Album Review: Michael Jackson, “Number Ones” (2003)

Michael Jackson is arguably one of the most talented, and famous artists of the 20th century. His album, Thriller is one of the best selling albums of all times- with the disc certified 26 times platinum. He reigned as King Of Pop for almost 2 decades, and has sold millions of albums all over the world.

But ever since the mid-90’s, Jackson’s music has gone from bad to worse. His last album, Invincible, was a bust, and the album before that Blood On The Dance Floor did worse.

In fact, his whole career has gone downhill. From legal problems (including his current scandal), rumors of bankruptcy, and two failed marriages- life hasn’t been too easy for the King Of Pop.

So when I heard he was releasing an album of his number one hits, I was pretty excited. I’d figured I could remember the days when Michael Jackson was my favorite artist, and have a complete disc of all this number one tracks. After just seeing the track list I was a bit disappointed.

Number Ones, in some ways, is a good collection of MJ’s songs. But there are a lot of good songs missing, and a few songs that shouldn’t have been included at all (but more on that later).

The album starts with Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough, one of the classic MJ songs, released back in 1979. Every time I hear this song, I remember the cheesy video that was made for it. You know the one- Jackson dancing in front a cheap looking black background while some strobe lights flash around. And I know you remember the afro he had, too. Anyway, this is a catchy, disco-type song. I’m sure most people are familiar with this- as it was Jackson’s first big hit as a solo artist. He sounds really young, too. Gotta love it.

I’ve always liked Rock With You. It sounds similar to Don’t Stop, but the tempo is a bit more slowed down here. Jackson’s voice starts of sounding smooth and velvety, which sets a laid-back mood for the song. The tempo picks up a bit towards the bridge, and then the song goes into the catchy chorus, “I wanna rock with you/All night/Dance you into day/Sunlight/I wanna rock with you/All night/We’re gonna rock the night away.” This and Don’t Stop were both from the Off The Wall album.

Billie Jean has possibly one of the most famous beats, ever. Almost anyone can either recite it, or knows it within just hearing the song for a few seconds. Besides the amazing beat, this song has a catchy chorus, and this is when Jackson started adding in his now-famous “whoo’s!” and other assorted sounds that he likes to make in his songs. I’m not quite sure what this song is actually about, since I’ve heard several stories. One story is that Jackson wrote this song about the groupies that used to hang around for his brothers after their performances; but I’ve also heard rumors about Jackson being sued back in the early 80’s by some woman who claimed that he was the father of her twins. We may never know the true story. A bit of trivia: This is also the song that Jackson first performed The Moonwalk to, at a 1983 Motown celebration.

OK, does anyone think it odd that I like Weird Al’s parody Beat It- “Eat It”- a tad bit more than the original? Despite that, Beat It is an awesome song. Jackson almost spits out the words instead of singing them. This song’s got an awesome beat to it- and would be a great choice for karaoke- it’s really a lot of fun to sing, and everyone knows the words. This is another one where the video almost always comes to mind (I know you remember this one, too- Jackson’s up in his room resting, but then he ends up going down stairs just in time to stop some vicious street gangs from fighting. In the end then they all do some choreographed dancing together).

Speaking of videos, let’s talk about the one for Thriller for a bit. I think the Thriller video was #1 on VH1’s list of the Best Music Videos Ever. And really, it deserves that title. The full-length video is 30 minutes long, and took like, a week to rehearse and film. Jackson transforms into a werewolf, and dances in the street with zombies- with some amazing choreography that’s been used in everything from TV shows to films (most recently Jennifer Garner’s flick 13 Going On 30). This was an expensive video for the 80’s- I believe the budget was a million dollars- which was unheard of in that time (and now, even!). Jackson said he wanted to create a monster movie out of the video- and he pretty much did (and it was scary, too! I remember being a kid and being terrified of this video!).

