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Soul - Released January 24, 1972 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

Riding high on the wild success of the Jackson 5, Motown ringleader Berry Gordy assembled every single notable production team member and songwriter in his arsenal to contribute to the solo debut of the J5's boy wonder, Michael. By the time Got to Be There was released, much had changed in the Jackson dynamic, none the least Michael's voice. But this album launched three chart singles: a cover of the bubblegum classic "Rockin' Robin," Leon Ware's "I Wanna Be Where You Are," and the title track. As a cohesive album, Got to Be There is wildly erratic, and his covers of "You've Got a Friend" and "Ain't No Sunshine" show Jackson's versatility as a singer. It was a world away from the politically charged sound of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and the introspection that would later grace some of the best works of Stevie Wonder. But Got to Be There kept Gordy as king of the sound of young America -- at least for a few months longer. © Rob Theakston /TiVo
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Ben

Soul - Released August 4, 1972 | Motown

Although having just entered his teens, pop prodigy Michael Jackson's star was still very much on the ascent, circa his second full-length release, Ben (1972). This LP should not be confused with the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack from the Phil Karlson-directed "thriller" of the same name, and while blessed with an undeniable visual presence, Jackson was otherwise not involved in the creature feature. Like much of the Motown empire at the time, the title track's multimedia exposure, coupled with strong crossover appeal, insured that "Ben" scored the artist his first Pop Singles' chart-topper. Yet one interesting shift was the lack of participation from the Motown hitmaking machine known collectively as "the Corporation". While the aggregate had dominated most of the Jackson Five's early recordings and contributed their fair share to Jackson's debut, Got to Be There (1971), besides the title track, the only other cut to bear their unmistakable smooth production style is the practically perfunctory midtempo "We've Got a Good Thing Going." The catchy "Greatest Show on Earth" has a cinematic quality that stands out thanks to an excellent arrangement from James Anthony Carmichael -- one of several he scored for the project. While not a cover in the traditional sense, "People Make the World Go 'Round" was actually released within a few weeks of the Stylistics' more familiar hit. Although the reading heard here is equally impassioned, the emotive impact could arguably be greater thanks to the optimism infused with innocence in Jackson's vocals. "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" owes greatly to the Heartbeats' doo wop version, as opposed to Jimmy Scott's earlier classic. Jackson is obviously quite familiar with the former's phrasing while adding an age-defying maturity of his own. Returning back to his Hitsville roots, "My Girl" is updated with a funkier rhythm. The vocalist responds in kind with his own soulful lead that soars over the freshly syncopated chorus. The score includes some call-and-response interaction similar to what he and his brothers had displayed on the Jackson Five's selections "Nobody" and "The Love You Save," among countless others. "What Goes Around Comes Around" is one of Ben's better deep cuts with the vibrant melody perfectly matched to the artist's youthful voice. Of lesser note is the hopelessly dated "message" in the filler track "In Our Small Way." Luckily, a pair of winners conclude the effort with the propulsive and funky "Shoo Be Doo Be Doo Da Day" -- which was co-written by Stevie Wonder -- and the Berry Gordy-penned midtempo "You Can Cry on My Shoulder." Ben -- along with rest of Michael Jackson's recordings for Motown, can be found as part of the excellent and thoroughly annotative three-disc Hello World: The Motown Solo Collection (2009). © Lindsay Planer /TiVo
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Soul/Funk/R&B - Released January 24, 1972 | Motown

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Riding high on the wild success of the Jackson 5, Motown ringleader Berry Gordy assembled every single notable production team member and songwriter in his arsenal to contribute to the solo debut of the J5's boy wonder, Michael. By the time Got to Be There was released, much had changed in the Jackson dynamic, none the least Michael's voice. But this album launched three chart singles: a cover of the bubblegum classic "Rockin' Robin," Leon Ware's "I Wanna Be Where You Are," and the title track. As a cohesive album, Got to Be There is wildly erratic, and his covers of "You've Got a Friend" and "Ain't No Sunshine" show Jackson's versatility as a singer. It was a world away from the politically charged sound of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and the introspection that would later grace some of the best works of Stevie Wonder. But Got to Be There kept Gordy as king of the sound of young America -- at least for a few months longer. © Rob Theakston /TiVo
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Ben

