The King of Pop was one of the most prolific musicians of his generation, and his music continues to be famous and influential well after his untimely death in 2009. Whether composing classical music at age 5 or filming an iconic music video for Thriller at age 32, Michael Jackson was a musical genius whose star will continue to shine long after his untimely death on June 25, 2009.
Looking back on his impressive discography – which has sold over 1 billion copies worldwide – it’s hard to pick favorites. With 10 studio albums, 10 video albums, 8 remix albums and many more, it’s a challenge to narrow down his greatest hits into a definitive list—but we did it anyway. Here are the 27 best Michael Jackson songs of all time.
Top Michael Jackson Songs of All Time
“P.Y.T.” is a song about a fresh-faced girl who captures the attention of a young man on the street. It’s a modern-day fairy tale, with Jackson singing that he can’t take his eyes off her and that she brings out the gentleman in him. “P.Y.T.” is a fun, upbeat song that has continued to be popular since its release in 1982. It features some great vocals, a solid melody, and a catchy chorus that you can’t help but sing along to.
“Dangerous” is the title and final track from Michael Jackson’s 1991 album of the same name. Despite its high tempo and captivating rhythm, it was not released as a single. The song features themes similar to Michael Jackson’s 1987 song “Dirty Diana,” in that it is about a seductress that Jackson falls for while knowing she isn’t good for him. This song has a fast tempo and a wonderfully catchy chorus. It’s one of Michael Jackson’s best songs because it shows his unique voice and musical style.
25. Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin
“Thriller” may be Michael Jackson’s most famous album, but “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” is the one you’ll have stuck in your head for days after hearing it. It’s a catchy dance song that combines rock and funk with a healthy helping of pop. The song starts off with a vocal line imitating African percussion before launching into its addictive chorus (and even more infectious chorus). Jackson said the song’s lyrics are about gossip and rumors and how they can start trouble in relationships.
Unlike the other songs on this list, “ABC” was recorded before Michael Jackson became a solo artist. It’s impossible to deny that it’s one of the best Michael Jackson songs of all time. It was one of the songs that introduced him to the world, and even though he had just turned 11 when it was recorded, he sounded like a seasoned vet. In the joyful lyrics, learning to love is compared to learning the alphabet. “ABC” topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970, knocking off the Beatles’ “Let It Be”.
23. Human Nature
“Human Nature” is one of the best Michael Jackson songs of all time. It was released in 1983 and became one of the top R&B and pop singles that year. While Jackson’s music was often built around his ability to deliver a simple hook, the hook for “Human Nature” is about as simple as it gets — just a few notes repeated over and over again. But it’s almost impossible to get out of your head after one listen. It’s also, on its own, a stunning piece of music with an emotional resonance that’s hard to find in his other work. Jackson is known for his ability to hit high notes and even higher octaves, but this song is more about restraint and nuance. His voice is soft and tender, never straining for effect.
22. You Rock My World
Michael Jackson’s 2001 track “You Rock My World” is one of his best songs of all time. It was the lead single from his career-reviving comeback album “Invincible”. “You Rock My World” was also a triumph for everyone involved, featuring Michael’s vocals and a rap by Chris Tucker. The seemingly random but meticulously-planned guest spots from Chris Tucker and Marlon Brando are only part of its appeal — it’s also one hell of a song. The production is slick, the melodies are tight, and there’s no sign of the past Jackson, who’d become tabloid fodder over the previous decade.
21. Rock With You
Michael Jackson’s first solo hit single as an adult was one of his brightest, catchiest tunes. It was released at the peak of Jackson’s solo career in 1979 when he was also touring with his brothers as part of The Jacksons. Co-written by Rod Temperton, “Rock with You” entered the charts at No. 4 in late 1979 and peaked at No. 1 in January 1980, where it remained for four weeks. The song earned Jackson a Grammy Award nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the 23rd Grammy Awards in 1981.
20. Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)
This song was released in 1978 as a single off the album “Destiny.” The Jackson 5 performed this song at the 1981 American Music Awards, where they were reunited following a period of not performing together. “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” is an upbeat song that encourages listeners to have fun with dancing and singing along. In May 1979, it reached No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100.
19. I Want You Back
“I Want You Back” features one of Michael Jackson’s earliest lead vocal performances on record. He was 12 years old at the time it was released. It then became the first number-one hit for Jackson 5 in 1970. The song’s success laid the foundation for much of what would come with The Jacksons over two decades: hit records, major awards, blockbuster movies, and millions in revenue from live performances and endorsements that would define pop stardom in America.
