The 10 Best Covers of Michael Jackson’s Songs
Michael Jackson's classic songs have inspired cover versions in every genere — from R&B to rock to reggae to jazz. Here are 10 of the very best. By Keith Harris
Mariah Carey, “I’ll Be There”
Carey connects to the childlike purity of the Jackson 5's classic chart-topping ballad. But she also makes the song her own. Her reprise of this performance would be one of the most poignant musical moments of Jackson's funeral, in 2009.
David Ruffin, “I Want You Back”
The gruff-voiced Temptation's version of the J5's breakthrough hit replaces Jackson's youthful energy with a stark desperation. After Ruffin died of a cocaine overdose in 1991, Jackson contributed significantly to his funeral expenses.
Gloria Gaynor, “Never Can Say Goodbye”
The J5 original is a bittersweet expression of puppy love and a showcase for the infinite shades of longing Jackson can coax from the syllable "ooh." Gaynor's disco makeover is all about full-on carnal desire, and it can still own any dance floor.
Willie Nelson, “She’s Out Of My Life”
The most theatrical ballad of Jackson's solo career has been covered by big-voiced singers like Josh Groban. But "She's Out of My Life" is also intimately fragile, and Nelson's gentle, thoughtful delivery is a perfect match for it.
Caetano Veloso, “Billie Jean”
Iconic Brazilian musical rebel Veloso reinvents "Billie Jean" as a gentle samba ballad. He also ties it to global pop history, adding bits of the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" and the Brazilian tune "Nega Maluca."
The Embarrassment, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”
These Kansas indie rockers covered Jackson's disco hit with grinding propulsion and ramshackle funkiness. They break it down for six minutes, like Lou Reed body-rocking a college party.
Miles Davis, “Human Nature”
Jazz musicians are big fans of this lovely Thriller ballad – from smooth saxman George Howard to experimental pianist Vijay Iyer. Davis' straightforward rendition tops them all, keeping Jackson's breathy intimacy intact.
Sugar Minott, “We’ve Got a Good Thing”
"We've Got a Good Thing Going" is a slight B side that eventually found its way onto Jackson's second solo album in 1972. Minott, a reggae-crooner-turned-dancehall-pioneer, gives it a whole new rough edge.
Chaka Khan, “Got To Be There”
Jackson's first solo single was a harpsichord-swathed statement of sweet devotion. Khan turns up the volume with a jazzy, husky rendition, leading to a set of climactic high notes that are a lot more suggestive than the original.
Alien Ant Farm, “Smooth Criminal”
A nu-metal version of Bad's most menacing track, translating Eighties synths into Aughts guitar bombast. These California bros nailed every "Annie, are you OK" and landed their only hit. MJ's genius lifted all boats.