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Soul/Funk/R&B - Released January 31, 2000 | Epic

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Special Soundchecks - Hi-Res Audio
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Soul/Funk/R&B - Released September 14, 2012 | Epic - Legacy

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
The downside to a success like Thriller is that it's nearly impossible to follow, but Michael Jackson approached Bad much the same way he approached Thriller -- take the basic formula of the predecessor, expand it slightly, and move it outward. This meant that he moved deeper into hard rock, deeper into schmaltzy adult contemporary, deeper into hard dance -- essentially taking each portion of Thriller to an extreme, while increasing the quotient of immaculate studiocraft. He wound up with a sleeker, slicker Thriller, which isn't a bad thing, but it's not a rousing success, either. For one thing, the material just isn't as good. Look at the singles: only three can stand alongside album tracks from its predecessor ("Bad," "The Way You Make Me Feel," "I Just Can't Stop Loving You"), another is simply OK ("Smooth Criminal"), with the other two showcasing Jackson at his worst (the saccharine "Man in the Mirror," the misogynistic "Dirty Diana"). Then, there are the album tracks themselves, something that virtually didn't exist on Thriller but bog down Bad not just because they're bad, but because they reveal that Jackson's state of the art is not hip. And they constitute a near-fatal dead spot on the record -- songs three through six, from "Speed Demon" to "Another Part of Me," a sequence that's utterly faceless, lacking memorable hooks and melodies, even when Stevie Wonder steps in for "Just Good Friends," relying on nothing but studiocraft. Part of the joy of Off the Wall and Thriller was that craft was enhanced with tremendous songs, performances, and fresh, vivacious beats. For this dreadful stretch, everything is mechanical, and while the album rebounds with songs that prove mechanical can be tolerable if delivered with hooks and panache, it still makes Bad feel like an artifact of its time instead a piece of music that transcends it. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Soul/Funk/R&B - Released September 6, 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
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Soul/Funk/R&B - Released October 24, 2009 | Epic - Legacy

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Despite the success of Bad, it was hard not to view it as a bit of a letdown, since it presented a cleaner, colder, calculated version of Thriller -- something that delivered what it should on the surface, but wound up offering less in the long run. So, it was time for a change-up, something even a superstar as huge as Michael Jackson realized, so he left Quincy Jones behind, hired Guy mastermind Teddy Riley as the main producer, and worked with a variety of other producers, arrangers, and writers, most notably Bruce Swedien and Bill Bottrell. The end result of this is a much sharper, harder, riskier album than Bad, one that has its eyes on the street, even if its heart gets middle-class soft on "Heal the World." The shift in direction and change of collaborators has liberated Jackson, and he's written a set of songs that is considerably stronger than Bad, often approaching the consistency of Off the Wall and Thriller. If it is hardly as effervescent or joyous as either of those records, chalk it up to his suffocating stardom, which results in a set of songs without much real emotional center, either in their substance or performance. But, there's a lot to be said for professional craftsmanship at its peak, and Dangerous has plenty of that, not just on such fine singles as "In the Closet," "Remember the Time," or the blistering "Jam," but on album tracks like "Why You Wanna Trip on Me." No, it's not perfect -- it has a terrible cover, a couple of slow spots, and suffers from CD-era ailments of the early '90s, such as its overly long running time and its deadening Q Sound production, which sounds like somebody forgot to take the Surround Sound button off. Even so, Dangerous captures Jackson at a near-peak, delivering an album that would have ruled the pop charts surely and smoothly if it had arrived just a year earlier. But it didn't -- it arrived along with grunge, which changed the rules of the game nearly as much as Thriller itself. Consequently, it's the rare multi-platinum, number one album that qualifies as a nearly forgotten, underappreciated record. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Soul/Funk/R&B - Released September 14, 2012 | Epic - Legacy