Soul/Funk/R&B - Released August 4, 1972 | Motown

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Although having just entered his teens, pop prodigy Michael Jackson's star was still very much on the ascent, circa his second full-length release, Ben (1972). This LP should not be confused with the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack from the Phil Karlson-directed "thriller" of the same name, and while blessed with an undeniable visual presence, Jackson was otherwise not involved in the creature feature. Like much of the Motown empire at the time, the title track's multimedia exposure, coupled with strong crossover appeal, insured that "Ben" scored the artist his first Pop Singles' chart-topper. Yet one interesting shift was the lack of participation from the Motown hitmaking machine known collectively as "the Corporation". While the aggregate had dominated most of the Jackson Five's early recordings and contributed their fair share to Jackson's debut, Got to Be There (1971), besides the title track, the only other cut to bear their unmistakable smooth production style is the practically perfunctory midtempo "We've Got a Good Thing Going." The catchy "Greatest Show on Earth" has a cinematic quality that stands out thanks to an excellent arrangement from James Anthony Carmichael -- one of several he scored for the project. While not a cover in the traditional sense, "People Make the World Go 'Round" was actually released within a few weeks of the Stylistics' more familiar hit. Although the reading heard here is equally impassioned, the emotive impact could arguably be greater thanks to the optimism infused with innocence in Jackson's vocals. "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" owes greatly to the Heartbeats' doo wop version, as opposed to Jimmy Scott's earlier classic. Jackson is obviously quite familiar with the former's phrasing while adding an age-defying maturity of his own. Returning back to his Hitsville roots, "My Girl" is updated with a funkier rhythm. The vocalist responds in kind with his own soulful lead that soars over the freshly syncopated chorus. The score includes some call-and-response interaction similar to what he and his brothers had displayed on the Jackson Five's selections "Nobody" and "The Love You Save," among countless others. "What Goes Around Comes Around" is one of Ben's better deep cuts with the vibrant melody perfectly matched to the artist's youthful voice. Of lesser note is the hopelessly dated "message" in the filler track "In Our Small Way." Luckily, a pair of winners conclude the effort with the propulsive and funky "Shoo Be Doo Be Doo Da Day" -- which was co-written by Stevie Wonder -- and the Berry Gordy-penned midtempo "You Can Cry on My Shoulder." Ben -- along with rest of Michael Jackson's recordings for Motown, can be found as part of the excellent and thoroughly annotative three-disc Hello World: The Motown Solo Collection (2009). © Lindsay Planer /TiVo
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Soul - Released April 13, 1973 | Motown

This was Michael Jackson's least successful album during his solo run at Motown. The songs were undistinguished, Jackson sounded tentative and uninterested vocally, and the production and arrangements were routine at best, sometimes inferior. There's little wonder that Jackson at this point began to openly express his desires to expand his horizons and try a fresher, more contemporary approach. © Ron Wynn /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 1975 | Motown

Michael Jackson's fourth and final new studio album for Motown came nearly two years after its predecessor, Music and Me. It was a more mature effort for the 16-year-old singer but lacked the contemporary dance style that had given Jackson and his brothers a career rebirth with "Dancing Machine" the year before. The album did spawn two minor chart singles, "We're Almost There" and "Just a Little Bit of You" (both produced by Brian Holland of the Holland-Dozier-Holland production team), and a third track, "One Day in Your Life," would chart as a reissue six years later. But though Jackson sang appealingly, the arrangements were noticeably similar to many older Motown charts, and there was little here to hint that, four years hence, on his next solo album, Off the Wall, Jackson would emerge as a major star. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Soul - Released November 30, 1982 | Epic

