Michael Jackson and the Mix

Long after I grew weary of Michael Jackson the tabloid figure, I remained excited by Michael Jackson’s body of work as an artist. Jackson had the unique ability the create music that is both current and timeless. Most of his best work is at least 20 years old, but the songs rarely sound dated.

As recently as last month, I included an MJ song (“I Wanna Be Where You Are”) on a mix CD. The song dates to 1972, but it fit seamlessly with tracks that are only a few years old. When the news came that Jackson had died, I was on the road driving home from a work trip. I channel surfed the radio, listening to one Michael Jackson song after another. There was more than one stinker (“Rockin Robin” comes to mind; so do several forgettable songs from his last two albums). But his best songs are classics, pure and simple.

When I arrived home, I immediately went to work on the ultimate tribute mix. Listening to the CD nonstop for 48 hours led to another conclusion: Michael Jackson songs are durable. They’re good for one play or dozens, and they fit just about any situation. Think about it — there’s a Jackson song for Christmas (the Jackson 5 cover of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town”), and “Thriller is practically a requirement for every Halloween. The ancient Egypt-themed video for “Remember the Time” makes the song a perfect fit for Passover. “Billie Jean” is a natural for Mother’s Day — or Father’s Day.

Creating a mix CD is different than listening to an album. Instead of listening to artists tell their stories, you use their music to tell one of your own. There are very few artists that can fit the entire spectrum of an experience or mood on their own. Marvin Gaye comes to mind. So do the Beatles — and Michael Jackson.

With that in mind, I came up with a few more mixes, both Jackson-centric and Jackson-related:

Party Mix

1. “Off the Wall”

2. “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough”

3. “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)”

4. “The Way You Make Me Feel”

5. “Rock with You”

6. “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)”

7. “Can You Feel It” (The Jacksons)

8. “You Rock My World”

9. “Wanna Be Startin Somethin’”

10. “Billie Jean”

Bonus: If the party is taking place within one month of Halloween, add “Thriller” to the mix. Convince at least one guest to perform the dance routine from the video — most likely, you won’t have to try too hard.

Mix to play during recovery from muscle pull due to an unsuccessful attempt to do the moonwalk when “Billie Jean” was played during aforementioned party.

1. “Heal the World”

2. “I’ll Be There” (Jackson 5)

3. “You Are Not Alone”

4. “Butterflies”

5. “Man in the Mirror”

6. “Human Nature”

7. “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”

8. “Will You Be There”

9. “Ben” (because you might feel sick, but at least you’re not singing a love song to a rat)

10. “Never Can Say Goodbye” (Jackson 5)

Breakup Mix

1. “She’s Out of My Life”

2. “Say, Say, Say” (appropriately the last collaboration between MJ and Paul McCartney before their breakup over control of the Beatles catalog.)

3. “Who’s Lovin’ You” (Jackson 5)

4. “I Wanna Be Where You Are”

5. “I Want You Back” (Jackson 5)

6. “Ain’t No Sunshine”

7. “Farewell My Summer Love”

8. “Maria (You Were the Only One)”

9. “Leave Me Alone” (only if you’re the one who initiated the breakup)

10. “Dirty Diana” (less dangerous than an actual post breakup slutty phase)

Covers, parodies, and samples (there are plenty of good — and not so good — Michael Jackson covers floating around the Internet, but I stuck to songs available for purchase on iTunes):

1. “Eat It” — “Weird Al” Yankovic

2. “Fat” — “Weird Al” Yankovic

3. “I’ll Be There” — Mariah Carey

4. “I’ll Be There” — The Temptations

5. “Somebody’s Watching Me” — Rockwell (with major backup from Michael Jackson)

6. “Come Together” — Michael Jackson covers the Beatles

7. “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone” — Michael Jackson covers Diana Ross and the Supremes

8. “Good Life” — Kanye West featuring T-Pain (samples “P.Y.T.”)

9. “Right Here” — SWV (samples “Human Nature”)

10. “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” — Nas (samples “Human Nature”)

The Week After — Songs that have nothing to do with Jackson but chance… hitting number one on Billboard’s American Hot 100 chart the week after one of his singles. I was pleasantly surprised by how decent of a mix this came out to be.

1. “Rise” — Herb Alpert (Number One on Oct. 20, 1979, the week after “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough”)

2. “Come On, Eileen” — Dexys Midnight Runners (Number One on April 23, 1983, the week after “Billie Jean” — and the week before “Beat It”)

3. “Let’s Dance” — David Bowie (Number One on May 21, 1983, the week after “Beat It”)

4. “Owner of a Lonely Heart” — Yes (Number One on January 21, 1984, the week after “Say, Say, Say”)

5. “Crazy for You” — Madonna (Number One on May 4, 1985, the week after “We Are the World”)

6. “I Think We’re Alone Now” — Tiffany (Number One on Nov. 7, 1987, the week after “Bad”)

7. “Need You Tonight” — INXS (Number One on Jan. 30, 1988, the week after “The Way You Make Me Feel”)

8. “The Flame” — Cheap Trick (Number One on July 9, 1988, the week after “Dirty Diana”)

9. “Gangsta’s Paradise” — Coolio (Number one on Sept. 9, 1995, the week after “You Are Not Alone”)

10. “Never Gonna Give You Up” — Rick Astley (an exception to the rule – hit number one in the UK on Aug. 29, 1987, the week after “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”. I couldn’t resist — consider this mix rickrolled.)

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