Michael Jackson’s 20 Greatest Videos

Michael Jackson left a musical imprint on this world that is unparalleled.

There is no single artist that has defined the medium of “music video” more than the undisputed King Of Pop.

Here are his 20 best videos that will live on for your children, children’s children, children’s children’s children…

#20. “Jam” (1992)

In 1992 Michael Jackson and NBA superstar Michael Jordan were the biggest stars on the planet.

David Kellogg, director: “We found this rat-infested, abandoned, bombed-out armory in a neglected neighborhood in Chicago. I think it was the Southside.”

“Somewhere near where the Bulls play. The production went into the neighborhood under the guise of a mayonnaise commercial. Neither the police or the landlord really knew what we were planning. Michael Jackson arrived in a motor home.”

“We built a tunnel for him so he couldn’t really be seen entering the building. It was followed shortly by Michael Jordan, who drove himself.”

“They’re arguably the best physical performers in each of their areas of performance. And that was sort of the charm of it, really. Michael Jackson was not a particularly good basketball player, Michael Jordan wasn’t a particularly good dancer. Michael Jackson just went in kind of wanting to have fun.”

“At one point [Jackson] had the flu or something. He would be sitting hunched over in the corner with his head hanging in his hands, and waiting for us to get our act together with the lighting. He did not look well and I thought we would have to cancel.”

“But when it came time to shoot he pulled it together in such a remarkable way. We’d crank the music and he would step up with such passion and energy and snap that, honestly, it would send chills up my spine. Where did this come from?”

“Standing 0 feet away from this was inspirational. What feats are we capable of? We’re griping about standing on our tried feet and lunch break, and this guy goes from zero to 100 with the flip of a switch.”

#19.”Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” (1979)

Director Nick Saxton shot Michael’s very first solo music video, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”

Michael was a huge fan of the old Hollywood era.

The scene in which he dances with himself are inspired by his dancing heroes – Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire.

#18. “Remember the Time” (1992)

This celeb packed video was directed by Boyz N the Hood director John Singleton.

Singleton mused on his meetings with the legendary pop icon: “[Michael] said, ‘Whatever you want to make this as cool as possible, let’s do it. Let’s get Eddie Murphy. Let’s get Magic Johnson.”

Johnson had recently revealed he was HIV positive.

“Michael said, ‘We have to put Magic in this video.’ I’ll always remember that,” Singleton said.

He added: “When I first met him I didn’t feel nervous because I kind of felt all my life was leading up to that moment. As a fan, he was always in my life. I was 15 years when I went to the Grammy Awards and saw him win all his Grammys at the Shrine.”

“He asked me, “What songs do you like?” and if I wanted to do a video. And I said, “OK, well, can we put black people in the video?” [Laughs] I was challenging him.”

“And he said, “Whatever you want.” He was cool with me because I was straightforward with him, and I felt that everybody was always goose-stepping around him and never telling him the real deal.”

“On the set he was mischievous. My choreographer in that video was Fatima Robinson, and the three of us got together and she did the routine with him.”

“It was really a great vibe. Just seeing how he would get every little move, bit by bit by bit, the whole routine, like we were putting on a Broadway show.

“He was a very visual guy. They weren’t videos to him. They were short films – visualizing the funkiness of what he was trying to accomplish in the music. He was always trying to set the bar higher.”

#17. “She’s Out of My Life” (1979)

Bruce Gowers, director: “What you’re seeing on there is one complete take, it was shot multi-camera. [This and “Rock With You”] were both shot on the same day.”

“I think we shot one at like three in the afternoon and one at 5… Very emotional he was in that. I was worried that he was actually going to break down and cry – which would have probably been a bit wonderful if we got some tears rolling down the face. That almost happened but not quite.”

#16. “Man in the Mirror” (1987)

Donald Wilson, director: “Larry [Stossel, Epic exec] told me Michael wanted to do something real heart-wrenching and tell a story, and could I go meet with him. This was the day after Thanksgiving.”

“We met in the attic of [Jackson manager] Frank DiLeo’s home in Encino – even just the attic was a palace. So, Michael and I sat down and just started making a list of things that we could think of. I had two or three hand-written pages of ideas. Michael wasn’t the kind of guy who told you what to do, he would inspire you to go do it with his backing.”

“I went to all these places that have archival news footage and say, ‘Give me all your worst stuff.’ And by the end of the day, I’d looked at dead bodies and massacres and famine. After a while, I would go to a bar – immediately. It was brutal.”

