Bad may not have all the timeless prestige of its predecessor, Thriller, but it’s just as full of heart and purpose. Over rockier rhythms, Jackson sounds gleeful and impassioned, whether he’s making a profound humanitarian plea (“Man in the Mirror”), raging with lust (“Dirty Diana”), or narrating a suave play-by-play (“Smooth Criminal”). And when he’s slaying the dance floor, his voice is spine-tingling—his nuanced falsetto goes from subtle to ferocious in the space of a single line—once again proving that Jackson is pop's one true master of ceremony.
Thriller’s late-1982 release marked the beginning of Michael Jackson’s entry into another level of fame; it also saw the end of a great five-year period of creativity that had seen him raise his solo game on the unstoppable Off the Wall and make heavy contributions to the Jacksons’ Destiny and Triumph. Stripping the weight of history from Thriller is a big job, but hearing the record as a statement in itself remains hugely rewarding. Seven of its nine original cuts were Top Ten singles, but more important is the way Jackson and producer Quincy Jones turned the singer’s obsessions into intricate, stunningly sung pop-funk. From the knowing humor of the title track to the dread of “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” and the irresistible cuteness of “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” and “Baby Be Mine,” Thriller finds Jackson at an artistic height. A quarter century later, it still sells. And nostalgia is far down the list of reasons why.
No longer a precocious child star but not yet the King of Pop, Michael Jackson hooked up with producer Quincy Jones for this 1979 solo breakthrough—a disco-era masterpiece propelled by gleaming melodies, compulsive grooves, and some of Jackson’s most spectacular performances. While it contains a handful of his signature, heart-tugging ballads, Off the Wall is also incredibly funky: From the sinuous sway of “Rock with You” to the glittering rush of “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough,” these tracks will never cease to fill dance floors.