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Michael Jackson’s Top Ten Non-Studio Album Songs

Michael Jackson recorded loads of impressive material that didn’t make it onto his regular studio albums. The reasons for leaving tracks off were various: sometimes there just wasn’t enough space, sometimes they didn’t fit with the album as a whole, and sometimes he wanted to continue working on them. Many of these songs, however, were just as good as what ultimately made the cut. Unfortunately, that meant dozens of incredible tracks have gone almost completely overlooked by the average music listener.

Below, then, I have compiled a Top Ten list of what I feel are Michael Jackson’s best non studio-album songs. My rules were to only include songs that a) were never included on his original albums, and b) have been officially released in some capacity (therefore, tracks like “Blue Gangsta,” “Make or Break,” “A Place With No Name,” etc. aren’t included).

My apologies in advance for inevitably leaving off someone’s favorite hidden gem. But feel free to vote in the poll.

1. In the Back

This song is genius. Put on a good set of headphones and marvel at the layers of sound. Imagine what is being communicated with each instrument. Listen to the pain in his voice. “Dreams don’t last forever…”

2. Much Too Soon

I think this competes with “She’s Out of My Life” as Michael’s most poignant expression of regret and lost love. Beautiful lyrics. Authentic, tragic, human. One of my all-time favorites.

3. Streetwalker

How was this not on Bad? Well, we know why, but it’s a testament to Michael’s talent that amazing songs like this could be left off. Great energy, killer bass, rich harmonies, and some fantastic harmonica!

4. Behind the Mask

This song would have been a big hit on Thriller. Such a unique track with those sheets of synth, its strange, postmodern aura and cyborg mantras. Had Michael’s version been finished and released in 1982 it could have been just as big as “Beat It” (especially with a video). Hopefully, the original demo will come out at some point.

5. Scared of the Moon

A dark Blakean song about childhood trauma. Many revealing insights are packed into this haunting, lyrical masterpiece.

6. Fall Again

I fell in love with this song the first time I heard it. Gorgeous, melancholy ballad. (Bonus: the great uncut bit at the end of Michael appreciating an unusual sound.)

7. Cheater

Another outstanding Bad outtake. Raw, funky. Love the vocal on this one–the way he bites into the lyrics. And the signature finger snapping.

8. The Way You Love Me

Stevie Wonder loves it. What else needs to be said? Absolutely sublime vocal harmonies.

9. Beautiful Girl

Reminds me, in some ways, of “Liberian Girl.” Lush production, beautiful vocals. Just a wonderful piece of music.

10. We’ve Had Enough

Michael doesn’t get enough credit for his protest songs. This one’s a passionate plea that builds slowly and vividly, before exploding in desperate outrage at the climax. That pained ending, “Oh no, oh no…why did you do it?” speaks volumes.

Honorable Mention: “Someone Put Your Hand Out,” “Fly Away,” “Monkey Business”

{ 53 comments… add one }

  • morinen April 14, 2011, 6:24 am

    My top 3 are:

    Fall Again – Michael’s voice in this song is just heavenly! I heard he recorded it in one take, and while doing that he was watching his kids playing in the studio.
    Here is the story: http://beta.twitlonger.com/show/1jkrj5

    Fly Away – he outdid his sister :)

    Monkey Business – should’ve been on Dangerous!

    • Joe Vogel April 14, 2011, 1:42 pm

      Wow, great story about “Fall Again.” I hadn’t read that. Thank you. Love “Fly Away” and “Monkey Business.” As a side note, I would have loved to see an entire album of Michael and Bill Bottrell collaborations. They had great creative chemistry and produced outstanding work.

      • morinen April 14, 2011, 4:07 pm

        Ha, right! I think it was Bill who said he had a mix of “Dangerous” with him playing brushes on a metal trash can for percussion. I’d love to hear that!

      • morinen April 14, 2011, 4:12 pm

        Ha, right! I think it was Bill who said he had a mix of “Dangerous” with him playing brushes on a metal trash can for percussion. I’d love to hear that!

