Joshua Alston: Michael Jackson's Top 8 Music Videos

It's impossible to discuss Michael Jackson's legacy without talking about his music videos, those ostentatious short films that elevated the music-video form a little more with every new entry. Michael was the first artist to truly marry the sound and the vision, and his videos were always appointment worthy. He's the reason people wanted their MTV. In no particular order, here are eight of his finest video moments. (NOTE: Since M.J.'s company has disabled embedding, you'll have to double-click videos to view.)

It starts with a film within a film. Michael and Ola Ray are walking on a clear moonlit night. He asks her to be his girl. She accepts. "I have something I wanna tell you," he says. "I'm not like other guys." "Of course not. That's why I love you," she replies. "No … I mean I'm different," he says. In light of all the bizarre Michael Jackson news that followed in the subsequent quarter century, that exchange has been interpreted a number of ways. The simplest explanation, of course, is that Michael is not like other pop stars. He's not going to give you a cookie-cutter video, he's going to create a grand spectacle with state-of-the-art technology, an actual story, and choreography that begs to be imitated. Oh, and he's also a werewolf. Best. Video. Ever.

"Thriller" director John Landis reunited with Michael for this massive, globe-trotting clip. The video premiered in prime time and yielded huge ratings, which is hard to process now but highlights his pop dominance. Technology is only cool when its current, so the morphing effect at the end doesn't look quite as polished as it could by today's standards. But it was a marvel then. For an extra treat, watch the extended version with the controversial ending.

As a complete video, "Smooth Criminal" is Michael's second-best work. The centerpiece to his mini-movie Moonwalker, "Criminal" finds him dancing through a 30s-style nightclub. The anti-gravity lean is still an eye-popper.

It's not one of his finest moments musically, but this clever, animated clip is one of his best videos, pointedly mocking the cottage industry that had sprung up around documenting his every move. It's both defiant and sort of humble, suggesting that Michael had more sense of humor about the nonstop speculation on his life than most of us thought. This one nabbed him one of his two Grammys for best short-form music video (the other was for "Scream.")

Classically trained jazz dancers … come out and playyyyy! I thought the limber street toughs were menacing when I was a kid. They're not so menacing now. Still, the choreography is tight, as always, and Michael is to be applauded for addressing the issue of gang violence in his own way.

"Thriller" is, hands down, Michael's best dance performance. For his second best, look no further than this clip for the second single from his Dangerous album. "Remember the Time" is typically long and studded with special effects and celebrity cameos. But the most stunning material comes at 6.25 minutes in, when Michael and a throng of dancers launch into a dazzling routine choreographed by Fatima Robinson. I could watch it a dozen times and not get bored.

It looks every bit like a video from 1983, but a darn good one. When Michael's footsteps illuminate the sidewalk, it still seems like a groundbreaking effect, even though intellectually we know it isn't.

"Scream" is the Michael Jackson superlative that doesn't get mentioned much anymore. At a cost of $7 million, the clip, directed by Mark Romanek, remains the most expensive music video in history. But for all its futuristic sets and meticulous postproduction, what makes this video such a delight to watch is the interaction between Michael and Janet. Here are two of the biggest superstars in the world, making the most expensive video ever, and yet they come across as just a big brother and his little sister, goofing off, irritating each other, and generally having a blast.