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
The downside to a success like Thriller is that it's nearly impossible to follow, but Michael Jackson approached Bad much the same way he approached Thriller -- take the basic formula of the predecessor, expand it slightly, and move it outward. This meant that he moved deeper into hard rock, deeper into schmaltzy adult contemporary, deeper into hard dance -- essentially taking each portion of Thriller to an extreme, while increasing the quotient of immaculate studiocraft. He wound up with a sleeker, slicker Thriller, which isn't a bad thing, but it's not a rousing success, either. For one thing, the material just isn't as good. Look at the singles: only three can stand alongside album tracks from its predecessor ("Bad," "The Way You Make Me Feel," "I Just Can't Stop Loving You"), another is simply OK ("Smooth Criminal"), with the other two showcasing Jackson at his worst (the saccharine "Man in the Mirror," the misogynistic "Dirty Diana"). Then, there are the album tracks themselves, something that virtually didn't exist on Thriller but bog down Bad not just because they're bad, but because they reveal that Jackson's state of the art is not hip. And they constitute a near-fatal dead spot on the record -- songs three through six, from "Speed Demon" to "Another Part of Me," a sequence that's utterly faceless, lacking memorable hooks and melodies, even when Stevie Wonder steps in for "Just Good Friends," relying on nothing but studiocraft. Part of the joy of Off the Wall and Thriller was that craft was enhanced with tremendous songs, performances, and fresh, vivacious beats. For this dreadful stretch, everything is mechanical, and while the album rebounds with songs that prove mechanical can be tolerable if delivered with hooks and panache, it still makes Bad feel like an artifact of its time instead a piece of music that transcends it. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Soul/Funk/R&B - Released February 8, 2008 | Epic - Legacy

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Soul/Funk/R&B - Released November 13, 2007 | Epic

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Michael Jackson's double-disc HIStory: Past, Present, and Future, Book I is a monumental achievement of ego. Titled "HIStory Begins," the first disc is a collection of his post-Motown hits, featuring some of the greatest music in pop history, including "Billie Jean," "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," "Beat It," and "Rock with You." It leaves some hits out -- including the number ones "Say Say Say" and "Dirty Diana" -- yet it's filled with enough prime material to be thoroughly intoxicating. That can't be said for the second disc, called "HIStory Continues" and consisting entirely of new material -- which also happens to be the first material he released since being accused of child molestation. "HIStory Continues" is easily the most personal album Jackson has recorded. References to the scandal permeate almost every song, creating a thick atmosphere of paranoia. If Jackson's music had been the equal of Thriller or Bad, the nervous, vindictive lyrics wouldn't have been quite as overbearing. However, "HIStory Continues" reiterates musical ideas Jackson had been exploring since Bad. Jackson certainly tries to stay contemporary, yet he has a tendency to smooth out all of his rougher musical edges with show-biz schmaltz. Occasionally, Jackson produces some well-crafted pop that ranks with his best material: R. Kelly's "You Are Not Alone" is seductive, "Scream" improves on the slamming beats of his earlier single "Jam," and "Stranger in Moscow" is one of his most haunting ballads. Nevertheless, "HIStory Continues" stands as his weakest album since the mid-'70s. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Soul/Funk/R&B - 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
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Soul/Funk/R&B - Released November 17, 2003 | Epic

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Since Michael Jackson botched his first hits collection by pairing it with a new album of material in a double-disc set, making it considerably less attractive for those legions of listeners who want just a single disc of hits, it's both inevitable and welcome that he attempted another compilation a few years later. This second collection, Number Ones, was released in the wake of the 2000 blockbuster Beatles 1, which rewrote the rules of modern-day hits collections from major artists, since it not only contained a generous, representative cross section of hits, it had a specific focus and did gangbuster business. An avalanche of similar-minded compilations by other titans followed, notably Elvis' 30 #1 Hits and the Rolling Stones' Forty Licks, and MJ's Number Ones is part of that wave. For some artists, sticking to number one hits isn't a bad way to make a collection -- the Beatles are a perfect example, actually, since even if 1 didn't contain such seminal items as "Strawberry Fields Forever," it still offered a full, representative portrait of their career. Jackson doesn't fare so well by the number one rule. First of all, he doesn't strictly follow the number one rule, leaving behind the number one hit duet "Say Say Say" with Paul McCartney, substituting a 1981 live version of "Ben" for the original hit, adding "Break of Dawn," an Invincible album cut never released as a single, and including "Thriller," "Smooth Criminal," and "Earth Song," none of which hit number one, and the latter wasn't even released as a single in the U.S. (there is, of course, the requisite previously unreleased song, the OK slow jam "One More Chance"). Then, there's the fact that Thriller changed the business, inaugurating the era of the blockbuster album that rode the charts for years, spinning off hit singles every quarter. Thriller generated tons of hits -- six of its nine tracks hit the charts, but only two of them hit number one. Its successor, Bad, had seven of its 11 songs hit the charts (one other, the CD bonus cut "Leave Me Alone," was a staple on MTV), and of those, five peaked at number one. So, by sticking to number ones, and adding "Smooth Criminal," this collection skews very heavily toward Bad, at times playing like an expanded reissue with bonus tracks. This may be a fairly accurate reading of chart positions, but it doesn't result in a particularly representative collection, since the brilliant Off the Wall is granted only two songs, leaving behind such charting hits as "Off the Wall" and "She's Out of My Life" (both gold singles, mind you), and Thriller is represented by only three tracks, with such defining songs as "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," "Human Nature," "PYT (Pretty Young Thing)," and "The Girl Is Mine" being left behind. These two albums are the core of Jackson's legacy, and it simply feels wrong that Number Ones gives them short shrift. Dangerous also is neglected, providing just one selection, when on the whole it had far more memorable songs than HIStory or Invincible. But these problems are inherent with any collection that concentrates just on the charts, not the music that got the songs on the charts in the first place. And while Number Ones contains enough of the big songs to recommend it for those listeners who are looking just for a cross section of the biggest hits from Jackson's career, it is also true that the perfect Michael Jackson hits collection has yet to be assembled. Maybe next time, particularly if he's granted an entry into Sony's generally excellent The Essentials series. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Soul/Funk/R&B - Released September 29, 2017 | Epic - Legacy

