Top 10 Michael Jackson Covers
Good morn’ or evening, friends. In conjunction with the birthday of the late Michael Jackson (August 29th), today’s top ten is dedicated to the King of Pop. Now, there’s no doubt many blogs, magazines and such are honoring MJ in their own fashion, and Well-Dressed Headphone Addict is no different. Choosing an alternative avenue, as always, this is the 10 most interesting Michael Jackson covers. Early in his career, MJ created a pristine reputation for sublimely interpreting the songs and words of singers and songwriters so much older than he. However, unlike his friend and mentor Stevie Wonder, Jackson’s own songs, especially his own compositions, are incredibly difficult to cover. Due to MJ’s deeply personal emotions, peerless vocal range and unparalleled production techniques, most who dare try, wind up making a novelty record (see Fallout Boy’s cover of “Beat It”). So, here are the 10 most genuine covers we could find.
10) “Smooth Criminal” – Alien Ant Farm, 2001; 2Cellos, 2010
Now, I just mentioned that more often than not, MJ covers sound like karaoke. This remake by Alien Ant Farm was such a novelty, it stands as the only hit song by the rock trio. However, it’s performed with such aggressive conviction, it had to be included on this top 10. Having said that, WDHA has included a bonus cover of the Bad top ten single from Croatian duo 2Cellos.
9) “Human Nature” – Vijay Iyer, 2010
Jazz artists have had the most success with remaking Michael Jackson songs over the years. When Thriller was released, many jazz artists, even Miles Davis, took stabs at MJ’s monster hits. “Human Nature,” one of seven top 10 hits from the 1982 LP has been recorded and sampled by many, but this solo piano performance by Indian-American musician Vijay Iyer is the most unique; serene, off-kilter, somber and heartfelt.
8 ) “Gone Too Soon” – Babyface & Stevie Wonder, 1997
Kenny “Babybace” Edmonds and Stevie Wonder were frequent collaborators with Michael, therefore a remake by two insanely gifted artists who have working knowledge of MJ would have no trouble interpreting one of his songs. Well, the proof is here, during Babyface’s MTV Unplugged performance/recording. The two duet on Dangerous ballad, “Gone Too Soon,” which Babyface recently added to his setlist as postumous tribute.
7) “I Wanna Be Where You Are” – SWV, 1998
Girl group SWV (Sister With Voices) had a string of hit singles in the 1990s, and appeared on a number of hot soundtracks as well, including the multi-platinum Waiting To Exhale. For the soundtrack of “Hav Plenty,” SWV covered MJ’s classic Motown hit, “I Wanna Be Where You Are,” giving it that new jack twist, but staying true to the original by keeping in the trademark harpsichord.
6) “I Can’t Help It” – Gretchen Parlato, 2009
Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall album was the first in history to have four top 10 hits, but the album was such a landmark, many of the non-singles have become classics in their own right, and none more than the Stevie Wonder penned “I Can’t Help It.” Revered by fans and artists like, it’s often covered on stage, but has seldom been recorded. Jazz vocalist Gretchen Parlato and pianist Robert Glasper took a stab at it, re-imagining it into a hip, bossa nova-style song.
5) “Lady In My Life” – Stanley Jordan, 1985
As stated before, jazz artists have made some of the creative covers of Michael Jackson tunes, especially in the 1980s when Thrillermania was sweeping the planet. Guitar virtuoso Stanley Jordan, famous for his signature neck-play and covers of “Eleanor Rigby” and “Over the Rainbow,” took on the King of Pop’s most sensuous song, “Lady in My Life,” breathing a new, smooth and erotic life into it.
4) “Billie Jean” – BLACKstreet, 1996
The collaboration between Michael Jackson and producer Teddy Riley conceived massively successful and innovative music, most famously for Jackson’s 1991 album Dangerous. They would continue to work together throughout the 1990s and 2000’s, writing “Joy,” a hit single for Riley’s singing group BLACKstreet. For the release of the number 1 single “No Diggity,” Riley and the group did a special B-Side cover of “Billie Jean,” MJ’s most famous hit, and perhaps most difficult to re-d0.
3) “Never Can Say Goodbye” – Isaac Hayes, 1972
Recorded less than a year after the Jackson 5’s original smash, Stax superstar Isaac Hayes drop his double LP opus Black Moses, which had a simmer, gospel inflected redo of “Never Can Say Goodbye,” full of lush strings and Hayes’ beautiful baritone vocals, getting right to the true heartache of the lyrics. The song would also go on to be a hit for disco diva Gloria Gayner two years later.
2) “I’ll Be There” – Mariah Carey, 1992
The biggest selling single in Motown History is The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” with six million copies sold. It was the last of their four consecutive number one singles, and it would see the pinnacle of the charts again 22 years later when Mariah Carey, only two albums into a legendary career, covered her favorite J5 tune for MTV Unplugged. Carey sang “I’ll Be There” at MJ’s memorial service in 2009, proving to be one of the most emotional performances of the service.
1) “All I Do Is Think Of You” – Troop, 1989
From The Jackson 5’s last album at Motown, 1975’s Moving Violations, “All I Do Is Think Of You” was the gem of that record, a doo-wop influenced ballad of love and longing. Vocal group Troop remade the track for their debut album, Attitude, helping it become a million seller. The band’s five part harmony bring out the truest essence of what made the original so special, but still managed to keep it current and fresh, so much so that many younger generations believe Troop did it first.
For better or worse, that’s the list. Don’t agree? Please leave your comments! Agree? Please leave your comments! Did I forget something? If so, please leave your comments! All comments will be read and respected.
Thank you for listening, and remember: Black Americans may only be 1/10th of the country, but that tenth is talented.