The song itself was never really that special to me- I think it’s just the fond memories of the video that make me enjoy it. I rarely listen to it, because really, the song isn’t all that fantastic. The beat is OK, and like most MJ songs, the lyrics aren’t anything special. Something cool about the song though, is that Vincent Price actually does a “rap” at the very end.

Awww…I’ve always been a fan of I Just Can’t Stop Loving You. I remember owning the tape when I was a kid, and singing along to the female parts (the female vocalist, by the way is named Siedah Garrett), so it’d be a duet between Jackson and myself (Ok…I admit it…I was just doing that last night). It’s a sappy duet, about everlasting love and all that jazz, but like the rest of the songs on Thriller it’s a classic.

I’ve always thought that Bad and Beat It are practically the same songs- except in Bad, Jackson’s one of the punks that he sings about in Beat It. I like this song better, though. This is another one that’s fun to sing along with. Jackson does some more “aggressive singing” here, along with adding in his trademark “sha ‘mon” (“come on”, in normal-speak) as well. Something I’ve noticed, is that when you listen to the songs from Thriller and Bad back to back you can really hear the difference in his singing voice. In these songs, his voice is a lot higher than in the ones from Thriller, but I actually like hearing him on these songs more.

I’m not sure who Annie is, or why someone killed her, or how Jackson knows about it, or why he wrote a whole song about it, but Smooth Criminal is a great song nonetheless. Jackson tells the story of some unfortunate woman, Annie, and how’s she killed. He just wants to know if she’s OK. Over and over again. I would say she isn’t “OK”, if she’s dead. Oh yeah, and she’s been struck by a smooth criminal. I’m betting this song is probably one of the most misheard songs ever. The chorus, “Annie are you OK?”, sometimes sounds like, “Annie are you walking?” or “Annie are you woken?” and for a long time I wasn’t sure which one it was. Anyway, even if this song is a bit odd, it’s still one of the coolest songs Jackson’s done.

I’ve never been a huge fan of The Way You Make Me Feel. It’s OK…I do like the first verse, but the rest is just mediocre. Here, Jackson explains to some girl that she “turns him on” and tries to convince her to come and “paint the town” with him. It’s a frivolous pop song with a good beat, but it’s not one of my favorites. It’s mostly Jackson’s ad-libbing towards the end (did anyone ever really figure out why he “sneezes” in the middle of the song?), that makes the song more interesting.

Man In The Mirror Jackson’s first of many, “socially conscious” songs. Siedah Garrett (from I Just Can’t Stop Loving You) actually CO-wrote this song. And what can I say? I actually enjoying listening to it. Jackson sounds nice, and the beat is good, and even though it doesn’t make me want to go and “make the world a better place”, it’s still somewhat inspiring without being cheesy. The addition of a choir after the second verse adds a good effect, too.

For reasons unexplainable, Dirty Diana is probably my favorite Michael Jackson song. I don’t know why, really. Maybe it’s the pulsating beat, or the way the song starts off kind of soft and then gears up to some full out yelling during the chorus and last verse. The song is a bit melodramatic, though, as Jackson does some distressed “crying” after one of the choruses, and there’s the sound of some machine guns, or something, at the end. This is one of the songs where I actually like the lyrics. My favorite lyrics probably are, “Diana walked up to me/She said ‘I’m all yours tonight’/At that I ran to the phone/Sayin, ‘baby I’m alright’/I said ‘but unlock the door/Because I forgot the key’/She said ‘he’s not coming back/Because he’s sleeping with me.'” You know, I’m not sure who Diana is- but Jackson was justified in calling her dirty.

On the other hand, Black Or White is probably one of my least favorite MJ songs. First of all, the lyrics are pretty dumb (“I took my baby/On a Saturday bang/Boy is that girl with you/Yes we’re one and the same” (could you have thought of something a bit more original, Jackson?)). Second, I’m just tired of hearing this song. I’ve probably heard it 8 million times in my life, and it only came out in ’92. And I’m also tired of hearing the jokes that come along with it (“So is Jackson black, or white?”- like that joke hasn’t been heard about a million times!). The only part I do like about this song is the bridge, “I am tired of this devil/I am tired of this stuff/I am tired of this business”..etc, and the rap that’s after the bridge.

