Michael Jackson had many hits from the time he was a little kid until his untimely death last year, and even after that.
But for some reason there seems to be a certain agreement that “the” quintessential MJ hit is “Billie Jean,” from the record-breaking 1982 Thriller album. The impossible-not-to-dance-to angry reply to a paternity claim is both a popular and a critical hit, plus a staple of countless DJ sets, be it of the wedding or the hipster varieties.
Among the song's many fans are a number of musicians who have attempted their take on the song. Since Jackson's version is so iconic and immediately recognizable (notice the surefire crowd reaction to the first bars when it gets dropped in a DJ set or programmed on a jukebox), covers of “Billie Jean” tend to sound pretty strange coming from other singers.
Here's then our
Top Ten List of Strange “Billie Jean” Covers
(Fun game: hit play on all of them at once for some avant-garde fun. Warning: browser may crash, but, whatever–live a little.)
10. The Roots featuring Erykah Badu (and Questlove singing!)
9. Coldplay (yes, Coldplay)
8. Cobra Starship
7. Chris Cornell (yes, Soundgarden's Chris Cornell being all mopey and literal!)
6. Amanda Palmer (she of the Dresden Dolls and half of EvelynEvelyn)
5. Jose Feliciano
4. Alvin and the Chipmunks
3. Michael Jackson (not technically a cover–this is the stripped demo, but it's mighty strange, and it sounds kinda refreshingly minimal synth-y)
2. Caetano Veloso (this is one of the best versions of the song ever. The Brazilian icon played part of it a couple of months ago at The Greek)
And the strangest cover of Michael Jackson's “Billie Jean” is…
1. 8-bit chiptune version (ever wonder how MJ would have sounded had he been a videogame soundtrack designer in the '80s?)