      • Roberta Meek April 14, 2011, 6:23 pm

        I really couldn’t narrow down to vote on one. Fly Away and Monkey Business are also two of my favorites. And I am praying that Blue Gangsta gets released as some point since that song is AMAZING. Thanks for your blog and your upcoming book. Looking forward to it. As a fan of MJ since 1969, my love for him and his genius has never subsided.

      • morinen April 15, 2011, 3:52 am

        Ha, right. I think it was Bill who said he had a mix of “Dangerous” with him playing brushes on a metal trash can for percussion. I’d love to hear that!

  • Theresa B April 14, 2011, 6:56 am

    Thanks for a great blog…great topic and great choices. I could never pick just one. I love them all for different reasons. I wish Blue Gangsta, Do You Know Where Your Children Are, and Slave To the Rhythm could be included on this list. Passionate and powerful with poignant messages, all. Those that stuff Michael Jackson in a 1980’s box are missing out on a whole load of treasure. All artists should have chance to mature and grow in their work. I honestly don’t understand why so many people don’t see that.

    I am looking forward to your book on the subject of Michael Jackson. You write about his music in the way that I think about it even in your choice of words to describe it. Thanks!

    • Bess April 14, 2011, 12:12 pm

      If “Blue Gangsta” is in the lists, I will choose it.

    • Joe Vogel April 14, 2011, 1:44 pm

      Thanks, Theresa. Yes, it was definitely hard to leave off unreleased material. But then a Top Ten would have really been impossible! But the three you mentioned are among his best non-album tracks.

  • R. Bent, New York, NY April 14, 2011, 10:34 am

    I really enjoyed this review of little-known songs, especially as I agree with most of your choices. (I’m glad you gave Monkey Business an honorable mention.) Your telling statement, that it’s really a testament to Michael Jackson’s music legacy that these great songs didn’t make the cut, reveals the sheer depth as well as breadth of his stunning catalog.

  • Chris Kohler April 14, 2011, 12:56 pm

    So glad you are wrestling with the off-road Jackson tracks, Joe!
    From your list above I would have to go with jazzy In the Back, the most unusual and riskiest track. Streetwalker, Cheater and Monkey Business are also top-notch.

    But – unreleased or not – I have to choose the utterly amazing Blue Gangsta as absolutely The Best, followed by the funky, sassy She Got It. Slave to the Rhythm is also prime if uncut. Keep up the great writing, Joe…

  • Joe Vogel April 14, 2011, 1:48 pm

    Thanks, Chris! So glad you feel the same about “In the Back.” I’ve been obsessed with that song since I talked to Brad about it. I feel like it is a descendant of the Billie Jean/Who Is It family. “Blue Gangsta” is incredible: love the Old West standoff whistling, the accordion, and Michael’s amazingly versatile vocals.

  • shiverzz April 14, 2011, 2:02 pm

    Thanx, Joe! It was really interesting to read. I think I have to give In The Back another listen. Initially I didn’t really feel this song, it seemed too unfinished to me. But I really need to give it another try.

    I really like Shout, Escape (it’s not listed here), Streetwalker (HOW did it lose to Another Part of Me?!), Monkey Business, Fall Again and We’ve Had Enough. Last one always brings tears to my eyes, it’s so overwhelming.

  • anna April 14, 2011, 3:06 pm

    Inj the back.That song is very strange and the arrengmets so unique. I don’t know. I am a bit obsessed with that song.

  • Erich Bergen April 14, 2011, 3:12 pm

    Joe,

    Great to hear your thoughts. I never really thought about In The Back. I always loved the track, but because it was so unfinished, I never really looked at it all that much. Will go back and listen now.

    I’m curious…what is the story behind Streetwalker? Not sure why it wasn’t included on Bad, but it very easily could have been. Perhaps in lieu of Another Part of Me? Streetwalker has been one of my favorites since it was released in 2001. It was great to see where the “doo dooh’s” came from that MJ used in concert so many times.

