Michael Jackson (Wikimedia Commons/Zoran Veselinovic)
Today would have been Michael Jackson's 55th birthday. To celebrate, we’ve picked five of our favorite MJ songs – but not the ones you might expect. The King of Pop was wildly successful both as a solo artist and with his brothers, churning out some of the best-selling and most critically-acclaimed albums of all time. But he also lent his incredible talent to others’ music, guest singing with many musicians over the years. Whether they were his sisters and brothers, his friends, or big groups coming together for worthy causes, the recording stars of the 1980s and '90s knew their songs would turn out even better with a little help from MJ.
It wasn’t easy – even as a guest singer, Jackson left us lots of good stuff to choose from – but we’ve narrowed it down. Here is our Michael Jackson 5 – MJ’s five best guest performances.
5. "Ease on Down the Road." The single from The Wiz was one of several songs MJ would sing with Diana Ross, and their superstar status – and well-matched voices – made the cheery tune a hit, both in the musical and on the charts. Jackson and Ross were dear friends before The Wiz and remained close until his death. Their loving relationship helped make their musical collaborations sound pitch perfect.
4. "Night Time Lover." Michael Jackson was no stranger to singing with his siblings – his solo career was built on years of performing with his brothers in The Jackson 5. But when he sang with sister LaToya Jackson on her 1980 single "Night Time Lover," he wasn't the star of the show, as he had been in the band. He provided backing support for LaToya's own strong vocals, and also produced the track. It was one of several songs by his siblings that he'd lend a hand on.
3. "Somebody's Watching Me." The hot single by Rockwell (son of Motown mogul Berry Gordy) was a funny ode to paranoia – and MJ's vocals on the chorus gave it the perfect eerie touch. The pairing – with Jackson's brother Jermaine helping out on backing vocals – helped make "Somebody's Watching Me" one of the top songs of 1984.
2. "We Are the World." The 1985 benefit single that raised millions of dollars for African famine relief was co-written by Jackson, who also added his vocals to two key parts of the song. His crystal-clear notes in the first chorus are joined by his friend and frequent collaborator Diana Ross, emphasizing the song's message of unity. The USA for Africa group packed a lot of star power, but Jackson's prominent role most certainly helped make the song the huge success it was.
1. "Say Say Say." It wasn't the first collaboration between Jackson and fellow musical powerhouse Paul McCartney – McCartney had already duetted on "The Girl is Mine" from Jackson's Thriller – but "Say Say Say" eclipsed its predecessor on the charts. A No. 1 Billboard hit, it was one of the top 10 songs of 1984, and its groundbreaking video marked the beginning of the use of dialogue and storylines in the music video world. It was McCartney’s song, but neither the song nor the video would be the same without the one and only Michael Jackson.
Written by Linnea Crowther