If you’re anything like me — or, if Amazon’s top seller list is any indication, millions of online consumers — the sad death of Michael Jackson may have compelled you to dive into his discography, seeking out copies of “The Essential Michael Jackson,” “Off the Wall” and “Thriller.”
All the nostalgia for MJ’s music may even have you itching to introduce some of his songs to your kids. (Note: I am talking about the music, not all the media coverage of the often controversial man.) Certainly some tracks from MJ’s discography — like, say, “Billie Jean,” “Thriller” or “Scream” — may sound a bit, um, intense for toddlers. But plenty of Jackson tunes are upbeat and catchy enough to prompt your little Jackson 5ers to sing along. With that in mind, here are the 10 Michael Jackson songs most likely to win over the kids.
10. “Black or White“
No, you probably don’t want to show your sons and daughters the complete version of the video, the one where Jackson smashes up a car and grabs his crotch roughly 800 times. But, bad grammar aside, the “it don’t matter if you’re black or white” chorus is infectious and pro-diversity. And the “It’s black/it’s white/it’s tough for you to get by” refrain was just made for repeating.
Also appropriate for: Your next early ’90s party.
9. “I’ll Be There”
There are several Jackson 5 songs on this list; something about Michael Jackson’s youth and the clear, unfettered innocence of his voice makes those tracks seem even more potentially appealing to kids. And this melody is sublimely simple enough for people of any age to embrace.
Also appropriate as: A lullabye for your newborn.
8. “Farewell My Summer Love”
The lyrics of this song fall on the semi-melancholy side of the spectrum. But the music is pure, nostalgic, warm weather innocence. (See semi-cheesy video montage below for a sample.)
Also appropriate for: A summer song playlist.
7. “The Love You Save”
Trying to teach your child the difference between stop and go? This song will definitely make that process more entertaining. And it’s even more infectious when synched up to old Jackson 5 cartoons!
Also appropriate for: Your next aerobics class.
6. “Say Say Say”
“Ya know I’m cryin’/oo oo oo oo oo.” What kid doesn’t want to sing along with that? (Also, the video — see below — rules.)
Also appropriate for: That “Classic Pop Music Duets” mix tape you’ve been planning to craft for the past decade.
5. “I Want You Back”
If you and your kids can’t dance around to this, I can’t help you. Seriously. (Just watch Michael tear it up to this one below, during an appearance on Soul Train.)
Also appropriate for: Weddings, barmitzvahs or pretty much any function where you want people on the dancefloor ASAP.
4. “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)”
Okay, forget the fact that the lyrics are more than a little suggestive — “In the night/hit the lovin’ spot/I’ll give you all that I’ve got”? Yeah, totally missed the meaning of that one when I was in elementary school — or that the song took on an unfortunate double meaning in light of the child abuse allegations against Jackson. I didn’t really understand what the words meant when I was 10-years-old and yours’ won’t either. They’ll just loving saying “P.Y.T.” and joining the “Na na na” call-and-response. As well they should; this song remains one of “Thriller’s” absolute best hip-movers.
Also appropriate for: Your high school/junior high/elementary school reunion.
3. “Rock With You“
True confession: I routinely sang this song to my newborn son while sitting in a glider with him cradled in my arms: “I want to rock with you…” See? Totally works.
Also appropriate for: The soundtrack to your next roller-skating party.
2. “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”
Was there ever a more playground-chant-appropriate lyric than “Ma ma se ma ma sa ma ma coo sa”? No one knows what the heck it means, but kids will love singing (and clapping) along with it regardless.
Also appropriate for: Playing over the sound system at a sporting event.
Sort of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? Short of Schoolhouse Rock, I can’t think of a better, funkier way to learn letters and numbers — at least the first three, that is — than this song. To see the track in a schoolhouse light, check out this clip of the Jackson 5 “schooling” Carol Burnett. (“ABC” begins at about the 6:30 minute mark.) Got other kid-friendly MJ song suggestions? By all means, add ’em in the comments.
Also appropriate for: Incorporating into classroom curricula.