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R&B - Released January 24, 1972 | UNI - MOTOWN

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Soul/Funk/R&B - Released October 26, 2009 | Epic

Booklet
An important thing to remember when considering the soundtrack to This Is It: this entire film and CD project was never supposed to happen. This Is It was designed as a comeback tour, not a movie, with the rehearsals taped not for exhibition, but rather instruction, possibly some video bonus down the line. Of course, Michael Jackson's tragic passing created considerable demand for those final rehearsals (no need to get into the financial need, as well), so they were packaged as the This Is It film, released almost five months after his death, with a soundtrack as an accompaniment. Since there were no real live recordings made, at least not any to fill a big-budget blockbuster like this, the soundtrack consists of almost nothing but the hits repackaged one more time, with the title track -- an '80s leftover, co-written by Paul Anka and released under the name "I Never Heard" by Safire -- added as an enticement in two separate versions, the second being orchestral with an opening straight out of Sgt. Pepper's. The song does feel like a demo, right down to how it fades out mid-chorus, but there's no denying the thrill of hearing an unheard vocal track of Michael at his prime, no matter how mediocre the song may be. Whether this makes this worth purchasing is another question entirely. There's a second disc containing demos of "She's Out of My Life" (just Michael and an acoustic, quite nice) "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" (full demo, with identical rhythm and guitar lines, close to the final version but lacking its horns), and "Beat It" (a true writer's sketch, all vocals and harmonies, no lyrics or instruments, kind of awesome) plus a "poem" of "Planet Earth." ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Soul/Funk/R&B - Released May 9, 2014 | Epic - MJJ

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Soul/Funk/R&B - 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 did 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. It's a proven formula for commercial success, but it not only didn't push his music forward, it made his reach seem rather timid when compared to the wildly rich, all-encompassing musical vision of Thriller and Bad. Here, he's 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. It's not as good as that sounds, because the infectious joy and layered craft of that masterpiece have been replaced with a dogged, near-maniacal 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 (a really terrible title, btw). Since he was 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 (which they are), they still have a spark and sound better than anything Jackson had done since Dangerous. That's not enough to make Invincible the comeback Jackson needed -- he really would have had to have an album that sounded free instead of constrained for that to work -- but it does offer a reminder that he could really craft good pop. If only he had been fueled, not constrained, by his obsessions, this could have been really interesting. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Ben

Pop - Released August 4, 1972 | Motown (Capitol)

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Pop - Released March 21, 2018 | Epic - Legacy

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R&B - Released January 1, 2009 | UNI - MOTOWN

Released roughly three days after Michael Jackson's passing, The Definitive Collection is a 19-track collection of highlights from his Motown recordings, including the hits he had with his brothers in the Jackson 5. This emphasizes Michael's solo hits over the Jackson 5's -- there are ten cuts of him alone, nine with his brothers (and one of those is an alternate "minus mix" of "I'll Be There") -- which skews this a little bit toward puppy love over bubblegum, something that may be a little too syrupy for some listeners, but there's no denying that for fans lacking a collection of Michael's earliest hits, this is a useful compilation, gathering "I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save," "Who's Lovin' You," "Never Can Say Goodbye," "Got to Be There," "Rockin' Robin," "Ben," and "Dancing Machine" in one place. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Soul/Funk/R&B - Released March 8, 2013 | Epic

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Soul/Funk/R&B - 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
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R&B - 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

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