SoulBounce’s Top 50 Michael Jackson Songs: #45 ‘Stranger In Moscow’

Swift and sudden fall from grace
Sunny days seem far away


Written during a tour stop in Moscow at the height of the sexual assault allegations against him, and the surrounding fervor and criticism, "Stranger In Moscow" is arguably the most ernestly tormented song of Michael Jackson's catalog. With lyrics like "armeggedon of the brain," his introversion and angst permeate his performance. It's the b-side to "Scream," his grittier, defiant and more furious reflection on megastardom on 1995's HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I. Quiet and ponderous, "Stranger In Moscow" is a microcosm of his decline during the early and mid-nineties.

Any hopefulness is more embedded (he does mention "happy days will drown the pain" somewhat unconvincingly) than many of his earlier songs, many of which hinged his geniality and idealism, even as many began to dismiss those traits as part of more negative eccentricity. "Stranger In Moscow" is, well, lonely. Aching. Aching but somewhat resolved.  Having spent his entire life in the type of limelight that only a handful of people in the history of humanity have experienced, how could it not be?

Jackson uses all of his well-worn tools on the ballad--beatboxing, sharp crescendos, tight harmonic swells--but the song is devoid of his trademark vocal outbursts and improvisations. He doesn't relent, doesn't give us a second to pause. He just hauntingly asks to everyone and no one, "How does it feel when you're alone and you're cold inside?"

While most of us adore Michael at his peak, in his youth when he was at his most jovial and shy and electric, this song gives a glimpse of its underbelly. Still, his talent, even as it grew more erratic and secluded, is undeniable. "Stranger In Moscow" reminds us of the bitterness and contradictions of Michael Jackson, and that in there was a real person. Maybe more real than any of us could've allowed.

Michael Jackson: "Stranger In Moscow"

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10 Responses

  1. This song would've been in my top ten. I think this is his most personal song. A "swift and sudden fall from grace" you can hear the lonliness in the lyrics and in his voice. "How does it feel, when you're alone, and you're cold inside" I guess that's how it feels to be the King and feel defeated. I can't wait to see the rest of the list.

  2. I am so crazy about this song. First of all, most people dont know that he was sick wit' the beatboxing. But this song obviously shouts out that he was crying for help when everbody's was trying to tear him down. And another thing about this song and about Michael that I notice is that he always brings his innate soulfulness to tracks that aren't even technically R&B/Soul as far as the instrumentation. And of course he would, because he's a true soul singer but I just had to speak on that because not many artists can do it like him. I mean the harmonies, background vocals, and the vocals during the climax of the song are the epitome of Soul Music.

  3. This was on a list of songs that I couldn't listen to for months after his death.
    So much raw emotion.
    I would place this in my car when taking a long drive if I need to clear my head or get some space.

  4. I too love this record. The chorus is so gorgeous and haunting...This song is such an underappreciated gem, as was the History double album.

  5. It's funny. I always thought 'Rock With You' was my favorite MJ song. But this one....whoa. Anytime I hear this or watch the video, I was transported. A place where you just feel like you got nothing & no one has your back. Just...ugh. This is one of those songs of his that couldn't become a hit because of how hard it hits. If it did, I promise you: a wave of suicides would have swept thru the planet. This is a subtle, emotional, knockout blow. Thank goodness that most times, he used his powers for good.

  6. i can remember the first time i heard this song. i was watching pop up video, and they played this. my eyes stayed glue to the tv the entire time. and this instantly became my favorite michael song! i can literally listen to this song over and over again. its just so raw, and thats probably why the masses never really gravitated towards it. people always made him out to be some larger than life figure. this song, as well as his death, remind the world that he was human just like the rest of us. he had real feelings just like we do, got lonely just like us, and died just like we all eventually will.

  7. Avatar

    one of my favs! sometimes I feel like a stranger in moscow and an englishmen in NY(sting)

  8. This shoulda been much higher IMO, but then Mike has an incredible and diverse catalog, so I will give ya'll a pass.

  9. Dude - i'm SO happy this made the list but so upset that it's not higher. This song is EASILY one of his 20 best songs.
    ...itchin to see how this list unfolds. Beautifully done, SB, beautifully done.

  10. I felt like I was fallen from 10000 miles above n I had entered in a blank world n I forgot who I was n...many more.I had an unforgettable experience lisning n watching to stranger in moscow for the first time.


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