When I came across an amazing* acoustic cover of Michael Jackon's "Billie Jean" performed by Chris Cornell (of Soundgarden and Audioslave), I thought it would be fun to locate a dozen versions. "Billie Jean" was released as a single on January 2, 1983 -- hard to believe that it and the whole Thriller album will turn 30 next year. (Fun fact: the first cassette I ever owned was Thriller, and I got it sometime in 1983.)
The Wikipedia page on this song is well worth a read -- the video for "Billie Jean" was a major milestone for black artists on MTV, and a huge career milestone for Jackson. Read up or listen in:
Chris Cornell (acoustic, live)
Whoa. (* = "Amazing" means I don't really know how to parse this cover. Parts of it seem frankly brilliant (the quasi-Western take on the song that seems to recontextualize it), but it seems to get old about halfway through. There is some level of amazingness that this singer would attempt this song at all, and succeed at all.)
Sungja Jung (acoustic, live, instrumental)
I'd never heard of this South Korean guitarist before stumbling across this clip. Apparently he was 12 at the time of this performance. He performs a complete arrangement of the song (including lead lines and percussion) by himself, live. Utterly amazing. For a grownup guitarist's rendition, check out Adam Rafferty doing something similar.
Jeff Clark (acoustic, live)
Part of a radio contest. Quite a bit more uptempo than Cornell's version. This guy's got a nice high register.
Duwende (a capella)
Hey, it's a video song! This group has done an a capella cover album featuring Michael Jackson songs -- don't miss their version of Human Nature."
Ball in the House (a capella, live)
The audience is eating this up.
Aloe Blacc & The Grand Scheme
A sultry, slowed-down version. Beautiful.
Points for including a mandolin.
Imagine "Billie Jean" as a Nintendo soundtrack. Okay, don't imagine, just listen.
Bruno Mars (live)
A medley/mashup of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (Nirvana), "Billie Jean," and "Seven Nation Army" (The White Stripes). Wow.
Apparently this Dutch group played this at their last concert. Jazzy.
Jose Feliciano (live)
Frenetic and fun. There are some video/audio sync issues here.
Amanda Palmer (live)
Performed on the day Michael Jackson died. You can also check out a longer version with an intro.
Got a Favorite Cover?
Post it in the comments. I'm telling you, YouTube is full of "Billie Jean" covers.
See also: The Late Movies: Michael Jackson Covers.