Whenever I hear You Are Not Alone, I get a vision in my head of Lisa Marie and Jackson draped in sheets. *shudder*…So disturbing. Of course, that’s from the music video that they made together. Beside that, this is actually quite a beautiful song. R. Kelly wrote and produced this track for Jackson. It’s a sweet song of undying love for someone, and I’m sure it was played at thousands of wedding receptions back in ’95.

Earth Song and You Are Not Alone are the only songs from the HIStory album. I like this song. It’s another “socially conscious” track, but this time Jackson is warning us about pollution and asking us to take better care of the Earth. The song sounds beautiful- there’s a lot of orchestration going on, and a full choir backing up Jackson towards the end.

You Rock My World was the last single for Jackson to really have come out with. It’s the first single off Invincible, and isn’t really that good. It’s like a rip-off of all of his songs, but isn’t catchy enough or interesting enough to make it a hit. It’s almost pathetic compared to some of his hits on this album. Break Of Dawn starts off with the sounds on nature- birds chirping, wind blowing, etc. That’s probably the best part of the song. Ok, maybe I’m just being a bit hard on this song, cause I don’t think it belongs on a Number One collection (but more on that later). This is a romantic, slower song, about making “sweet love ’till the break of dawn”. The song isn’t really all that bad to listen to, but Jackson’s voice is kind of annoying here.

One More Chance is the only “new” song on the album. I remember hearing it once online, or somewhere, and thinking that it sucked. Which it pretty much does. It’s another love song, that’s just sort of boring. These last three songs (including Ben, which I’ll get to next) are really only good to listen to before falling asleep or something.

Ben is a live version of the song. I’ve never been a fan of this song- it kind of creeps me out for some reason or the other. Anyway, the live version doesn’t have much going on. There’s a long piano interlude in the middle of it, and towards the end Jackson starts getting “emotional” and “crying” again.

Earlier, I mentioned some complaints with the track listing. So here’s my say on what should have been left out and what’s missing.

What Should Have Been Left Out:
Earth Song- Even though I like it, I don’t remember this song ever going number one.

You Rock My World- ditto- except I don’t like this song.

Break Of Dawn & One More Chance- are just boring, and weren’t even released as singles.

What’s Missing:
Remember The Time- This song was HUGE (remember the lavish video with Eddie Murphy, Magic Johnson, and Naomi Campbell?)! Why isn’t it on here?

Human Nature- Another big hit from Thriller. This song should’ve been included.

Scream- Jackson’s big (and only) duet with his sister, Janet. This song was really popular, and if it didn’t go number one in the U.S. it went number one somewhere.

The Girl Is Mine- Jackson’s duet with Paul Mcartney. This song was huge! How could it not be on this album?!

Wanna Be Startin’ Something- I’m just baffled. I was sure this would be on here.

Number Ones is a subpar collection of Michael Jackson’s hits.  I wouldn’t have been so judgemental if this album was just billed as a Greatest Hits compliation, but not all these songs were Number Ones, so they shouldn’t be included.  Too many great songs are missing for this to be a truly stellar collection.

Rating: 3_stars.svg

Track List
1. Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough
2. Rock with You
3. Billie Jean
4. Beat It
5. Thriller
6. I Just Can’t Stop Loving You
7. Bad
8. Smooth Criminal
9. The Way You Make Me Feel
10. Man in the Mirror
11. Dirty Diana
12. Black or White
13. You Are Not Alone
14. Earth Song
15. You Rock My World
16. Break of Dawn
17. One More Chance – (previously unreleased)
18. Ben – (live)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOnqjkJTMaA]

*This is a brittpinkie “classic” review. I have edited this review for content and formatting, though retained my original opinion of the product.

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