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Exceptional Sound Recording
Off the Wall was a massive success, spawning four Top Ten hits (two of them number ones), but nothing could have prepared Michael Jackson for Thriller. Nobody could have prepared anybody for the success of Thriller, since the magnitude of its success was simply unimaginable -- an album that sold 40 million copies in its initial chart run, with seven of its nine tracks reaching the Top Ten (for the record, the terrific "Baby Be Mine" and the pretty good ballad "The Lady in My Life" are not like the others). This was a record that had something for everybody, building on the basic blueprint of Off the Wall by adding harder funk, hard rock, softer ballads, and smoother soul -- expanding the approach to have something for every audience. That alone would have given the album a good shot at a huge audience, but it also arrived precisely when MTV was reaching its ascendancy, and Jackson helped the network by being not just its first superstar, but first black star as much as the network helped him. This all would have made it a success (and its success, in turn, served as a new standard for success), but it stayed on the charts, turning out singles, for nearly two years because it was really, really good. True, it wasn't as tight as Off the Wall -- and the ridiculous, late-night house-of-horrors title track is the prime culprit, arriving in the middle of the record and sucking out its momentum -- but those one or two cuts don't detract from a phenomenal set of music. It's calculated, to be sure, but the chutzpah of those calculations (before this, nobody would even have thought to bring in metal virtuoso Eddie Van Halen to play on a disco cut) is outdone by their success. This is where a song as gentle and lovely as "Human Nature" coexists comfortably with the tough, scared "Beat It," the sweet schmaltz of the Paul McCartney duet "The Girl Is Mine," and the frizzy funk of "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)." And, although this is an undeniably fun record, the paranoia is already creeping in, manifesting itself in the record's two best songs: "Billie Jean," where a woman claims Michael is the father of her child, and the delirious "Wanna Be Startin' Something," the freshest funk on the album, but the most claustrophobic, scariest track Jackson ever recorded. These give the record its anchor and are part of the reason why the record is more than just a phenomenon. The other reason, of course, is that much of this is just simply great music. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Soul - Released July 4, 1983 | Epic

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Michael Jackson had recorded solo prior to the release of Off the Wall in 1979, but this was his breakthrough, the album that established him as an artist of astonishing talent and a bright star in his own right. This was a visionary album, a record that found a way to break disco wide open into a new world where the beat was undeniable, but not the primary focus -- it was part of a colorful tapestry of lush ballads and strings, smooth soul and pop, soft rock, and alluring funk. Its roots hearken back to the Jacksons' huge mid-'70s hit "Dancing Machine," but this is an enormously fresh record, one that remains vibrant and giddily exciting years after its release. This is certainly due to Jackson's emergence as a blindingly gifted vocalist, equally skilled with overwrought ballads as "She's Out of My Life" as driving dancefloor shakers as "Working Day and Night" and "Get on the Floor," where his asides are as gripping as his delivery on the verses. It's also due to the brilliant songwriting, an intoxicating blend of strong melodies, rhythmic hooks, and indelible construction. Most of all, its success is due to the sound constructed by Jackson and producer Quincy Jones, a dazzling array of disco beats, funk guitars, clean mainstream pop, and unashamed (and therefore affecting) schmaltz that is utterly thrilling in its utter joy. This is highly professional, highly crafted music, and its details are evident, but the overall effect is nothing but pure pleasure. Jackson and Jones expanded this approach on the blockbuster Thriller, often with equally stunning results, but they never bettered it. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 1984 | UNI - MOTOWN

Once more, Motown pulled a marketing ploy with Michael Jackson material they had in the vault. This time, they remixed it and convinced some people it was a new track. It's a testament to Jackson's appeal at the time that the song actually cracked both the R&B and Pop Top 40, although it didn't get out of the high thirties on either side. This was another incident in Motown's long history that does not rank as one of their better moments. © Ron Wynn /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 1984 | UNI - MOTOWN

