Digital downloading was a little more than a futuristic fantasy in November 1969 when the Jackson 5 first hit the charts, but it's a reality today. This week, 47 songs that feature Michael Jackson crowd Nielsen/SoundScan's list of the top 200 songs with the most paid downloads. That's down just a hair from last week's eye-popping total of 50 MJ songs.
I have compiled a list of Jackson's top 40 songs in terms of total paid downloads (not just this week, but during their entire runs). Eight of the songs are from his 1982 classic, Thriller. (That's the entire album except for "Baby Be Mine.") Jackson's follow-up albums, Bad and Dangerous, each have six songs on the list. His 1979 classic Off The Wall has five.
For the most part, the list corresponds with a recap of Jackson's biggest hit singles. But there are some key differences, which tells us which songs have stood the test of time--and which haven't. "Say Say Say," Jackson's sleek 1983 duet with Paul McCartney, logged six weeks at #1, a total equaled by only two hits in Jackson's entire career. But it has sold just 69,000 downloads and appears at #39 on the list of his songs with the most paid downloads. (It ranks below "Can You Feel It," a Jacksons song from 1981 that stalled at #77 on the Hot 100.)
This list brings home the point that Jackson wrote many of his best and most enduring songs. He wrote "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," the lead single from Off The Wall; the first four singles released from Thriller; and six of the seven singles released from Bad. (What's more, he wrote all of these hits without a collaborator.) Jackson first stepped out as a songwriter on the Jacksons' scorching 1979 hit "Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)." For all his success as a songwriter, Jackson received far more recognition as a concert performer, video maker and vocalist. Of his 13 Grammy Awards, just two were for songwriting, compared to four in vocal performance categories and three in the music video field.
Here are Jackson's 40 songs with the most paid downloads. All songs are by Jackson as a solo artist, unless otherwise indicated.
1. "Thriller," 1,541,000. Jackson made history when this Rod Temperton song peaked at #4 on the Hot 100 in March 1984. It was the first time any artist had pulled seven top 10 hits from one album. It has been a Halloween staple since 1984.
2. "Billie Jean," 1,230,000. This classic logged seven weeks at #1 in March and April 1983. "Billie Jean" brought Jackson two Grammys, for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song. Jackson wrote the song, which was the second single from Thriller.
3. "Beat It," 978,000. This genre-bending smash made Jackson the first African American artist to win a Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. "Beat It" also won a Grammy for Record of the Year. Eddie Van Halen played the memorable guitar solo. "Beat It," the third single from Thriller, spent three weeks at #1 in April and May 1983. "Weird Al" Yankovic hit #12 in 1984 with his parody of the song, "Eat It."
4. "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," 882,000. This song, the opening track and first single released from Off The Wall, established marked two key firsts for Jackson. It brought him his first Grammy, for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. And it marked the first time that he wrote (or co-wrote) one of his solo hits. The song hit #1 in October 1979.
5. "The Way You Make Me Feel," 662,000. Jackson also wrote this scorcher, which hit #1 in January 1988. It was the third #1 single from Bad. This marked the first time Jackson had ever pulled three #1 singles from one album. Jackson performed this song and "Man In The Mirror" at the Grammys in March 1988.
7. "Man In The Mirror," 633,000. This gospel-tinged hit was the only single from Bad that Jackson didn't write. Siedah Garrett, who teamed with Jackson on the hit duet "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," co-wrote the song with Glen Ballard (who went on to produce Alanis Morissette). "Man In The Mirror," the fourth single from the album, spent two weeks at #1 in March and April 1988.
8. "I Want You Back," the Jackson 5, 607,000. This exhilarating track was the J5's first chart hit. It reached #1 in January 1970. Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. co-wrote the song with Freddie Perren, Fonce Mizell and Deke Richards. The four men were billed as "The Corporation" on this and six subsequent J5 hits. This was the only single from Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5.
9. "ABC," the Jackson 5, 604,000. This exuberant tutorial was the J5's second chart hit. It spent two weeks at #1 in April and May 1970. Jackson and his brother Jermaine Jackson shared lead vocals, as they would on several subsequent J5 hits. "ABC," the first single from ABC, was also written by "The Corporation." Gen. Colin Powell picked this as his favorite Jackson track in the current issue of TIME. "They made us smile with their freshness and their cute 'fros," he fondly recalled.