Next: 25 Songs About Regret
When you have millions of dollars, dozens of No. 1 hits, and a bottomless vault full of Grammys to your name, it’s easy to get complacent in your songwriting efforts—not so with “Bad”. It was the second single from his album of the same name, which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard Hot 100. Here, Jackson moved away from his characteristic groove-based style and high-pitched vocals in this album. He also incorporated the genres of pop, rock, funk, R&B, dance, soul, and hard rock into the album’s edgier sound. “Bad” has two things going for it that make it one of MJ’s most enduring tunes: It’s fun as hell and super danceable.
“Ben” was first released in 1972 and later included in the fourth studio album of the same name. It was written by Don Black and composed by Walter Scharf for the 1972 film “Ben” about a young boy and his pet rat, which starred Lee Montgomery and Joseph Campanella. The song is about a boy who is alienated at school because he is different. Described as both sad and uplifting by critics, the song won a Golden Globe for Best Song in 1973. The song reached number one in the Billboard Hot 100, as his first number-one single in the US as a solo artist.
Next: 11 Songs About Growing Up
16. Got to Be There
As the lead single and title track from his debut album, Michael Jackson’s first solo hit set the tone for everything he would accomplish in his career. Produced by Hal Davis, “Got to Be There” is a breezy soul ballad that finds a young Jackson poised between the innocence of youth and the beginnings of an insatiable passion for music. Jackson wrote the song with Elliot Willensky, and it was later covered by J.J. Cale on his 1972 album Naturally.
15. Remember the Time
This song was released in 1992 as the second single from Michael’s eighth studio album “Dangerous”. It was written by Teddy Riley, Michael Jackson, and Bernard Belle and produced by Riley. The single was a success worldwide and reached number three on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and number one on the Billboard R&B/Hip Hop Singles chart for seven weeks. The song’s lyrics are about remembering the times when you were falling in love with someone. The song was also accompanied by a nine-minute music video promoted as a short film. Jackson, Eddie Murphy, Iman, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, and Magic Johnson also appear in the video set in Ancient Egypt.
14. I Just Can’t Stop Loving You
Released as a single in 1987, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” has remained one of Jackson’s most popular songs to date. The song was written in collaboration with Siedah Garrett, who also performed duet vocals along with Jackson on this track. “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” was the first time that Jackson sang a duet on a record. It gained even more popularity when it was later remixed and released as part of “Billie Jean—The Collection”. An easy pick for anyone seeking top MJ songs, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” reached number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. The song is sweet and tender, perfect for slow dancing under the stars on your favorite date night.
13. You Are Not Alone
“You Are Not Alone” is a romantic ballad that was released in 1995 as the second single from Jackson’s ninth studio album, “HIStory: Past, Present, and Future, Book I”. This song is simply one of the best love songs ever written and performed. It’s about a man telling his lover that she will never be alone because he will always be there for her in times of need. The song is sentimental, heartfelt, and moving, featuring one of Michael Jackson’s most heartfelt vocals ever recorded. The song was an instant hit, topping charts in 14 countries worldwide. It was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
12. She’s Out of My Life
The best Michael Jackson songs reveal a complex, often tortured soul, and “She’s Out of My Life” is one of those songs. It was written by Tom Bahler and released on Jackson’s 1979 album “Off the Wall”. The song also appears on the 2001 special edition of the album. The song is about a man who misses his ex-girlfriend who has just left him. This is one of the best Michael Jackson songs because it shows that even though he was a superstar, he still had feelings like everyone else.
Next: Top 28 Songs About Missing Someone
11. They Don’t Care About Us
“They Don’t Care About Us” is one of the most powerful and important pop songs ever created by Michael Jackson. This protest song is from his album “HIStory: Past, Present, and Future, Book I” released in 1996. When racial tensions were at their highest since the civil rights movement, “They Don’t Care About Us” was released to shine a light on the injustices that people of color face. The song also features some of the most well-known lyrics in pop culture: “Beat me, hate me/You can never break me/Will me, thrill me/You can never kill me.” The song was also influenced by the controversy that surrounded Jackson at the time. The lyrics have been interpreted as anti-semitic, although Jackson claimed that he did not intend any offense.
Next: 25 Songs About Overcoming
10. Dirty Diana
In the late ’80s, the King of Pop was fascinated with rock music. One of those experiments was this aggressive anthem about groupies who can’t get enough of performers like Michael Jackson. “Dirty Diana” was released in 1988 as a single from Jackson’s seventh studio album, “Bad”. It peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in June 1988. The song starts with a heavy, rock guitar riff and then slows down when Jackson enters with the first verse. The chorus is undeniably catchy, but the real highlight of the song is the guitar solo at the end. It’s a strong solo, which makes sense given that it was played by Steve Stevens, who has worked with Billy Idol and Vince Neil.
