Michael Jackson influenced generations of pop, dance and R&B artists. But don’t forget the impact he had on rock as well. Here is a list of seven rock artists who have a connection with the King of Pop – either they covered his brilliant songs or they actually collaborated with the man himself.
For his 2007 solo album, Carry On, former Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell covered “Billie Jean,” giving the tense pop song a pained acoustic treatment, emphasizing the original’s angst and sexual anguish. (When eventual American Idol winner David Cook performed “Billie Jean” during the competition, his version owed a debt to Cornell’s take.) In retrospect, Cornell’s interest in this Michael Jackson mega-hit might have helped pave the way for his full-on embrace of R&B and pop on his next solo record, Scream.
Appetite for Destruction made Guns N’ Roses the biggest hard rock band at the end of the ‘80s, elevating Slash to legendary status among his fellow guitarists. Slash was so huge that he even attracted the interest of Michael Jackson, who recruited him for his 1991 album, Dangerous. Slash contributed guitar to two tracks, most memorably on the lead single “Black or White.”
Ben Gibbard, the frontman for Death Cab for Cutie, covered “Thriller” in concert in 2007, and as is typical of his band’s earnest music, he turned the song into a heartfelt, melancholy tune. Some artists take on ubiquitous pop hits to be sarcastic or ironic, but Gibbard’s sincere live treatment digs to find the anxiety buried beneath the original’s horror-show theatrics.
Alien Ant Farm
At the dawn of the 21st century, several nu-metal bands rose to prominence thanks to the popularity of Limp Bizkit. One of those was Alien Ant Farm, whose 2001 album ANThology was highlighted by a thrash-heavy cover of Michael Jackson’s Bad smash “Smooth Criminal.” The band’s version couldn’t be called faithful, but lead singer Dryden Mitchell did do a decent job channeling Jackson’s high-pitched yelps.
Fall Out Boy
Eddie Van Halen
Speaking of “Beat It,” perhaps no rock artist is so closely identified with Michael Jackson as Eddie Van Halen, the virtuosic guitarist behind “Beat It.” His band Van Halen were just about to launch into the rock stratosphere with their 1984 album 1984, but Eddie got the ball rolling by tearing through “Beat It,” the song that kick-started Thriller’s second side and proved that pop, rock and dance could coexist on one indelible track.
“Weird Al” Yankovic
Parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic has improbably sustained a three-decade career by broadly spoofing radio hits and their accompanying videos with obvious lightheartedness. Of all of Yankovic’s goofy, funny songs, two of the most popular have to be “Eat It” and “Fat,” which playfully tweak, respectively, Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and “Bad.” You might think that artists would be annoyed that Yankovic parodied their songs, but bands like Nirvana considered it a honor.