“I probably had 200 hours of footage. My goal kind of was, if you could take the video and play it in reverse, it starts from the planet out in space and then a child in an incubator and then young children; and by the time you get to the end of the video, all hell’s broken loose.”

“It’s just sort of man’s laziness about doing things. I’m gonna make this thing out of 80 percent news footage that people have already seen and they change the channel because it’s too hard to watch, or it’s too boring. I’m gonna use the same stuff and make them go, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen that before.’ Oh yeah, you have.

“Before Michael passed we were actually thinking about doing an updated version. I would have hated to do it and not be better, which is kinda the reason I didn’t go for it. That thing was so magical in a weird kind of way.”

#15.”Captain EO” (1986)


Oscar-winning director Francis Ford Coppola and producer George Lucas were behind this 17- minute sci-fi epic.

“With three strong creative voices involved – Lucas, Jackson and Coppola – it was no surprise Captain EO ran over budget,” said Disney’s then-CEO Michael Eisner, who claims the final budget was 17 million.

“The biggest factor was special effects, some 150 of them, more per minute than Lucas had used in Star Wars.”

#14.”They Don’t Care About Us” (1996)

Michael Jackson cold-called Oscar-nominated director Spike Lee three times to direct “They Don’t Care About Us.”

Lee hung up twice because he didn’t believe it really was the King of Pop on the phone.

Lee recalled, “I said, ‘Mike, let’s go to Brazil to do this.’ And he said, ‘Let’s go, Spike!’ And it’s great when you work with people who say stuff like that.”

Lee and Jackson traveled to Salvador da Bahia and the Rio de Janeiro favela Dona Marta.

In 1996, Dona Marta was the center of drug activity.

“This process to make Dona Marta better started with Michael Jackson,” said Claudia Silva, press liaison for Rio’s office of tourism. “There are no drug dealers anymore, and there’s a massive social project But all the attention started with Michael Jackson.”

After Michael’s death, Lee directed Bad 25 to celebrate twenty-five years of the iconic album.

#13. “Say Say Say” (1983)

“Paul was terribly insecure about appearing next to Michael, in terms of dance,” said “Say Say Say” director Bob Giraldi.

“And who wouldn’t, if you’re going to go onstage and be choreographed next to Michael Jackson?”

“But in all my years of working in film and commercials, I’ve worked with some of the worst divas and superstars of all time,” said Giraldi. “Paul and Michael were not that.”

#12. “Can You Feel It” (1981)

Michael conceived and wrote the treatment for this electric video.

It was produced by Robert Abel & Associates, the special-effects team that worked on the 1982 sci-fi movie Tron.

#11.”In the Closet” (1992)

“It’s not about outrageous sets and 50 dancers this time,” said director Herb Ritts. “It’s really about bringing Michael’s energy out in a new way.”

Jackson looks like a snack for this sultry video. His hair slicked back in a tight ponytail, white vest and jeans.

He is seen flirting in a dusty desert opposite supermodel Naomi Campbell. It was the most sexually charged performance of his career.

Ritts, who died in 2002, was an acclaimed fashion photographer who had shot everyone from supermodels to world leaders. He also shot Michael’s 1992 Rolling Stone cover.

#10. “Who Is It” (1995)

David Fincher was one of the most in-demand directors of the MTV era. He of course now is an acclaimed Oscar-nominated director.

His collaborated with Jackson for ‘Who Is It.’ In the video, Michael falls for a high-priced escort and stares sadly at the city skyline.

“To me it was very simple: Either we agree on what we’re gonna do or we don’t,” said Fincher about working with musicians.

“But, I’m not gonna trick you into doing something you don’t wanna do.”

#9. “Black or White” (1991)

The Black and White video had a number of stars from Bart Simpson to Macaulay Culkin.

Jackson’s requests for production equipment were excessive. “Michael, why do you want all this?” said John Landis, who directed him Jackson in  “Thriller.”

Jackson responded, “Well, maybe we’ll get an idea.” The famous “morphing” sequence cost $100,000 and took a month to produce.

Landis says, “Now, of course, you can buy the software at Best Buy and do it on your laptop.”

#8. “Leave Me Alone” (1989)

Jim Blashfield, director: “Michael was really very open to this [idea]. The fact that he would think it would be OK to represent his plastic surgey, with the nose and the scalpel, it was just pretty great.”

“I heard through the grapevine Michael’s mother didn’t like that particular image that much. Bubbles was not a problem. Bubbles, your job here is to crawl all over the rocket ship as it slowly rotates on this thing that you use to shoot car ads. Bubbles, please crawl over from here to here. And then please do not harm the python.”

