Lots of tributes, posts, lamentations, etc. last week. Now it’s my turn. Whatever else The King of Pop may or may not have done during his lifetime, he presided over a huge collection of awesome songs. That is undeniable. Here’s my top 15 Mike songs, covered.
15. Ben. Okay, so I’m biased. When I was seven I saw “Willard” and a 60 Minutes special about rats in the same 2 week period. Scared me spitless. I’m still afraid of rats. Although I’m kind of a terminator in my house–I can catch and kill any rodent, ’cause I know how to trap ’em–I can’t dispose of the bodies. My wife has to do that. Below, you’ll find a cover of “Ben” by a band called The Impossibles. They do a good job with it because they don’t oversell it. Yeah, it’s corny. But what’s so cool about it is that it’s a love song to a rat. Oh, and if you ever get a chance to see the Willard remake, do it. Crispin Glover at his wierdo creepiest.
14. Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough. Written with Ruben Blades, remember him? And can any of you tell me what “keep up with the force” means? MJ’s “Off the Wall” album was a great record, don’t get me wrong, but much of it was chants, not songs.
Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough-Keller Williams (direct link). An acoustic version!
13. Remember the Time. A rare example of a later-period tune that resonated with me. I can’t explain why, and I’m sure most of you hate it . . .
12. Rock With You. I found the “Off The Wall” cassette literally in a gutter next to an Earth Wind and Fire cassette. I took ’em both, and it was my first exposure to these artists. I listened to the MJ tape so often I could hear through to the other side. Weren’t audio tapes grand?
Rock With You-Izabella (direct link). Is this a great version? No. Is it cool to hear, in some strange way? Most def.
11. Bad. Silly lyrics, great beat.
10. ABC. The first Jackson 5 cut in the reverse countdown. Every time I see a live performance of this I’m astounded. Makes me look at my own 10-year-old and say, “What the fuck is wrong with you? Michael was a millionaire at his age. What have you done for me lately?” The only indie cover I could find was by some band called the Dulcets, and it’s kinda bad. So I’m not posting it. You can find it at e-z archive, if you must. If you need not, here’s a mash up:
ABC-Jackson 5 vs. The Freemasons (direct link)
9. Say Say Say. One of two duets between the cute one and the gloved one. This one is the better of the two because it doesn’t have that cheesy (and kinda creepy) voiceover where Paul pretends that he keeps women under his thumb. After his latest diverce, there’s no way we’re buying that line anymore, dude. The cover, below, is a chick version, acoustic. I’ve never heard anything by Ms. Marstrand myself, but this version is pretty nifty. I got it from Cover Lay Down, who has a buncha other neat songs, both MJ related and not.
8. Wanna Be Starting Something. Rhiannon stole mama say mama sah mama koo sa from this song, but (I hope) you already knew that.
Wanna Be Starting Something-John Mayer (Direct link). Yes, that John Mayer. And he does a pretty cool job of it, too.
7. I Want You Back. I dunno if this or “Mama’s Pearl” is my favorite J5 tune, but since this one has so many covers and not a lot of folks have even heard of “Mama’s Pearl,” I’m listing this one.
I Want You Back-Graham Parker. First, I’m offering Graham Parker’s version. It’s pretty straightforward, but solid. The alternative version, by KT, is one I’ve posted here before and is one of my favorite live covers of all time. I completely dig how she works the background singers in, builds the beat to a crashing finish . . . A perfect rendition.
6. We Are the World.
If you haven’t seen the video for this MJ-penned tearjerker, you need to. It’s orgy of the craptastic ’80s. I love this song, but not as much as the Band Aid tune that came first. My guily pleasure shmaltz confessions are now complete for the year.
5. Man in the Mirror. I ranked these songs honestly, and it wasn’t until now that I realized that I put two corny idealistic songs back-to-back.
4. Thriller. It wasn’t just the video directed by John “American Werewolf/Animal House” Landis, it was the whole shebang, from a fantastic opening verse to the closing laugh by Vincent Price himself. Tons of people have covered this, and I’ve seen lots of folks who posted the semi-ironic Ben Gibbard version. But overlooked is the incredible accapellist Petra Haden, who did a faithful cover, complete with the handclaps backup and the classic bassline. And what of the slowed-down disco funk of Ian Brown? Two great versions of one of the greatest long-form pop songs ever made.
3. The Way You Make Me Feel. One of the greatest workout songs ever. This cover is slightly slower, but the vocals are great.
2. Billie Jean. I just realized: For all the great videos he made, MJ never tried to be a movie star. Learn from that, Fiddy. You’re a terrible actor, and all your outside projects make you lose focus.
1. Beat It. From the ominous beginning to the extraordinary video and the Eddie Van Halen guitar solo, simply the best dance rock tune ever. I love this cover, too. Not as much as the Weird Al version, though.