10. "Smooth Criminal," 554,000. Jackson also wrote this song, which peaked at #7 in January 1989. It was the seventh single from Bad. Alien Ant Farm hit #23 in 2001 with a rock-minded cover of the song.
11. "Rock With You," 467,000. Rod Temperton wrote this plush, mid-tempo ballad, which logged four weeks at #1 in January and February 1980. It was the second single from Off The Wall. It was the first of three top 10 hits that Temperton wrote for Jackson.
12. "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," 457,000. Jackson also wrote this song, which peaked at #5 in July 1983. It was the opening track from Thriller, and the fourth single to be released from the album.
13. "Black Or White," 401,000. This smash logged seven weeks at #1 in December 1991 and January 1992, tying "Billie Jean" as Jackson's all-time biggest hit. Jackson co-wrote the song with Bill Bottrell, who also contributed the spoken rap. (Bottrell would go on to work with one-time Jackson back-up singer Sheryl Crow). Slash of Guns N' Roses played guitar on the hit, which was the first single from Dangerous.
14. "I'll Be There," the Jackson 5, 335,000. After topping the Hot 100 with three consecutive uptempo tracks, the J5 slowed the tempo and landed their all-time biggest hit. This warm ballad topped the Hot 100 for five weeks in October and November 1970. It was the first single from Third Album. A faithful remake by Mariah Carey with Trey Lorenz hit #1 in 1992. The two sang the song at Jackson's memorial service on Tuesday.
16. "Dirty Diana," 259,000. Jackson established another record in July 1988 when this song became the fifth #1 hit from Bad. This marked the first time that any album had spawned five #1 hits. (It also enabled Jackson to surpass the J5's initial volley of four straight #1 hits.) Jackson wrote the song.
17. "Human Nature," 236,000. When this song reached #7 in September 1983, it made Thriller the first album to spawn five top 10 hits. This was the first single released from the album that Jackson didn't write: Steve Porcaro, a member of Toto, co-wrote the fresh-sounding ballad with John Bettis. SWV (Sisters With Voices) sampled the song in its 1993 single "Right Here/Human Nature," which reached #2. John Mayer played the song at Jackson's memorial service.
18. "Remember The Time," 221,000. Jackson co-wrote this classy hit with producer Teddy Riley and Bernard Belle. (Jackson and Riley would collaborate on three more chart hits: "In The Closet," "Jam" and "Blood On The Tracks.") "Remember The Time" logged four weeks at #3 in March 1992. It was the second single from Dangerous.
19. "Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)," the Jacksons, 216,000. Jackson teamed with his brother Randy Jackson to write this sizzling song, which peaked at #7 in May 1979. It marked the first time a Jackson family member wrote or co-wrote a Jackson 5 or Jacksons hit. This was the first single from Triumph.
20. "You Are Not Alone," 216,000. In September 1995, this smash became the first single to enter the Hot 100 at #1. It was Jackson's last #1 hit during his lifetime. R. Kelly wrote the song, which received a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year. It was the second single from HIStory: Past, Present And Future-Book I.
21. "Off The Wall," 197,000. Rod Temperton wrote this dynamic hit, which reached #10 in April 1980. It was the third single from Off The Wall.
22. "We Are The World," USA for Africa, 171,000. Jackson and Lionel Richie co-wrote this song, which logged four weeks at #1 in April and May 1985. The humanitarian anthem won Grammys as Record and Song of the Year.
23. "Will You Be There," 163,000. Jackson wrote this gospel-tinged song, which was featured in the movie Free Willy. The single reached #7 in September 1993. It was the seventh single from Dangerous. Jennifer Hudson sang the song at Jackson's memorial service.
24. "You Rock My World," 149,000. This was Jackson's last top 10 hit in his lifetime. It reached #10 in September 2001. Michael co-wrote it with Rodney Jerkins, among other collaborators. It was the lead single from Invincible.