9. Black or White
One of Michael’s biggest hits, “Black or White”, got a lot of people talking with its controversial video. But as anyone who has heard it will attest, it is also a great pop song with one of MJ’s catchiest hooks. The song reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the fastest US chart-topper since the Beatles’ “Get Back.” The video for this song featured cameos from Macaulay Culkin, Tess Harper, and George Wendt. It was also memorable for its controversial message about racial equality and harmony.
8. Smooth Criminal
The King of Pop was at his peak in 1988 when he released “Smooth Criminal”. From his multi-platinum album “Bad”, this hit single held down No. 7 on Billboard’s Hot 100. In “Smooth Criminal”, an upbeat rhythm and a catchy hook form part of what made it one of his best songs ever. It is about a woman, Annie, who was attacked by a “smooth” assailant in her apartment. “Smooth Criminal” may not be as iconic as “Beat It”, but its presence on top hits compilations still sends chills down listeners’ spines.
7. The Way You Make Me Feel
“The Way You Make Me Feel” was released in 1987 on his seventh studio album, Bad, and quickly became a classic pop song. After the heavy-hitters “Billie Jean” and “Beat It”, this song continued the success of MJ’s 80’s music, and even today, people love it. The song is upbeat and fun, with a chorus that makes you want to dance along. This song also has a music video that adds to the story of the track, where Michael pursues a young woman through a city with his dance moves. The music video itself is fun to watch, with lots of people dancing in the streets behind MJ.
6. I’ll Be There
The Jackson 5 never shied away from singing about love, but they didn’t do it as well as they did on this song. “I’ll Be There” was one of their most successful singles, topping the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks straight. Michael Jackson took the lead vocals on this song, setting up his long solo career. Although it was recorded by the Jackson 5, “I’ll Be There” is one of Michael Jackson’s best songs, reaching the top spot on Billboard in 1970. The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2011. It sold more than 6 million copies worldwide and was covered by Mariah Carey as a duet with Trey Lorenz in 1992.
Next: Top 27 Songs About Friendship
5. Man in the Mirror
The fact that “Man in the Mirror” is at the top of this list should tell you something about Michael Jackson. The King of Pop — who died on June 25, 2009 — was more than just a singer. He was an inspirational figure who used his music to challenge the world to be a better place. Jackson’s music changed over time, but he never lost his ability to inspire others with his musicality. The song’s message is simple: If you want to make the world better, start by looking at yourself and making yourself better. “Man in the Mirror” was released in 1988 as a single from “Bad”, Jackson’s seventh studio album.
The King of Pop’s crowning achievement, “Thriller”, still sounds like nothing else in the history of pop music. This record remains as freaky and frightening as it was upon its November 1983 release. The beat is the key: nearly 40 years later, that martial snare-and-bass drum thump still makes listeners want to jump up and dance like a zombie. But “Thriller” wasn’t just an epochal single; it also came with a 14-minute short film starring Michael as an undead monster with killer moves. The video for “Thriller” has remained so popular that it was inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in December 2016.
3. Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough
One of Michael Jackson’s biggest hits, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”, was released on his 1979 album “Off The Wall”. The song is about making love to a woman. Though it sounds quite cheesy written out like that, it’s just one more example of how brilliantly Michael made every song his own. “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” was his first solo number-one hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Not only did it top the list, but it stayed there for seven weeks – something no other male artist had ever done until that point.
2. Beat It
Filled with powerful imagery and a rock theme, “Beat It” is a song that has stood up to time better than most others from its era. Thanks to its powerful music video (along with Jackson’s iconic performance outfit), “Beat It” was inducted into the Music Video Producers Hall of Fame. It also won several awards, including two American Music Awards and two Grammy Awards in 1984 for Record of the Year and Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. Eddie Van Halen, the lead guitarist of Van Halen, played the guitar solo in the song.
1. Billie Jean
Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no question that “Billie Jean” is one of Michael Jackson’s best. The song was wildly popular upon its release in 1983 and remains a favorite today among fans and critics alike. In fact, Rolling Stone named “Billie Jean” as MJ’s greatest song ever. It topped charts all over North America and Europe and was instantly inducted into classic-rock status after its debut. As far as his career-spanning songs go, “Billie Jean” simply doesn’t get much better than that—and it’s #1 on our list.
It’s hard to imagine that one person could be responsible for as many great songs as King of Pop Michael Jackson. He produced album after album with hit song after hit song, each more impressive than the last. Love him or hate him, it’s hard to deny the impact that Michael Jackson had on music. Michael Jackson deserves a spot as one of the greatest musical legends of all time—his music will outlive him, and he will forever be considered a king among men.
Although it seems impossible to choose an all-encompassing list of his greatest songs, we feel that the top 27 we’ve found are a great representation of the best material he had to offer. And even if you disagree with some of the songs on this list, we’re sure you will agree that this artist was truly one of a kind and that his music will continue to influence generations of listeners for years to come.