Not only did Bad go platinum 8 times, it won 2 Grammy’s and had 6 top ten hits. What’s most amazing about this LP is that it had its first 5 singles reach #1. No other album in history has had 5 songs reach #1 on the Billboard charts. Bad was so impressive top to bottom MJ released 9 of the 11 songs as singles (one of the non singles was “Just Good Friends,” a song featuring Stevie Wonder; the other was “Speed Demon,” which later had a music video released). Jackson had so many options with these songs that he could release a movie, Moonwalker, which had many of the album’s songs and videos prominently involved. Jackson didn’t generate 29 million albums sold for this release, but he did embark on a Bad tour that grossed $125 million. Not that Thriller was a slouch by any means, but it only had 9 songs total, and may be considered somewhat top heavy with “Billy Jean,” “Beat It,” and “Thriller.” Bad also had a few iconic videos: “Bad,” “Smooth Criminal,” and “Leave Me Alone.” Some may also remember fondly the comical and suggestive antics from MJ and his crew in “The Way You Make Me Feel,” and the star studded cast from “Liberian Girl” (some notable people were Paula Abdul, Whoppi Goldberg, John Travolta, Steven Spielberg, Don King, Dan Aykroyd, and Danny Glover). Finally, Bad had some pretty remarkable collaborations, including Sideah Garrett in “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” the before mentioned Stevie Wonder in “Just Good Friends,” and Slash in “Dirty Diana.” It’s impossible to discuss Bad and not even mention MJ’s performance of “Man In the Mirror” from the 1988 Grammy’s. His routine was so phenomenal they apparently wanted to give him a Grammy for that performance alone even though that obviously isn’t a category. Lastly, Bad is the first album to reach #1 in 25 different countries. As crazy as it may seem, there is one record that Thriller doesn’t have, but in this case it loses to a very worthy opponent.