Seventeen singles that reached pole position in the UK, US or Europe, plus new R Kelly ballad

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Michael Jackson – Number Ones

In the past 50 years, only Presley and Monroe have endured Jackson’s level of iconic ubiquity. A gruesomely fascinating character, he reveals nothing of himself on record. There’s plenty going on behind the scenes, but precious little makes it onto disc. You’d never guess from this collection that he’s a sexual/racial polymorph with irrational urges who’s spent 25 years going mad.

It starts brilliantly. “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” explodes with fey abandon. “Rock With You”, Rod Temperton’s finest hour, is an exquisite performance. But the music gets duller as Jackson gets weirder.

Awesome in its cold perfection, “Billie Jean” is the transitional moment. Denial and self-control are the watchwords now. He might be pirouetting and moonwalking, but he’s paralysed by fame. On “Beat It”, black narcissus re-emerges as slick hoodlum (aka the “Smooth Criminal”), with his arsenal of vocal tics and body jerks. It’s his last great hit. His LP titles offer increasingly unconvincing boasts. He’s the Thriller! He’s Bad! He’s Dangerous! In 2001, enfeebled by scandal, he declares himself Invincible.

The singles ring equally false. For the Sting-for-weenies that is “Earth Song” he’s an eco-warrior. The asinine “Black Or White” recasts him as the Martin Luther King of rock-disco. On “The Way You Make Me Feel” he’s a regular horny guy. “You Are Not Alone” and the new “One More Chance” peddle the oddest fiction: Jackson as lothario. R Kelly? He needs a sympathetic collaborator, not a hack on porn charges.

Four landmark Number Ones, followed by 14 attempts to recapture their energy and honesty. Hardly Beatles 1, is it? The King Of Pop is royally fucked up. Wish he’d make a record acknowledging that.