    Changing the criteria to include unoffically released tracks, my list would be:

    1)Do You Know Where Your Children Are
    2)For All Time
    3)Streetwalker
    4)Say Say Say
    5)On The Line
    6)Behind The Mask
    7)Be Not Always
    8)Beautiful Girl
    9)Someone In The Dark
    10)If You Don’t Love Me

    I think Someone In The Dark is one of the most perfect songs ever written. Alan and Marilyn Bergman wrote such a beautiful lyric that it would have sounded great and lots of singers. Streisand, John Denver, Diana Ross, are just 3 voices I can think of that would have done that song justice, but MJ of course, made it all that much more special.

    • shiverzz April 14, 2011, 3:16 pm

      Oh yeah, I forgot about On The Line! It’s awesome!

      Story about Streetwalker losing to Another Part of Me was on Bad (2001 edition), as told by Quincy Jones.

    • Joe Vogel April 14, 2011, 4:06 pm

      Nice list, Erich (even though you cheated with the unreleased tracks ;). Also enjoyed your thoughts on “Someone in the Dark,” a song I hadn’t considered much. I’ve been trying to think of another artist that has anywhere near the quality of Michael’s non-studio album material…still thinking.

      • Anne April 23, 2011, 4:25 am

        I know somebody who does: Sting;-)))) he is not that productive in the quantity of songs, but in quality certainly!

    • Leitao May 9, 2011, 7:23 am

      Michael actually spoke about the making of Streetwalker in a 1994 deposition (oddly enough, his various court depositions are perhaps the most extensive “interviews” he ever gave about his creative process, haha).

      Anyway, he said that he wasn’t satisfied with Streetwalker, and that it eventually inspired the song Dangerous.

      Skip to the 2:54 mark to hear him talking about it — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnQh9cdebm0

      • Joe Vogel May 10, 2011, 6:35 am

        I hadn’t seen this in a while. Very illuminating indeed. Thank you.

    • Leitao May 9, 2011, 8:01 am

      Oh, and I also love ‘Someone in the Dark’! Steven Spielberg said that if E.T. hadn’t visited Elliot, he would’ve stopped by Michael Jackson’s house, lol. I think that really shines through in MJ’s vocals.

  • Erich Bergen April 14, 2011, 4:32 pm

    I knew Another Part of Me was part of the Streetwalker story! I totally forgot about that Quincy interview.

    Joe, there are tons of artists who have a plethora of material they were either featured on or involved with that was not on one of their studio albums or never officially released, but you’re right, as far as quality goes…hard to find. While not my cup of tea, tons of folks would argue that Bob Dylan or Neil Young’s writings could compete against MJ’s. Although, I feel like everything those 2 guys wrote has been released in official form over the last 20 years, regardless if the record company slapped the word “bootleg” in the title.

    It would also be hard to compete with MJ’s non-album stuff because of how much he recorded per album. The quantity of songs is just insane.

  • Joe Vogel April 14, 2011, 4:39 pm

    Yeah, I was thinking about Dylan (who I love). But like you say, the quality and quantity of non-album songs just doesn’t compare to MJ.

  • R. Bent, New York, NY April 14, 2011, 6:51 pm

    I think you nailed it Joe when you commented about the quality of the stuff that was ultimately left on the cutting room floor. It says a lot about the sheer depth and breadth of Michael Jackson’s musical legacy. I am looking forward to additional material making its way out. At the MJ symposium in Chicago last fall, Greg Phillinganes absolutely raved about some of the material he’s heard.

    I love In The Back too and it seems to be only a demo, given that Jackson seems to slur over a portion of the lyrics. But I had to vote for Best of Joy for the message he chose at a much later date in his life and given what happened in his life.

  • Weffie April 14, 2011, 11:20 pm

    This list is great and gives me some ideas for songs I don’t have! I love that there is so much more to look forward to. It was really tough to pick a favorite – it depends on the day, the mood, etc. While Dylan is a great write, he didn’t have the amazing voice that Michael did. Keep up the blogging!

  • Weffie April 14, 2011, 11:22 pm

    Great photo of Michael btw and I love the photo you picked for your book!

  • maria paula April 17, 2011, 5:47 pm

    Is difficult to choose a music only, but not having option i choose IN THE BACK, it really is brilliant and i would prefer to listen to all always. many have not yet been discovered so many treasures kept, so many songs incredible, thank you Joe for bringing us, and share so many wonderful works of MJ, their music genius, his work is really great, congratulations on blog and the book, which i hope will be launched (translated) in Brazil, where there are huge numbers of fans and lovers of music of the king of pop.

