These days, almost any and everything is up for debate. And there might not be any greater example of that than debates when it comes to Michael Jackson’s music, and where he stands in history.
Overall, the musical legacy and influence of Michael Jackson, one of the greatest entertainers of all time, is certainly solidified. He essentially changed music videos (a concept that is still going strong today, albeit online at places like YouTube and Vevo). He was instrumental in bringing black faces to the world of MTV. And he is celebrated as one of the greatest dancers and overall entertainers of all time.
And yet, musical tastes vary. One person might love “Bad,” and another feel it was a highly disappointing project. And so, in this article, I’m going to break down my list of 8 of the best Michael Jackson albums of all time, so that you can track them down and add them to your collection. This list will include music from Michael Jackson’s days in The Jackson 5 and The Jacksons, as well.
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Got to Be There is one of my favorites and was Jackson’s first solo album. It gives off the same bubblegum pop feel that’s resembled in young Michael’s face on the album cover. It’s lead off single, of the same name, debuted on October 7th, 1971 followed by the album release on January 24th, 1972.
A remastered and reissued 3-disc compilation Hello World: The Motown Solo Collection was made available in 2009. Still there’s nothing like the original sound of the vinyl playing out the remake of The Supreme’s “Love is Here and Now your Gone.”
Beginning to end, the arrangement and production of Berry Gordy and The Corporation is seamless and a pleasure to listen to. Got to be There starts my list and is my recommendation of an easy listening classic. I’ve seen original vinyl for sale online for around $50 – $75, with used and mint conditions going for $20-$40.
If by chance you’re under 30 and want to know what The Jackson 5 was all about, the fun and funk of the 1974 release of Dancing Machine sums much of it up. This was the 10th studio album by The Jackson 5.
This disco funk masterpiece was released on Motown Records with a number 2 pop hit and number 1 R&B hit. It was remastered in 2010 but nothing grooves quite like the A and B sides of the LP. Track B2, is yet another immaculate showcase of young Michael’s vocal capabilities at 15 years of age.
Each song builds, stands alone, and then is exceptionally followed up with another musical monument. From the impressive soft rock sound of “I Am Love” to the funkiness of “She’s a Rhythm Child”, it’s very hard to pinpoint a musical style for this collection. I would highly recommend this to any fan of funk or disco. 8 tracks and vinyl can be found online for $20 or less used.
As you read the name of this classic Jackson 5 album, chances are you sang it or the arrangement of the title song began playing in your head. What’s almost definite, is when you allow this album to take you wherever it takes you back to, you smiled inside!
It’s that internal smile that gets ABC my recommendation and places it at #6 on my list. This May 8th 1970 release is filled with lighthearted, feel good anthems and is a landmark in the Jackson collection. It was the second studio album of the Jackson 5 and features the bubblegum pop, r&b, and rock that we loved the Jackson 5.
It’s the playful energy from listening to this album as I’m writing. By the way, you should pick a copy up. It can still be found on LP, cassette, and even 8-track. Album notable: An alternate version of the title track appears on the CD Jackson 5 – I Want You Back! Unreleased Masters released in 2009.
#5 Music and Me
Maybe it’s me, I seem to have a love for evolution. This 1973 Motown Records release has the tones and influences of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder but carry the vocal expressions of a frustrated 14 year old Michael experiencing changes of mind, vocal ability, and a musical landscape.
He was also struggling with not having any creative control over his music and not being able to live the normal life he wanted at times. You can feel the loneliness and uncertainty behind the bold and still powerful heartfelt runs explaining Jackson’s refuge in music.
Starting at the top of the album with the Stevie Wonder cover of “With a Child’s Heart”, all the way to the bottom with the album’s cover track, what resonates over the r&b and soul instrumentation is the caged bird singing. The everlasting and moving currents of emotion given on this timepiece puts it towards the top of my list of vinyl recommendations.
This timeless collection of music is Michael’s eighth solo studio album. Released by Epic Records on November 26, 1991, it was the first album not produced by Jackson’s longtime mentor and friend Quincy Jones since 1975.
