Music Article

Michael Jackson's Albums

From ''ABC'' to ''Thriller'' to ''Dangerous,'' a look at the King of Pop's best records

WITH THE JACKSON 5

Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5 (1969)
The first official Jackson 5 album (Ross' touted ''discovery'' of the boys was a marketing gimmick) collects the seamless harmonies, sweet Motown soul, and Sly & the Family Stone-style funk of the five prodigiously talented brothers from Gary, Ind. The impossibly expressive, bell-clear voice of Michael soars on now-iconic cuts like ''I Want You Back'' and ''Who's Lovin' You.'' A-

ABC (1970)
Five months after their full-length debut, the Jacksons return with some of the best material Motown's legendary in-house writing and production crew had to offer: the full-bodied funk of the title track; the groovy, George Clinton-penned ''I'll Bet You''; the playful schoolyard-love jam ''2 4 6 8.'' Though it may seem odd in retrospect to think of a 12-year-old singing songs of romantic passion and yearning, Michael does so here with astonishing emotional conviction. A

Third Album (1970)
At the apex of the Jackson 5's fame, it seemed there was nothing they couldn't turn to gold: Immortal ballad ''I'll Be There'' anchors the album, but the buoyant ''Oh How Happy,'' James Brown-ish get-down-get-up of ''Goin' Back to Indiana,'' and soul-shimmying ''Mama's Pearl'' still sound wonderfully immediate. A

Maybe Tomorrow (1971)
Following excellent seasonal release The Jackson 5 Christmas Album, the boys return to regular long-player form, building on the success of ''I'll Be There'' with ballads like ''Never Can Say Goodbye'' and the lush title track alongside the hip-swiveling ''My Little Baby'' and ''Honey Chile.'' A-

Destiny (1978)

After years of artistic frustration at Motown, the group (minus Jermaine) moved to CBS Records, where they became just ''the Jacksons'' and were finally allowed to write and produce their own material. Destiny yielded boogie-era singles like the seismic crowd mover ''Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground),'' and several releases followed, including 1980's well-received Triumph, but Michael's participation in the group ended with 1984's Victory. B

HIS SOLO CAREER

Got to Be There (1972)
Already an industry veteran at the tender age of 13, Michael made this first official solo foray — a canny move by Motown head Berry Gordy to further capitalize on the Jackson 5's immense popularity. Highlights include a jaunty cover of ''Rockin' Robin,'' the wistful title track, and the soaring ''I Wanna Be Where You Are.'' B+

Ben (1972)
Jackson's second solo effort — released just seven months after his first — will always be defined by its title track, the theme song to the rodent-centric film of the same name. Michael's delicate rendering of the shamelessly soggy boy-meets-telepathic-rat ode (which scored a Golden Globe win and an Oscar nomination) is a testament to his talent, as is his inspired handling of the rest of the covers-heavy album. B

Music & Me (1973)
On the cusp of a deepening, more adult voice, Jackson begins transitioning into grown-up material, including the contemplative title song, a grab bag of subdued show tunes (''Morning Glow'' from Pippin, and Lady Sings the Blues' ''Happy''), and a devastatingly fragile cover of Stevie Wonder's ''With a Child's Heart.'' B

Forever, Michael (1975)
The LP cover of Jackson's Motown swan song reveals an Afroed 16-year-old clearly on the brink of manhood, and its comparatively adult soul sound confirms he was ready to move on from his days as Gordy's bubblegum boy wonder. Still, the fairly standard midtempo grooves do little to foreshadow the sonic revelations that were soon to come. B-

Off the Wall (1979)
Together with producer Quincy Jones, Jackson created the first real record of his adulthood: a featherweight rapture of disco-flecked R&B, replete with instant dance-floor dazzlers (''Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough,'' ''Rock With You,'' ''Workin' Day and Night''), a few midtempo charmers (''It's the Falling in Love,'' ''Girlfriend''), and, well, one pretty maudlin ballad (''She's Out of My Life''). For all its spangled glitter-ball flair, the album easily transcends its polyester era. A-

Thriller (1982)
A quarter century of cultural ubiquity tends to obscure the sheer ingenuity and creative genius behind the record, which was certified 28 times platinum this year. From the urgent funk of opener ''Wanna Be Startin' Somethin''' and sweet synth stutter of ''P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)'' to the iconic rock stomp of ''Beat It,'' Thriller offers pure, transporting euphoria in pop form. A

Bad (1987)
How to follow an untoppable blockbuster? Jackson took his time. But ultimately, he delivered — offering immediate radio jams (''Bad,'' ''The Way You Make Me Feel''), stirring ballads (''Man in the Mirror,'' ''I Just Can't Stop Loving You''), and outré ˛ock experiments (''Smooth Criminal,'' ''Dirty Diana'') amid a few lesser but still worthwhile album cuts. B+

Dangerous (1991)
Forsaking Quincy Jones for, among others, new jack swing king Teddy Riley, Jackson's first '90s album reveals a grittier, funkier outlook, marked by flashes of lyrical darkness and paranoia. Still, four top 10 singles, including ''Black or White'' and ''Remember the Time,'' proved his continued ability to craft a hit. B+

HIStory (1995)
A double-disc greatest-hits collection, the epic HIStory also served as a conduit for Jackson to explore his increasingly troubled relationship with fame on 14 new tracks (most notably, ''They Don't Really Care About Us'' and ''Scream''). Additionally, he covers a Beatles classic, ''Come Together'' (by then, he owned the rights to their catalog), and finds his sentimental-ballad sweet spot with the No. 1 hit ''You Are Not Alone.'' B

Blood on the Dance Floor/History in the Mix (1997)
Primarily an album of HIStory remixes, this hard-edged collection also contains five new songs, none of which further Jackson's artistry much. But some, like ''Ghosts'' and the syncopated, slow-building title track, still managed to intrigue, and the involvement of more contemporary artists like the Fugees, as well as his sister Janet's longtime collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, added further allure. B-

Invincible (2001)
His final solo studio album before his death is, even in light of its eventual multiplatinum status, the least artistically successful of Jackson's discs, especially in the context of his unmatchable earlier work. Released just weeks after 9/11, the nearly 80-minute work feels oddly airless and disconnected, its bland R&B sketches and tremulous ballads largely lacking the singer's previous dynamism, despite minor hits like ''You Rock My World.'' C+

BY THE NUMBERS
Just how huge was Michael Jackson? A look at some of the massive figures that truly made him the King of Pop.

47
Number of solo singles that charted on the Billboard Hot 100

13
Number of solo singles that hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100

61,500,000
Number of albums sold in the U.S.

37
Number of weeks Thriller spent at the top of the U.S. charts

$85,000,000
Money generated by ticket sales for his planned 50-concert run at London's O2 theater, which had been set to kick off this month

Originally posted Jul 03, 2009 Published in issue #1055 Jul 10, 2009 Order article reprints