    • Joe Vogel May 13, 2011, 6:20 am

      There has been such incredible support from Brazil I feel confident the book will be translated. Crossing my fingers.

  • Rachael Thomas April 25, 2011, 4:20 pm

    Is hard to pick just one because they are all beautiful songs. I love them all but if I have to pick, it has to be fall again. That song just goes straight to my heart. When MJ sung he made you feel all aspect of the human emotion. No other artists alive or died has ever done that with their music in my opinion.

    I’m looking forward to your book. Is about time people writes focus on MJ’s creative side as an artist. I’m grateful for this book and I can’t wait to have it in my hands. I bet I won’t be able to put it down once I get started reading it. MJ fans appreciate what you are doing. Your book is being promoted by all fans. Is all over every fan forum, facebook, twitter and blogs. I hope it becomes a best seller. We will help you make it happen! Thank you!

    • Joe Vogel May 13, 2011, 6:21 am

      Thanks, Rachel. Can’t wait for everyone to read it. The support from the MJ fan community has been phenomenal.

  • Leitao May 9, 2011, 7:59 am

    Great picks! I haven’t really listened to some of the ones you listed (like Somone Put Your Hand Out, and We’ve Had Enough), so I’m definitely going to make a new playlist in my iTunes to keep on rotation. :)

    Anyway, here are a few of my favorite unreleased MJ tracks that I haven’t seen anyone mention yet . . .

    ‘Nite Line’ — I love the excitement and longing in his voice. It’s also interesting to me because a lot of Michael’s relationship songs involve him talking on the phone, lol (‘Remember the Time,’ for example). I know many people have said in interviews that they started their relationships/friendships with MJ over the phone, and it shows in his lyrics. XD

    ‘Sunset Driver’

    ‘Love Never Felt So Good’

    ‘Serious Effect’

  • Joe Vogel May 10, 2011, 6:34 am

    Nice picks, Leitao. I love “Night Line” too — I’m hoping they will release a high-quality demo of it

  • David May 10, 2011, 5:46 pm

    Love the list. Glad to see cheater there. Would be interesting to see how the reworked invincible era version turned out along with his other reworked bad tracks like Chicago 1945. Hope we hear them all one day. The rumoured Bad reissue album would be a perfect way for the world to hear them IMO. It’s a crime that alot of these tracks go undiscovered.

    I’m be interested to know if your list would change dramatically if you included all the non studio album tracks you’ve heard (including the unreleased tracks).

    • Joe Vogel May 13, 2011, 6:24 am

      Yes, it would definitely change (and expand) if I included unreleased material. There are still songs fans have never heard of that are incredible, not to mention those that have leaked (“Blue Gangsta,” “Do You Know,” etc.)

  • June May 10, 2011, 8:39 pm

    Fall Again, just the best ever, could listen all day and night.

    Much Too Soon, from the “Michael” album; totally awesome and inspiring; makes me cry; don’t care much for the rest of the album; Much Too Soon should have been the single.

    Streetwalker, was alternative to Another Part of Me on the Bad album.

    So very difficult to choose. Thanks so much Joe for everything you do to keep Michael’s legacy alive and well. Looking forward to the book with great anticipation.

    • Joe Vogel May 13, 2011, 6:25 am

      Thanks, June. “Fall Again” is gorgeous. Wish he would have finished it and put it on Invincible. In fact, I wish he would have made it a double album, something he always wanted to do, but execs always discouraged.

  • okunuga May 12, 2011, 5:47 pm

    I just don’t understand why the mainstream media will not call people like joe when discussing michael but instead call JRT who by the way is way over-rated to me.

    • Joe Vogel May 13, 2011, 6:26 am

      Thanks for the kind words. I think they’ll start to more once the book comes out.

    • Karinthia June 22, 2011, 6:42 am

      Now we know who the senislbe one is here. Great post!