If you didn't get The Jackson 5 anthology (now out on CD), then this has some merit. Michael Jackson's solo career really took off when he signed with Epic, so it's questionable as to whether the majority of his Motown songs are really that important. But for the handful of people who missed them the first time around, here's a decent sampling. © Ron Wynn /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 1995 | Motown

When a teenage Michael Jackson was known primarily for his membership in the Jackson 5, rock critics tended to dismiss him as bubblegum. But even at his most waifish, the pre-Thriller, pre-Quincy Jones Jackson could be soulful. Spanning 1971-1975, this two-CD set shows how inviting some of Jackson's early solo recordings were. Major hits like "Ben" (his oddly poignant ode to a rat), "I Wanna Be Where You Are," and "Got to Be There" are included, along with noteworthy album tracks like Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" and the standard "All the Things You Are." Anyone who doubted that he was a serious R&B/pop singer should have examined Jackson's moving version of the Philly soul classic "People Make the World Go Round" (which is heard with different lyrics than on the Stylistics' much better-known version). The package also contains a handful of Jackson 5 hits, including "Never Can Say Goodbye" and the infectious "Dancing Machine." To be sure, Jackson's solo albums of the early to mid-'70s had their share of filler, something this package isn't devoid of either. But thankfully, Anthology has a lot more pluses than minuses. For an introductory overview of Jackson's early accomplishments on his own, Anthology is the most logical choice. © Alex Henderson /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 1995 | Motown

The Very Best of Michael Jackson with the Jackson Five is the U.K. version of 1995's The Ultimate Collection. The selections here are similar to those on the U.S. set, including Jackson 5 no-brainers like "I Want You Back," "ABC," "I'll Be There," and "Never Can Say Goodbye." Then, for the last quarter of program, it features a handful of solo Michael cuts -- such as "Ben," "Doctor My Eyes," and "Ain't No Sunshine." © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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Soul - Released May 19, 1997 | Epic

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Despite its heavy promotion, HIStory was a considerable sales disappointment, largely because it buried an album of new material with a greatest-hits collection, causing the former to be overlooked. Although the new album was unfocused, it had its moments, which may be why Michael Jackson refused to let HIStory die. He remixed eight of its songs for Blood on the Dance Floor: History in the Mix, and then saddled that record with five new songs, which means that he repeated the same mistake by burying the new songs yet again. This time, however, it wasn't such a loss, since all the songs on Blood on the Dance Floor are embarrassingly weak, sounding tired, predictable and, well, bloodless. The title track, a bleak reworking of "Jam" and "Scream," is indicative of the weakness of the album, but it only touches on how sad the whole affair is. It would be one thing if Jackson wasn't relevant to the late '90s and ignored all contemporary innovations, since he could then make good music on his own terms. However, he flaunts his ignorance aggressively, as if sheer willpower will return him to the charts, making it all the more apparent that he can no longer craft a good melody or beat. And for one of the greatest musicians of the late '70s and early '80s, that's quite a depressing state of affairs. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 2000 | Motown

Michael Jackson's edition of 20th Century Masters -- The Millennium Collection concentrates entirely on his solo recordings from the early '70s, including such blockbusters as "Got to Be There," "Rockin' Robin," and "Ben." This doesn't contain every single one of his early solo hits, but it does contain the great majority of them, which means it might satisfy the tastes of many listeners who just want a sampling of the best of this era. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Soul - Released October 16, 2001 | Epic - Legacy

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Soul - Released October 29, 2001 | Epic