Michael penned 12 of the 14 songs and co produced with Teddy Reiley, Nill Bottrell, and Bruce Swedien. You can feel a shift as the vinyl spins out a classic voice infused with sounds of a newer genre known as new jack swing or swing beat.
With edgier production and envelope pushing content, this is a stand alone, set apart body of work that reigned on the Billboard 200 for 119 months. Not many vibes can override the power of “Remember The Time”, the electricity in “Jam” and “Black or White” or the funk in “Who is It”. It’s the feeling and the intensity of this album that ranks it at #4 for me.
The track “Will You Be There” is the theme song from the “Free Willy” movie.
- The Way You Make Me Feel
- Man in the Mirror
- Dirty Diana
- Smooth Criminal
This is Michael Jackson unleashed. You can feel the freedom throughout his seventh studio offering. Michael wrote 9 of the 11 songs and received co-production credit on the entire album.
It had been almost five years since the world changing Thriller came out, and this time around Michael revealed a previously unseen layer of self reflection, paranoia, racial profiling, and romance.
This fearless creative leap, landed Michael with 5 number 1 hits, multiple Grammy awards, and arguably one of the greatest albums of all time.
When released on August 31st, 1987, the album marked the final collaboration between Jackson and producer Quincy Jones. As a body of work, there are infinite qualities to it.
Hands down a must have album.
- Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
- Billie Jean
- Beat It
- Human Nature
No one can dispute this is not only one of Michael’s greatest, but one of the greatest albums of all time. I mean, it only took just over a year from its November 30, 1982 release for Thriller to become what it remains today, the world best-selling album.
Iconic affect aside, Thriller lands #2 on my countdown for its unprecedented time travel capabilities. Pick any of the singles from this album and ask someone where they were when they first heard it?
Some magic is unforgettable and Michael shows the many tricks he had up his sleeve at 24. The funk and post-disco rhythms still reign supreme through any speakers they grace.
A special edition reissue was released in 2001 which has bonus audio interviews, demo recordings and the song “Someone in the Dark”, a Grammy-winning track from the E.T. movie.
Thriller was reissued again as Thriller 25 in 2008, containing remixes with contemporary artists, unreleased songs, and a DVD with Jackson’s performance of “Billie Jean” from the 1983 television special Motown 25 three music videos.
If you don’t own this piece of history, I recommend fixing that at once. You can easily find reissued copies, or if you want a copy that came out in the 80s, head to your local record store. So many copies have been sold throughout the years, it’s almost impossible to think it won’t be there.
#1 Off the Wall
- Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough
- Rock With You
- She’s Out of My Life
- Off The Wall
As vinyl lovers, we all clearly appreciate the element of something time and technology can’t replace. It’s that powerful timestamp capability that, for me, makes the Off the Wall album my favorite to play and best recommendation to own.
I can almost close my eyes and place the needle on the beginning of song A5, the album’s title track. The crisp flicker of the vinyl as this groove plays takes me back to my grandfather’s basement. The best place in the world.
One of the first songs I remember my mother singing to me is “Rock With You.” 30 years later, it became the way to quiet my toddler in car and a lullaby as i rock my little ones to sleep.
Off the Wall is Michael’s fifth solo studio album. It was released on August 10th 1979 following Jackson’s amazing performance as the Scarecrow in The Wiz.
While working on the film, scored by Quincy Jones, the two agreed to work together on Michael’s next project. This is the first expression we ever heard of Michael’s creative freedom. Collaborations with writers and artists such as Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, and Rod Temperton birthed a simmering gumbo of funk, disco-pop, soft rock, and soul.
You can feel the magic yourself by owning a copy. They can be found at your local brick and mortar stores, like Barnes and Nobles, for example, or used at your local record store.
So there we have it! The eighth child of the Jackson family, Michael gave the world 10 studio albums, 1 live recorded album, 72 compilations, and 7 remixed/greatest hits albums and even 2 posthumous offerings.
With so much magical music, it was hard to narrow down a list, but these are the top 8 classic MJ albums I recommend owning. The King of Pop’s body of work remains globally renowned and will be enjoyed for generations to come.
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