  • mehrnoush May 12, 2011, 9:22 pm

    um… have you ever heard “shout?” dude. how can you leave off “shout?!” i’ve heard almost all of them and that is by FAR my favorite (“scared of the moon” is a close second). i admit though i’m kind of a big fan of michael’s gorgeous yet rarely showcased baritone. there are no words to describe how amazing that song is. i’m convinced that the only reason motolla suddenly & last minute took it off of invincible was bc he was genuinely afraid that there would be waves & waves of ppl’s brains imploding from how freaking perfect & outstanding that album already was. that, and… he was a douchebag.

    • Joe Vogel May 13, 2011, 6:38 am

      Love this. You’re right, it’s a great track. Michael had such a great imagination to take a celebratory song like the original and completely re-interpret it. The lyrics are something else. It’s like “Jam” on steroids.

  • mehrnoush May 12, 2011, 10:36 pm

    p.s. i really love your articles. we all have opinions but yours are always enjoyable to read bc you have such great insights, unique tastes, & such a gift for writing. thanks for sharing :)
    i can’t wait to read your book!

  • virginia dillon May 13, 2011, 2:43 am

    I love these songs!!..I play them over and over!!..its like Magic :) and Scared of the Moon..touches my very soul..like he is singing about me..Beautiful songs from a Beautiful Man<3 These could all have been number ones<3

  • Jan May 13, 2011, 5:24 pm

    Shout! You forgot Shout! But otherwise I agree with you, especially on “Fall Again.” That is just the most beautiful song!

  • June May 13, 2011, 6:10 pm

    Joe, have you heard Best of Joy on the Michael album? Without getting into the same old controversy about the Michael album (and I have made every conceivable bass and treble adjustment on my CD players), do you have an opinion as to whether it’s truly Michael singing Best of Joy on the Michael CD? I’m not taking issue with authenticity of the album, and have no quarrel with the other songs. However, I just feel this voice is too high and strangely different to be Michael Jackson, and even if it was Michael doing the signing and it was simply “overproduced” or “overmixed”, there was little effort made to achieve Michael’s genuineness.

  • Loni Schupp June 3, 2011, 8:40 pm

    Great points altogether, personally I’m gonna have to bookmark this and come back to it. I’m curious if you have any follow ups to this post?

  • Lisa June 21, 2011, 4:40 pm

    Great article! And yes, i agree that it gives me ideas for songs that i don’t have yet (i can’t believe that)! How about One More Chance?

    Just for discussion’s sake, I’d also like to throw out 2 songs that were released with the HIStory album, but which i’ve always felt were seriously underrated – Little Susie and Money. The former, a haunting melody with lyrics that give you equally haunting images, i often wondered what the video would’ve looked like if there was one… The latter, a great moral message that delivers with funk and with no pretenses… Both songs within one album, tho they cldn’t have sounded more different, i think they really testify to the Michael’s wide-ranging talent at all genre of music!

  • Angel Arkhangael July 13, 2011, 7:53 pm

    Nice list of songs, some of which have not been released yet, which means I don’t know these. Or they have been released and I have not heard them.
    How then can they be known to the general public? Apparently, many music lovers are familiar with these ‘unreleased’ songs .

    How do these travel all around the world (via the Net) and become so popular? And in the case of some, it only took Michael’s word to get a song out before it’s ready.

    How, I’ve always wondered, does a song get leaked to the public?

    Maybe this is not the place to discuss this, most probably.
    But it’s quite interesting to note that there actually exists discussions and exchange of views about those rarities of a very special kind as songs never officially released to the public happen not to officially exist in a physical form (that is, as part of a cd tracklist, at least.)

    But if leaked songs did not exist, many (including me) would never get to know many intangible treasures..

    • Angel Arkhangael July 13, 2011, 7:56 pm

      I’d like to add that I meant that it took MJ’s word first before a song could be aired to the public – only WHEN it’s ready.
      Sorry
      AA

  • Paul June 14, 2012, 12:21 am

    Put these into a pay list a few days ago and have had them on heavy rotation – is great rediscovering these hidden gems – like having a new MJ album while waiting for Bad 25.

    Surprised On The Line isn’t in there – even so those included give great insight to Michael’s diversity in style, subject matter and voice.