Editor’s Note: Our recurring “Portrait of the Artist” playlist series pays homage to the artists responsible for the most inspired and indispensable discographies of all time. We hope you enjoy these tributes, and stay tuned for many more to come.
Eight years have passed since Michael Jackson’s untimely passing, but his incomparable body of work continues to astonish us as he envisioned. “I should be a new incredible actor, singer, dancer that will shock the world,” Jackson reminded himself in 1979. “I will be magic. I will be a perfectionist, a researcher, a trainer, a masterer…I will study and look back on the whole world of entertainment and perfect it. Take it steps further than where the greatest left off.”
His pursuit of musical immortality began at the tender age of five, mastering the moves of Sammy Davis Jr., Jackie Wilson, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and James Brown, among others. His musical education continued to bloom at Motown Records, igniting the spark for the ‘70s soul explosion, from “I Want You Back” to “Dancing Machine” with the Jackson Five. As a young teenager, Michael began his transition from child sensation to adult superstar with hidden classics such as “Blues Away” and “Push Me Away,” harking back to the smooth glories of Berry Gordy, Hal Davis, and Stevie Wonder.
When he joined forces with maestro producer Quincy Jones in 1978, they constructed three globe-conquering masterpieces—Off the Wall (1979), Thriller (1982), and Bad (1987)—that aimed for the Billboard rafters (“Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” “Rock with You,” “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “Man in the Mirror”) and satisfied the crate-digging vinyl crowds (“Get on the Floor,” “I Can’t Help It,” “Liberian Girl”), all at once. Most media and music critics suggest that Jackson’s artistry began to wane in the 1990s and 2000s. However, a closer analysis reveals undercelebrated masterpieces that stand parallel with—and, at times, eclipse—his beloved ‘80s classics (e.g., “Who Is It,” “Stranger in Moscow,” “Is It Scary,” and “Whatever Happens”).
June 25th is a devastating punch to the gut for many people around the globe. But we encourage you to join us in celebrating the undisputed King of Pop today, tomorrow and beyond with this carefully curated, career-spanning tribute playlist.