Michael Jackson was the consummate entertainer ; a groundbreaking dancer and showman, and that’s saying nothing about his songbook, which ranks right up there with the tunes of [artist id=”1064″]Elvis[/artist] and the [artist id=”969″]Beatles[/artist] (which he also once owned). From his early days with the Jackson 5 to his transcendent solo career, Jackson worked with the best in the business — Quincy Jones, Berry Gordy, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Teddy Riley, Glen Ballard, Rod Temperton, to name just a few — and the end result was a veritable treasure trove of totally classic tunes.
Over the course of his career, Jackson scored 13 #1 singles — more than any other male artist of the past 50 years. His musical output was so great that a whole new generation of artists landed hits of their own simply by covering his songs, which is also a big testament to his work.
[artist id=”976″]Mariah Carey[/artist], who has the most #1 singles of any solo artist, scored a smash in 1992 with her MTV Unplugged cover of the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There.” Irish boy band Boyzone covered another early Jackson hit, “Ben” on their second album, 1993’s three-times platinum A Different Beat. And both Ashanti and Brandy recorded versions of another early hit, “Rock With You.”
“Billie Jean” has been covered by everyone from Blackstreet to Belle and Sebastian, and Chris Cornell’s take on the tune was covered again in a star-making performance by eventual “American Idol” champ David Cook during the show’s seventh season. Fall Out Boy’s cover of “Beat It” replaced Eddie Van Halen’s incendiary solo with one from John Mayer and became a surprise hit, charting internationally and becoming a permanent fixture on the iTunes Top 10 chart in early 2008. And “Weird Al” Yankovic scored a Top 20 hit — and won a Grammy — for his parody of the tune, a track he dubbed “Eat It.” Yankovic also scored a Best Concept Music Video Grammy for “Fat,” his take on “Bad.”
Those weren’t the only left-field Jackson covers that became hits: California rockers [artist id=”1162752″]Alien Ant Farm[/artist] famously covered “Smooth Criminal” in 2001, and both the song — and corresponding video, which parodied some of Jackson’s biggest clips — became mainstays on MTV, and landed the band a #1 single on the Modern Rock chart.
And there’s plenty more — so many that we can’t even begin to list them all here. Jackson covers are seemingly required on the indie circuit, with the likes of Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, KT Tunstall, Petra Haden and Lightspeed Champion weighing in with various versions of MJ/Jackson 5 classics like “Thriller” and “I Want You Back.” Amy Winehouse and Charlotte Church dueted on a fantastically trashy version of “Beat It” on the latter’s BBC variety show. And just last year, John Legend and Stephen Colbert joined forces for an unlikely take on “The Girl Is Mine.”
MTV will be paying tribute to MJ throughout the weekend with music videos, exclusive performances and calls and tweets from celebrity admirers and friends.
Share your Michael Jackson memories by uploading video and comments to Your.MTV.com or joining the discussion below.