“Michael was always up and ready to go, good-spirited. He was mostly in one set of clothes. It was an easy shoot for Michael. His hair didn’t catch on fire or anything.”

“If you wanna know how come it took nine months, we’re down on an animal preserve photographing llamas and peacocks. And then we’re off at Oak’s Park, the local amusement park, photographing things there. We’re out photographing skies. Some skies are better then others.”

“Each and every bit of it is made up of still images that are all stacked on top of one another on a piece of glass. Look in any one scene and look how many different things there are going on, so each one of those had to have its own shoot.”

“There’s a splash that shows up throughout the entire video, and that was so time consuming to cut out that we just had one and it was passed around. Whoever was doing the scene and needed the splash would get to use it for a while.”

“There was a guy, he specialized in that splash, and I think he worked on it for weeks. He also was responsible for hair. So he looked like somebody out of Dickens. He sat on this tall stool kind of hunched over, with these odd glasses that jewelers or somebody wears. Just cutting one 32nd of an inch after another.”

#7. “Beat It” (1983)

Who can forget the iconic “Beat It” video?

The red leather jacket, that someone seems to always wear at every Halloween party.

The incredible movie-musical choreography. For director Bob Giraldi, doing the climatic knife-fight scene was a challenge – one that he rose to.

“On the second take, I gave a real switchblade to my AD and told him to quietly substitute it for the dancer’s rubber knife,” said Giraldi. “[The other dancers] were backing away from the knives – really backing away – because they were actually afraid.”

#6. “Rock With You” (1979)

Bruce Gowers, director: “In those days they were done for peanuts. Absolute peanuts. I think about all we could afford was the laser. This one was probably about $3,000. If you look at it, there’s nothing there but a laser and Michael Jackson.”

“When we did this, this was the start of his solo career. He was very, very timid, very quiet, very unassuming. Really nice, he’s an absolute professional, even in those days.”

“It was filmed on a little stage in L.A. called the 800 Stage, a little stage that we got cheap because we were shooting quite a lot of music videos. There was minimal editing as well, because obviously in those days editing costs money.”

“It was about $350 per machine per hour. If you were using two playbacks and one record, that was a lot of money Everything was rented, trust me: the cameras, the stage, the Duvetyne drop, the smoke.”

#5. “Smooth Criminal” (1988)

Colin Chilvers, director: “I showed Michael a movie that I felt would fit the theme of the piece, The Third Man. He loved the look of it, that sort of film-noir look, so we used that to get the camera man to light it in a similar way. The dance piece was a tribute to Fred Astaire.”

“And actually, he wears a similar kind of costume that Fred had used in one of his movies – Band Wagon. We had the pleasure of having Fred’s choreographer come on the set. [Astaire’s choreographer] Hermes Pan visited the set while we were doing the song and dance piece and said that Fred would have been very happy and proud of being copied by such a wonderful person.”

“The lean that we did, obviously that was a bit of a heritage from my days of Superman. ‘Cause we had Michael on wires and fixed his feet to the ground so he could do that famous lean. I fixed their heels to the ground with a slot, so that they were locked into it.”

“If you look in the video, when they come back up from that lean, they kind of shuffle their feet back – they were unlocking themselves from the support they had in the ground.”

“We had 46 dancers plus the choreographers, hair, make-up, everything else. And every day, lunchtime, we’d go and watch the dailies from the day before. And it would be like a party going on in the screening room.”

“Michael would be there as well and they would be hoopin’ and hollerin’ when they saw themselves and how good it looked – or else, Michael would say, “We can do better than that.” Not the usual way to make a Hollywood movie, that’s for sure.”

“It was Michael’s movie and he was going to do exactly what he felt he needed to do to make it perfect. The producer, Dennis Jones, was coming in from outside the studio and obviously he was concerned about the time we were taking.”

“He had a habit of walking towards me and looking at his watch. And [fellow director] Jerry Kramer, didn’t drop a beat and said, ‘Dennis, with Michael, you don’t need a watch, you need a calendar.” Michael wanted it to be perfect and that’s the way he was.”

#4. “Scream” (1995)

Mark Romanek, director: “[Michael and Janet] obviously had a deep affection and love for one another and were very excited to finally dance together on camera for the first time. There was some very healthy and good-natured sibling rivalry going on there in that scene.”

“I was surprised by how normal, likable, and approachable he was. I spent a good deal of time with him in his trailer and between takes just talking about hobbies and movies and various random topics. He was very charming, in that he seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say and my opinions about things.”