25. "Never Can Say Goodbye," 135,000. Clifton Davis wrote this song, which logged three weeks at #2 in May 1971. Davis went on to write the J5's 1972 single "Lookin' Through The Windows" (and to star in the '70s sitcom That's My Mama). This was the first single from Maybe Tomorrow. Isaac Hayes, Gloria Gaynor and the Communards all had top 40 hits with the song. Gaynor's torrid disco rendition made the top 10 in 1975.
26. "Scream," Michael Jackson/Janet Jackson, 127,000. The superstar siblings teamed on this smash, which reached #5 in June 1995. They co-wrote the song with Janet's long-time producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. It was the first single from HIStory.
27. "Dancing Machine," the Jackson 5, 119,000. This early disco-era track spent two weeks at #2 in May 1974. Hal Davis, who had co-written "I'll Be There" and "Get It Together," also co-wrote this song. This was the second single from Get It Together.
28. "Rockin' Robin," 116,000. This was a cover version of a Bobby Day hit that was climbing the chart on the week Jackson was born in August 1958. Jackson's version spent two weeks at #2 in April 1972. The bubblegum smash was the second single from Got To Be There.
29. "Ben," 109,000. This poignant ballad became Jackson's first solo #1 hit in October 1972. Five months later, Jackson, then 14, performed the song live at the Academy Awards, where it was nominated for Best Song. This was the only single released from Ben.
30. "The Love You Save," the Jackson 5, 109,000. This was the J5's third consecutive #1 single. "The Corporation" wrote the song, which was the second single from ABC.
31. "The Girl Is Mine," Michael Jackson/Paul McCartney, 107,000. This glossy ballad was the first track recorded for Thriller and also the first single released from the album. Jackson wrote this song, which hit #2 in January 1983.
32. "Can You Feel It," the Jacksons, 98,000. Jackson teamed with his brother Jackie Jackson to write this song, which was the opening track from the Jacksons' 1980 album, Triumph. It was the third single released from the album, reaching #77 in May 1981.
33. "Butterflies," 85,000. This was Jackson's last top 40 hit during his lifetime. It reached #14 in January 2002. Marsha Ambrosius of the neo-soul duo Floetry co-wrote the song with Andre Harris. It was the second single from Dangerous.
34. "She's Out Of My Life," 85,000. Jackson made history in June 1980 when this ballad from Off The Wall cracked the top 10. It marked the first time that any solo artist had pulled four top 10 hits from one album. Tom Bahler wrote the nakedly emotional ballad.
35. "Got To Be There," 82,000. This gorgeous ballad, the first single from Got To Be There, was Jackson's first solo single. It peaked at #4 in December 1971. Chaka Khan charted with a remake in 1983.
36. "Working Day And Night," 78,000. Jackson wrote this energetic song, which was one of the standout tracks from Off The Wall. It was never released as a single, but it was later featured as the flip side of both "Rock With You" and "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)."
37. "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," Michael Jackson with Siedah Garrett, 71,000. Jackson wrote this light ballad, which hit #1 in September 1987. It was the first single from Bad.
38. "The Lady In My Life," 69,000. Rod Temperton wrote this ballad, which was one of only two songs from Thriller not to be released as a single.
39. "Say Say Say," Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, 69,000. The two legends re-teamed to co-write and perform this confection, which logged six weeks at #1 in December 1983 and January 1984. It was the first single from McCartney's album Pipes Of Peace.
40. "Heal The World," 68,000. Jackson wrote this utopian vision, which peaked at #27 in March 1993. It was the fifth single from Dangerous.
As a bonus, here are three other songs that were performed at Jackson's memorial service. They don't currently rank among Jackson's top 40 downloads, but they're bound to move up in coming weeks.
"Who's Lovin' You," the Jackson 5, 64,000. Smokey Robinson wrote this bluesy ballad, which was the flip side of the Miracles' 1961 smash "Shop Around." The J5's version was the flip side of their first hit, "I Want You Back." Shaheen Jafargholi, a 12-year old contestant on Britain's Got Talent, sang it at Jackson's memorial service.
"Smile," 9,000. Screen legend Charlie Chaplin composed this pop classic for his 1936 movie Modern Times. The lyrics were added in 1954, whereupon Nat "King" Cole had a top 10 hit with the song. Jackson included the song on his 1995 album, HIStory. Jermaine Jackson sang it at the service.