Michael Jackson was an artist who never ceased to surprise and amaze his fans. From Thriller to Bad, the King of Pop consistently kept his audience on their toes with each new release. The third album released by Jackson as a solo artist also marked the final one recorded before he became a global phenomenon. It featured two of Jackson’s biggest singles, “Billie Jean” and “Beat It,” along with several other hits like “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” and “The Girl is Mine.” And while the album didn't have nearly as many songs that could be classified as ballads compared to his previous record, "Thriller," it still had some beautiful examples of Michael's mastery of melody.
Every article about Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” has to begin with the fact that it is one of the most sampled songs in history. Over the years, it has been used in countless commercials, movies, and TV shows. It’s even been the subject of a musical. That all goes to show how impactful this song was and continues to be. But it also raises a fair question: how good is “Billie Jean” as just a song? Put simply, it is fantastic. The lyrics are complex, and the melody is incredibly catchy. It’s easy to understand why “Billie Jean” was the song that took Michael’s career to the next level.
“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”
Much has been written about “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” and for good reason. The song was Michael’s first attempt at doing an R&B track (outside of the Jacksons), and it worked brilliantly. The lyrics of the song are some of Michael’s most humorous and playful, and the music is pure R&B. But more importantly, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” was the song that inspired Michael to do his own R&B record, “Thriller.” That album turned out to be the biggest-selling record of all time, so while “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” isn’t Michael’s most memorable track, it’s still incredibly important.
This song is one of the most famous rock tracks of all time, and for good reason. It’s rhythmically complex, has fantastic lyrics, and an explosive guitar solo. The only thing that makes it surprising that it became a hit is that it was originally written for the soundtrack to “Footloose.” That makes “Beat It” the only song on this list that was written for a different project. “Beat It” is the result of Michael and his producer Quincy Jones deciding to take that song and make it their own. And they did just that, creating something that ended up being much more than it was meant to be.
"Baby Be Mine"
“Baby Be Mine” is a curious track. It’s a song that was featured on “Thriller,” but it was a song that Michael wrote before he was ever a solo artist. He wrote it for the Jacksons’ “Destiny” album. It was only when he decided to include it on “Thriller” that he retooled it to make it more suitable for solo artists. That retooling might explain why the song was never released as a single. Even though the song is pretty good, it doesn’t hold a candle to “Billie Jean” or “Beat It.” However, it’s a fascinating look into Michael’s creative process, as “Baby Be Mine” shows how he reworked an old song to make it his own.
"The Girl is Mine"
Michael’s duet with Paul McCartney was an odd choice for a track to include on “Thriller,” but it works brilliantly. The song has the feel of a silly novelty track, but the lyrics are actually quite complex. The two singers seem to be grappling with their own insecurities. They aren’t sure who the girl they are singing about is, but they are determined to “keep her” and “beat“ the other guy. In a sense, “The Girl is Mine” is a hidden commentary on the competitive nature of stardom. It’s a great track, and people often forget that it is part of the “Thriller” tracklist.
The title track of “Thriller” is the most notable example of Michael’s growth as an artist, and it’s one of the best examples of a concept album in music history. “Thriller” tells a story of a man who is seduced by a beautiful woman who is a werewolf. The song’s music and lyrics are perfectly in sync, creating a thrilling and entertaining experience for the listener. In all, “Thriller” is the perfect track to end the “Thriller” album. It’s the culmination of everything that the album is trying to accomplish, and it ends with a bang.
The “Bad” album was a fascinating release. Michael was transitioning from a solo artist to a global phenomenon, and this album marks that transition. It’s an album that is far more uneven than “Thriller” but still contains a handful of classics. It also shows Michael’s willingness to experiment, something that he always did but would come to be even more evident on his next album. “Bad” is not Michael Jackson’s best album, but it is a fantastic listen, and the title track alone is worth the price of admission.