“It was the experience of being that close to him when he moved that’s stuck with me the most. It seemed like a magic trick, like your eyes were deceiving you.”

#3. “Billie Jean” (1983)

“Billie Jean” was a smash hit before the video was even aired.  It was a number one single on a number one album.

The video broke the network’s racially segregated play­list on MTV and made Jackson a star.

CBS Records president Walter Yetnikoff even threatened to pull his label’s videos if the network didn’t put “Billie Jean” in rotation.

British New Wave video director Steve Barron couldn’t afford a sidewalk that lit up when Jackson stepped on a square. So, an electrician had to do it by hand.

“When he came forward through that chorus, literally my eyepiece steamed up, and I’m thinking, ‘Fu****ng hell, this is amazing. He is incredible,’ ” said Barron.

“We shot that first take, got to the end, and everyone – up in the gantries, eating their sandwiches, reading the paper, painters working on another set – just burst into applause. We all just knew we’d seen another era of superstar.”

#2. “Bad” (1987)

Martin Scorsese, director: “I remember meeting him at a bungalo at the Beverly Hills Hotel. He was very quiet. The first thing he asked me was, Do you know about Michaelangelo?”

“And I said, Yes! And we started talking about Michaelangelo. He’d just discovered his paintings – the Sistine Chapel and the sculptures. He was taken by all of that.”

“It was a different form for me. The big issue really was the temptation to do this really major dance piece with camera moves and cutting which we had planned on page based on his choreography. And working with Michael Chapman, who choreographed the fight scenes in Raging Bull.”

“Shooting the big dance scene was the allure of it. Michael was never a person who was overly enthusiastic. He was quiet. Accepting. How should I put it? He was very precise about what he wanted in the choreography.”

“He was concerned, like with any great dancer, they like to be seen full figure. But that wasn’t the case because I’d planned other things. The use of close-ups, and tracking him. Eventually he understood that. There was never any resistance, but questions. He was open to everything.”

“The most interesting thing about it, is when we cast the picture, Wesley was the man. Michael went through those scenes in the film and he was toe-to-toe with every one of those aators. It was quite moving and powerful performance I thought.”

“Like that scene in the hallway. We did that maybe 40 times. He stood up to Wesley, and Wesley is a wonderful actor. Formidable. Strong presence. And Michael did it. It was quite something.”

“We shot it in Harlem, and when he goes home to his apartment, he was very quiet looking around. The apartment was quite nice, actually. But it was in Harlem. Across the street the buildings were torn down or condemned.”

“He took me aside, “Do peole live here?” I said, Well, yes, this is actually a well-done apartment!…I think he was overhwlmed by what he saw…These tenements had, when you come in the front hall, there’s an apartment in the back on the ground floor.”

“There was an unfortunate person in there, in bed prety much, coughing and seemed like on his last days. Michael said, Do you see what’s in there? And I said, Yeah I know. He was in the place and it worked for him. It worked for him as a performance, but his compassion for the people came through. It was very moving.”

“He was very sweet. He came to our apartment. My mother cooked dinner. He was very easy to be with. There was a genuine sweetness about him. And treating everybody the same way. Didn’t matter who it was — my family, the crew.”

“The only time he expressed [a production demand], and again it was out of compassion — the older man is getting mugged and gets pushed at one point. And we did it a couple of takes and he was nervous about that. He didn’t want anyone to get hurt. We didn’t know if we had it on film and we said, Let’s do it again. And he begged me not to do it again. He said, ‘Please, this shouldn’t be violent.’ So I didn’t do it.”

#1. “Thriller” (1983)

“Thriller” became the most important moment in music television since the Beatles rocked Ed Sullivan.

Kids all over the world were allowed to stay up to watch the mesmerizing video.

But, boy did it cost a lot of money.

“After Michael Jackson, when American artists got a sense of the potency of a well-thought-out video,” said Duran Duran bassist John Taylor, “everything became more expensive.”

Director John Landis remembered CBS Records president Walter Yetnikoff screaming and swearing when he heard the proposed budget.

“Thriller” turned a suburban street into a horror flick and helped make video a new kind of art. As Michael says in the clip: “I’m not like other guys.”

Source: Rolling Stone

Written by Christine Haveford

Christine loves all things cinema, and she's been that way ever since she was a little girl. In fact, she is so passionate about cinema that she decided to pursue cinematography as a full-time career, and is now pursuing film studies at the New York Film School. Originally from Florida, she is still exploring the new city, people, places, and the culture, loves the new weather, going ice skating during winters, and spending time with her fellow classmates and friends from college.

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