The King of Pop’s musical legacy is amazing, but people often overlook the rich catalog of Michael Jackson duets. From his collaborations with Diana Ross and Freddie Mercury in the late ’70s and early ’80s to his team-ups with Akon and Lenny Kravitz in the 2000s, Michael Jackson recorded a number of memorable duets.
Which ones were the best? Here’s my list of the 10 best Michael Jackson duets.
One note: Only vocal collaborations are counted as duets. Therefore, songs like “Beat It” and others that featured guest guitarists like Eddie Van Halen, Carlos Santana and Slash aren’t on the list.
The Best Michael Jackson Duets
#10: HIStory with Boyz II Men (1995)
One of Michael’s most over-the-top songs was the title track from HIStory. In addition to featuring guest vocals from the era’s biggest R&B group, Boyz II Men, the track included clips of famous speeches by Martin Luther King, Neil Armstrong and John F. Kennedy.
The song never became the anthem MJ might have envisioned, and its hard-hitting, near-rap verses clashed with its sunny chorus, but the vocal harmonies between Jackson and the Boyz make it worthy of appearing on this list.
#9: Somebody’s Watching Me with Rockwell (1984)
Rockwell was Motown founder Berry Gordy’s son and became a one-hit wonder thanks to “Somebody’s Watching Me,” perhaps pop music’s ultimate song about paranoia.
It features one of my personal favorite lyrics of all-time: “When I’m in the shower I’m afraid to wash my hair / Cause I might open my eyes and find someone standing there.” Jackson sang the chorus lyric and helped the song reach #2.
#8: Whatzupwitu with Eddie Murphy (1993)
Jackson takes a back seat on as a featured performer on a track from Eddie Murphy’s album Love’s Alright. Despite the song’s positive message and fun atmosphere, it didn’t catch on to become a hit in the U.S.
Michael really lets loose vocally and belts out lines like “Hear the children sing!” The song’s video channeled a kaleidoscope in the sky and was directed by Wayne Isham.
#7: Another Day with Lenny Kravitz (2010)
Rocker Lenny Kravitz wrote “(I Can’t Make It) Another Day” and produced the track for Michael Jackson, but the song only saw the light of day in early 2010 when a piece of the recording leaked online. Jackson sings the chorus while Kravitz provides background vocals.
The song was finally given an official release on 2010’s posthumous album Michael, though it was recorded sometime between 1999 and 2001 and originally intended for the Invincible album.
#6: We are the World with USA for Africa (1985)
“We are the World” is one of the most significant singles in pop music history, and the only reason it doesn’t rank #1 on this list is because it’s not a true duet. Michael has just a small singing part with 43 other people.
But since Jackson wrote the track with Lionel Richie, it’s one of the most significant contributions to his legacy.
#5: Hold My Hand with Akon (2010)
“Hold My Hand” was supposed to appear on Akon’s album Freedom but did not make the final tracklisting. Michael and Akon trade soulful vocals on the gentle, mid-tempo R&B track.
Songwriter Claude Kelly thought Akon was recording the song alone and was shocked when he was presented with a completed version featuring the King of Pop, telling Billboard, “I was literally shaking by the time the song was over.”
The tune appeared on 2010’s album Michael and became Jackson’s first top 40 hit in the U.S. in eight years.
#4: I Just Cant Stop Loving You with Siedah Garrett (1987)
We’ll never know how this ballad would have sounded if Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston or Aretha Franklin had performed it with Michael, because all of them turned down the offer (Honestly, who passes up a chance to sing with the King of Pop?)
So it was the song’s co-writer Siedah Garrett, who had mainly been a backup singer to that point, who stepped up and helped Jackson make the song a #1 hit.
#3: Scream with Janet Jackson (1995)
When the singer wanted to respond to the molestation allegations against him, he called in his sister Janet, with whom he’d only worked once before. That was way back when she sang background vocals on “P.Y.T.”
Working with Rock & Roll Hall of Fame producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the Jacksons created an aggressive song that became a Top 10 hit and the accompanying music video, at a cost of $7 million, was one of the most expensive ever made.
#2: State of Shock with Mick Jagger (1984)
Jackson recorded “State of Shock” first with Freddie Mercury, but the official release included Mick Jagger. The song had a hard rock edge and featured colorful interplay between Jackson and Jagger as they sang about a girl who “puts me in a state of shock.”
The first single from the Jacksons’ Victory album, “State of Shock” reached #3 on the charts.
Best Michael Jackson Duet #1: Say Say Say with Paul McCartney (1983)
Critically speaking, “Say Say Say” was a bit lightweight, but it’s just so fun – especially the music video, where you get a rare glimpse into Michael’s playful personality.
“The Girl is Mine” gets more attention because it was from Thriller, but “Say Say Say” is the McCartney duet that really helped Michael grow as an artist from his experience working with McCartney and Beatles producer George Martin in the studio.
Therefore, this memorable track tops my list of the best Michael Jackson duets.
Other Michael Jackson Duets Worth Mentioning
There Must Be More to Life Than This with Freddie Mercury
In the Closet with Princess Stéphanie of Monaco
The Girl is Mine with Paul McCartney
This Time Around with Notorious B.I.G.
Why with 3T
Just Good Friends with Stevie Wonder
Ease on Down the Road with Diana Ross
Thriller with Vincent Price
What’s your choice for the best Michael Jackson vocal collaboration of all time?