25. Michael Jackson
August 29th, 1958
Key Tracks "I Want You Back" (the Jackson 5), "Billie Jean," "Man in the Mirror" (solo)
Influenced Justin Timberlake, Chris Brown, Usher
Michael Jackson is a perfect storm of innate talent and training. His singing as a child is astounding: He just nailed "I Want You Back" — there's maybe one bum note on that song, which is crazy to me, because he was only 11 years old.
One of the key elements of his style is how he uses his voice as an instrument. His signature grunts — "ugh," "ah" and all that — are rhythmic things that guitar players or drummers usually do. He's one of the most rhythmic singers ever — Prince emulated James Brown a lot more, but Michael Jackson approximated it more naturally.
And he has insane range. I can sing pretty high, but I had to drop "Beat It" a half step when I sang it. He sings this incredibly high note — I think it's a high C or even a high C-sharp, which no one can hit — on "Beat It," as well as "Billie Jean" and "Thriller." What people don't realize is that he can go pretty deep too. You hear that on "Burn This Disco Out," on Off the Wall — he goes deep into his range, which blows me away.
When somebody gets as big as he did, you lose sight of how avant-garde and revolutionary they are, but Michael Jackson pushed the boundaries of pop and R&B. Think about it: On "Beat It," you had an R&B singer doing a full-on rock song with Eddie Van Halen. Or the intro on "Man in the Mirror": He's got this reverb in his voice, and any time he goes "uh!" it goes for miles. To me, that's up there with some Brian Eno shit. That's how far out there it is.