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Let's get the clichéd bad joke out of the way to begin with: at the time Michael Jackson released Invincible in the fall of 2001, he hardly seemed "invincible" -- it was more wishful thinking than anything else, since he hadn't really had a genuine hit in ten years, and even that paled in comparison to his total domination of the '80s. That lack of commercial success, combined with a fading reputation as a trailblazer, a truly ugly public scandal, and swirling rumors about his diminishing finances, along with a huge wait between albums (by teaming his Dangerous follow-up with a hits collection, it wound up being overlooked, despite a gaudy publicity push), resulted in Jackson being deep down in the hole, needing to surge back out with a record that not only proved his talents, but his staying power. So, faced with a make-or-break record, what did Jackson do to save his career? What he had done since Dangerous, take a turn toward the street and craft a hard-driving, hard-polished urban soul album, heavy on the dance numbers and sweetened by lugubrious ballads. That's a proven formula for commercial success, but it didn't push his music forward, particularly when compared to the wildly rich, all-encompassing musical vision of Thriller and Bad. Here, he is reined in by a desire to prove himself, so he keeps his focus sharp and narrow, essentially creating a sparkly, post-hip-hop update of Off the Wall. However, the infectious joy and layered craft of that masterpiece have been replaced with a desire to craft something hip enough for the clubs and melodic enough for mainstream radio, thereby confirming his self-proclaimed status as the King of Pop. Since he is exceptionally talented and smart enough to surround himself with first-rate collaborators, this does pay off on occasion, even when it feels a little too calculated or when it feels a little padded. Ultimately, the record runs too long, losing steam halfway through, as it turns to a series of rants about "Privacy" or a deadly stretch of uncomfortably treacly, sub-"Man in the Mirror" songs about "The Lost Children," or when he says that he can't change the world by himself on "Cry." Fortunately, Jackson was clever enough to front-load this record, loading the first seven songs with really good, edgy dance numbers -- even the opening "Unbreakable" isn't sunk by the creepy resurrection of Biggie Smalls -- and lovely ballads, highlighted by "Break of Dawn" and "Butterflies" with its Bacharach-styled horns. Even if these are too self-conscious and a little mechanical, they still have a spark and sound better than anything Jackson did since Dangerous. That's not enough to make Invincible the comeback Jackson needed -- he really would have needed an album that sounded free instead of constrained for that to work -- but it did offer a reminder that he could really craft good pop. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 2002 | Universal-Island Records Ltd.

Released in January of 2002, Motown's Love Songs contains 14 love songs and ballads Michael Jackson recorded, either by himself or with the Jackson 5, during his time on Motown in the early '70s. There are a few familiar songs here, such as "Who's Lovin' You," but the Love Songs series prides itself on mood, not hits, while providing just one or two tracks as collector's bait (a previously unreleased version of "I'll Be There" or the original mix of "Call on Me," for example). This means that it's the odd collection that sort of appeals to the dedicated, since it gives a different spin on the artist (but not really, since it recycles the catalog), and it sort of appeals to the casual fan, since it digs through albums to provide what they're looking for (but not really, since there aren't that many big hits here). So it fulfills the promise of the title quite well, but that doesn't necessarily mean that a lot of people will really need it (unless they're looking for mood music, of course). © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Soul - Released November 17, 2003 | Epic

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Soul - Released July 18, 2005 | Epic - Legacy

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There are several Michael Jackson greatest-hits compilations out there, each one its own take on what should be the definitive portrait of the gloved one's career. The Ultimate Collection, The Essential Collection (different from the one here), and Number Ones have all surfaced in 2003 and 2004, and HIStory a few years prior. Each one of these collections, while commendable in its attempt to thoroughly document Jackson's accomplishments, has fallen woefully short in one aspect or another. This has finally been rectified with this installment of Sony's outstanding Essential collection. Starting with his campaign with his brothers in the Jackson 5, this two-disc set tours through every important single and every important fan favorite short of including his duet with Paul McCartney on "Say Say Say" (the Beatle does, however, make an appearance here on "The Girl Is Mine"). From Off the Wall to Dangerous, it's all here in one concise package, making it the ideal reference point from which exploration into his deeper catalog can begin. While die-hard fans will already have every single song contained herein and may be weary to purchase another greatest-hits compilation short of a greatest-hits compilation including his backing vocals on Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me," this may be the only one fans and casual listeners will ever have to purchase to get their fill of the King of Pop's magic. © Rob Theakston /TiVo
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Soul - Released November 13, 2007 | Epic

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Michael Jackson in the magazine