4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 1 December 2012
The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper", "One", and "Abby Road", Led Zeppelin's "Led Zeppelin IV", Alanis Morrissette's "Jagged Little Pill", Pink Floyd's "The Wall", Nirvana's "Nevermind", Metallica's "Metallica", Pinkd Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon", Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours", The Eagles "Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975", AC/DC's "Back in Black", Michael Jackson's own "Bad" and "Dangerous", Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell", Shania Twain's "Come On Over", the soundtracks of "Dirty Dancing", "Saturday Night Fever", "Titantic, and "The Body Guard", Celion Dion's "Falling Into You", Mariah Cary's "Music Box", Madonna's "Immaculate Collection", The Backstreet Boys' "Millennium", Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA", Dire Straits "Brothers in Arms".
What do all these albums have in common? All have sold in access of thirty million copies. These are the heavy hitters, the major albums that have commercially outperformed all of the others. What else do they have in common?
Not one of them comes close to outselling "Thriller", Michael Jackson's sixth studio album from 1982. "Thriller" has sold an estimated 50-110 MILLION copies. Too put that in perspective, The Beatles total sales is 170 million in the US total, with Elvis's moving 119 million unites, with Garth Brooks placing third. That's all records sold however. (Granted, The Beatles and Elvis' sales figures are a little more staggering globally: The Beatles have moved 1.3 billion copies and Elvis between 900 million and 1 billion. Those are, however, world wide sales figures of all records sold).
Before "Thriller", the biggest selling record was Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours". Then, in 1982, "Thriller" arrived, and the world was changed forever. "Thriller" completely rewrote the rules for what music could do commercially - at one point, the album was moving a MILLION UNITS a week. Success of this magnitude was unimaginable, even going beyond what The Beatles did in the 1960s (as far as sales of an individual album goes).
When Michael and producer Quincy Jones went into the studio, they had their sights set on the stars. Michael was angry about "Off the Wall" not winning "Record of the Year", and was told by Rolling Stone that black people didn't on magazines didn't sell. Michael wanted to prove just how valuable he would be to the music industry. And boy did he ever. "Thriller" would go on to win 8 Grammys (the most ever won at the time)
- Album of the Year
- Record of the Year ("Beat It")
- Best Male Pop Vocals ("Thriller")
- Best Male Rock Vocals ("Beat It")
- Best Male R&B Vocals ("Billie Jean")
- Best R&B Song ("Billie Jean")
- Producer of the Year (Qunicy Jones and Michael Jackson)
- Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical (Bruce Swedien)
Just like a perfect storm, the success of "Thriller" can be attributed, at least partially, to several different factors. First, and the most obvious, is the music is utterly fantastic. The album has something for everything, whether it's hard rock, funk, ballads, soul, shmaltz, or some fantastic bass lines and disco. The next is the advent MVT [is MTV was just beginning]. Michael made three videos for "Thriller": "Beat It" (with West Side Story coreagraphy), "Bille Jean", and the epic "Thriller", the most successful video of all time. All three videos entered into heavy rotation on MTV. The video of "Thriller" totally changed what videos could do. Shot as an actual short fifteen minute film, "Thriller" is a horror classic with great dancing, memorable makeup, and a spooky story line. Zombies never looked so good. Michael Jackson also helped break down racial boundaries, being MTV's first black star and even meeting with President Reagan at the White House. (See what having the biggest selling album ever gets you? An invite to the White House!).
When you're dealing with an album like "Thriller", that's not a lot to say that hasn't been said before. Whatever nitpicky comments you wish to make about the album, there is no denying that Michael's music has connected with millions of people the world over.
While "Off the Wall" was a little looser and, appropriately enough, more off the wall, with "Thriller" we find Michael moving into darker, more paranoid territory that would culminate into full-blown defense mode by the time we get to the 1995 "HIStory". For all the fun that "Thriller" offers, there are some pretty dark undercurrents on the record that Michael would more deeply explore on subsequent records. This darker edge gives the album a much more durable framework than would otherwise be the case, and makes the music more lasting and impactful.
Musically, each track feels calculated to reach as broad an audience as possible. While it can perhaps be disconcerting that there appears to be such calculation involved, all concerns melt away when you actually here the album itself. There's a reason it sold so many copies. We have the claustrophobic funk of"Wanna Be Startin' Something" (and scariest track Jackson ever recorded), the hard rock of "Beat It" (with a fantastic guitar solo courtesy of hard rock guitarist virtuso Eddie Van Halen), the smooth soul of "Baby Be Starting Something" and "P. Y. T. (Pretty Young Thing)", and the gentle ballads of "Human Nature" and "The Lady In My Life". Then there's the over-the-top schmaltz of the Paul McCartney duet "The Girl is Mine", which shows Paul at his sappiest and the weakest track on the record. It was also the first single released from "Thriller". "Say, Say, Say", also recorded in 1982 for as a duet for McCartney's "Pipes of Peace", is far stronger and just as successful commercially.
That leaves us with two songs: "Thriller" and "Bille Jean". "Thriller" is an over the top song about evil creatures that lurk in the night, and features voice-over work from none other than Vincent Price, famous for playing Dracula. Musically it's among the strongest here, and although the lyrics may be a little corny, Michael makes the song so memorable that any minor objections you can come up with are swept away by his performance and the strength of the actual music itself. One of my favorites, and a song that gets played a lot out Halloween.
