Three years ago today, Michael Jackson, an entertainer whose career spanned five decades — and who experienced monolithic fame in that time — died. He was 50. And just as with certain periods of his life, Jackson’s death caused a global media frenzy, particularly online. The news spread quickly, causing sites such as Wikipedia and Twitter to crash, and Google to believe it was under attack, due to the massive amounts of searches for the singer’s name.
But how do we choose to remember Michael? For many fans across the world, it’s through his music. The radio is always there, reminding us, through airplay, that Jackson racked up a boatload of hits over the years — on his own, and, early on, with his brothers. Of course, not every single released by the King Of Pop became a classic. He also had certain songs which, whether they charted high or low, never get the love from radio programmers that “Beat It”, “Thriller” and “I Wanna Rock With You” do.
Head below for our roundup of Michael Jackson’s 10 Best Songs Radio Forgot, and then let us know what your own favorite MJ jams are!
“Maybe Tomorrow” (as part of the Jackson 5)
ALBUM: The Jackson 5′s Maybe Tomorrow (1971)
As the the Jackson 5 proved with their classic ballads “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “I’ll Be There”, the band wasn’t just all about bouncy Motown bubblegum. This tearjerker, originally intended for Sammy Davis Jr., didn’t meet with the same success the previously mentioned hits did (it stalled at #20 on the Hot 100). But it showed that Michael and his siblings knew their way around a catchy melody — and had heart. Watch below as Jackson’s brothers play a (probably rehearsed) prank on him by cutting out the instruments during this live TV performance.
“I Wanna Be Where You Are”
ALBUM: Got To Be There (1972)
The music biz has lost several legends in recent years, including Michael Jackson and Dick Clark. Below, the latter introduces the 13-year-old former for this performance of “I Wanna Be Where You Are” on American Bandstand. Note the early stages of a few of Jackson’s later-trademark dance moves on display.
“She’s Out Of My Life”
ALBUM: Off The Wall (1979)
In revisiting these old clips, it’s hard not to notice the sheer innocence surrounding Michael in those early days — especially knowing the maddening circus his life would become in the following decade, as he ascended the mountain of mega-stardom. “She’s Out Of My Life”, the fourth of five singles from Off The Wall, peaked at #10. (More often than not, radio now opts for the album’s party favorites “I Wanna Rock With You” and “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”.) The concept for the video was simple: Michael Jackson sits on a stool in front of a black background, pouring his heart out as he sings the anguished ballad.
“Can You Feel It” (as part of The Jacksons)
ALBUM: The Jacksons’ Triumph (1980)
Michael and his brother Jackie co-wrote the influential dance track “Can You Feel It”, which was a hit overseas but only scraped to #77 in the US. The song’s accompanying fantasy-leaning, cinematic visual was lensed by Bruce Gowers (who later went on to be a director for American Idol) and Robert Abel, and it shows Michael’s early flare for the mini-movie form of music videos. Note that his clip was made a year before MTV hit the airwaves.
“Say Say Say” (Paul McCartney feat. Michael Jackson)
ALBUM: McCartney’s Pipes Of Peace (1983)
Okay, okay — “Say Say Say”, the second of two big duets between Jackson and Paul McCartney recorded in the ’80s, was a big hit upon its release (it was #1 for six weeks), and it garnered lots of airplay back then. Still, we rarely hear it get hauled out on the radio as much as, say, “Billie Jean” or “Thriller” these days. Meanwhile, Michael’s love interest in the video is played by real-life sister La Toya. Say say say what?
“I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”
ALBUM: Bad (1987)
Thriller follow-up Bad turns 25 this fall, and “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” was the first single from the album. The segment featuring the song in 2009 concert documentary This Is It (below) reminds us that Jackson could be a total ham, an absolute genius and a romantic — in this case, all at once.
“In The Closet”
ALBUM: Dangerous (1991)
Was Michael Jackson aware of what the term “in the closet” meant? The name of the song certainly proved to be intriguing for pop queen/gay icon Madonna, who at one point was attached to sing along with the King Of Pop on this, the third single from Dangerous. In the end, Madge took a bow out of the shared vocal duties, as the two couldn’t agree on the direction for the New Jack jam. Instead, the sultry female voice was provided by Princess Stéphanie of Monaco. (Uh, okaaaaay.) The video for “In The Closet” was shot by Herb Ritts, and features determinedly heterosexual co-mingling between Michael and Naomi Campbell, despite the song’s title. The single peaked at #6 on the Hot 100.
“Who Is It”
ALBUM: Dangerous (1991)
We absolutely love this synthy Dangerous jam, which features a more dark, atmospheric vibe than many of Jackson’s hits. Totally one of the singer’s more under-appreciated tunes.
“Will You Be There”
ALBUM: Dangerous (1991)
Yeah, we’re including the Free Willy jam. Expertly covered by Jennifer Hudson during Jackson’s public memorial service at the Staples Center in L.A. in 2009. “Will You Be There”, a Top 10 hit for Michael, was the subject of a lawsuit over copyright infringement (for failing to credit, of all people, Ludwig Van Beethoven). Perhaps that’s why we don’t hear it played so much anymore?
“They Don’t Care About Us”
ALBUM: HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I (1995)
One of Michael’s angriest songs (“They Don’t Really Care About Us” was released following the singer’s first public bout with child molestation allegations), this bitter track lyrically proved to be one of his most controversial (mostly for use of the lines “Jew me, sue me, everybody do me / kick me, kike me, don’t you black or white me”) and venomous (“I’m tired of bein’ the victim of shame / they’re throwing me in a class with a bad name / I can’t believe this is the land from which I came”). Naturally, this one proved to be too hot for US radio, and the single only charted at #30.