Then we have "Billy Jean", the most contentious song in regards to Quincy Jones and Michael. "Billy Jean" has long been one of the staple songs from the early 1980s. However, though massively popular, Quincy Jones, Jackson's producer, vehemently disliked "Billie Jean", and did not think it was strong enough to be on the album. Jackson insisted the track to be on the album, and the rest is history. Jackson said: "A musician knows hit material. Everything has to feel in place. It fulfills you and it makes you feel good. That's how I felt about 'Billie Jean'. I knew it was going to be big when I was writing it." "Billie Jean" became one of the biggest hits of 1983. Bruce Swedien mixed the song ninety one times before Jackson was satisfied. Jones wanted to cut the long intro, but Michael insisted the intro be kept in, because, according to Michael, the intro made him want to dance.
And there you have it. In 2009 after Michael died, "Thriller" reentered the charts and became the 14th best selling album of that year. In the years that came after, Michael became increasing bizzare, embroiled in the child sex abuse scandals, holding his son Blanket over a hotel window balcony, and his physical appearance becoming more and more disfigured. That doesn't change the fact that he made some tremendous music that touched millions of people, and this is some of the best music around, by anyone.
*As far as the remakes on the 25th Anniverary edition, they're terrible. Sorry, we don't need will.i.am., Akron, etc. They're jsut bad remixes and tarnishing to the legacy of the album. It would have better to have more unreleased material like the great song "For All Time". Jones and Michael apparently worked on over thirty songs for "Thriller", and more unreleased material would be vastly more interesting than these "contemporary" remix crap. With music this timeless you don't need younger artists adding their own flourishes to an acknowledged masterpiece such as this. "Someone in the Dark" from the Steven Spielberg movie "E. T.: The Extra Terrestrial" and "Carousel" are also good.
**Hopefully one day we'll see a "Thriller" box set similar to the Twenty Fifth Anniversary Edition of "Bad", which is SOOOO MUCH BETTER than the Twenty Fifth Anniversary of "Thriller"
Some Additional Info for those interested:
"Rock With Me" become one of the first Billboard Top 100 number one singles of the 1980s, and was the fourth highest selling single of 1980. Rod Temperton wrote three songs of Jackson on his 1982 album "Thriller": "Baby Be Mine", "Thriller", and "The Lady in My Life". He also wrote three songs from the 1979 album "Off the Wall": the aforementioned "Rock With Me", the title cut "Off the Wall", and "Burn The Disco Out".
Quincy Jones, Jackson's producer, approached Rod Temperton, who wrote the title cut "Off the Wall" for Jackson's 1979 album, asking him to come up with the title to the next project.
Temperton sad the following: "Originally, when I did my Thriller demo, I called it Starlight. Quincy said to me, 'You managed to come up with a title for the last album, see what you can do for this album.' I said, 'Oh great,' so I went back to the hotel, wrote two or three hundred titles, and came up with the title 'Midnight Man'. The next morning, I woke up, and I just said this word... Something in my head just said, this is the title. You could visualise it on the top of the Billboard charts. You could see the merchandising for this one word, how it jumped off the page as 'Thriller'."
In 1982, Jackson and Jones recorded the song "Thriller" over a period of eight weeks. Bruce Swedien, the person responsible for mixing "Thriller", commented on how instrumental Jones was to the whole recording process:
"When we started 'Thriller', the first day at Westlake, we were all there and Quincy [Jones, the producer] walked in followed by me and Michael and Rod Temperton and some of the other people. Quincy turned to us and he said, 'OK guys, we're here to save the recording industry.' Now that's a pretty big responsibility - but he meant it. And that's why those albums, and especially 'Thriller', sound so incredible. The basic thing is, everybody who was involved gave 150 per cent ... Quincy's like a director of a movie and I'm like a director of photography, and it's Quincy's job to cast [it]. Quincy can find the people and he gives us the inspiration to do what we do."
Michael Jackson and John Landis made the famous "Thriller" music video. Landis is famous for such films as "National Lampoon's Animal House", "The Blues Brothers", "An American Werewolf in London", "Trading Places", "Coming to America", and "The Stupids".
Conceived more as a short film than a music video, the video famously features Jackson and a large ensemble of zombies dancing on a choreographed dance routine and a script that resembles cheesy 1950s horror films. Jackson's co-star as the female lead was the "Playboy" centerfold Ola Ray. The video has been inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2009, the only music video to ever be added to that famed registry.
Michael Jackson made the following statement regarding the video in 1999: "My idea was to make this short film with conversation ... in the beginning - I like having a beginning and a middle and an ending, which would follow a story. I'm very much involved in complete making and creating of the piece. It has to be, you know, my soul. Usually, you know, it's an interpretation of the music. [...] It was a delicate thing to work on because I remember my original approach was, 'How do you make zombies and monsters dance without it being comical?' So I said, 'We have to do just the right kind of movement so it doesn't become something that you laugh at.' But it just has to take it to another level. So I got in a room with [choreographer] Michael Peters, and he and I together kind of imagined how these zombies move by making faces in the mirror. I used to come to rehearsal sometimes with monster makeup on, and I loved doing that. So he and I collaborated and we both choreographed the piece and I thought it should start like that kind of thing and go into this jazzy kind of step, you know. Kind of gruesome things like that, not too much ballet or whatever."
Throughout the years since its release, "Thriller" and The Eagles compilation album "Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) have held the title as the top selling album in music history in the American market, though globally "Thriller" easily beats any other record.