Michael Jackson: Thriller – [Record 9]
Found this in my loft (attic).
Thriller: is the sixth studio album by American recording artist Michael Jackson. It was released on November 30, 1982, by Epic Records as the follow-up to Jackson’s critically and commercially successful 1979 album Off the Wall. Thriller explores similar genres to those of Off the Wall, including pop, R&B, rock, post-disco, funk, and adult contemporary music. Recording sessions took place between April and November 1982 at Westlake Recording Studios in Los Angeles, California, with a production budget of $750,000, assisted by producer Quincy Jones.
Of the nine tracks on the album, four of them were written by Jackson himself. Seven singles were released from the album, all of which reached the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Three of the singles had music videos released. “Baby Be Mine” and “The Lady in My Life” were the only tracks that were not released as singles. In just over a year, Thriller became—and currently remains—the best-selling album of all time, with sales estimated by various sources as being between 51 and 65 million copies worldwide.T In the United States, it also tied with the Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975) as the best-selling album at 29 millions shipped. The album won a record-breaking eight Grammy Awards in 1984, including for Album of the Year.
Thriller enabled Jackson to break down racial barriers in pop music via his appearances on MTV and meeting with President of the United States Ronald Reagan at the White House. The album was one of the first to use music videos as successful promotional tools—the videos for “Thriller”, “Billie Jean”, and “Beat It” all received regular rotation on MTV. In 2001, a special edition issue of the album was released, which contains additional audio interviews, a demo recording and the song “Someone in the Dark”, which was a Grammy-winning track from the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial storybook. In 2008, the album was reissued again as Thriller 25, containing re-mixes that feature contemporary artists, a previously unreleased song, and a DVD, which features the short films from the album and the Motown 25 performance of “Billie Jean”.
Thriller was ranked number 20 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list in 2003, and was listed by the National Association of Recording Merchandisers at number three in its Definitive 200 Albums of All Time. The Thriller album was included in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry of culturally significant recordings, and the Thriller video was included in the National Film Preservation Board’s National Film Registry of “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films”. In 2012, Slant Magazine listed the album at number one on its list of “Best Albums of the 1980s”.
1, Wonna Be Startin’ Somethin’.
2, Baby Be Mine.
3, The Girl is Mine (with Paul McCartney).
5, Beat It.
6, Billie Jean.
7, Human Nature.
8, P.Y.T (Pretty Young Thing).
9, The Lady in My Life.
Background: Jackson’s previous album Off the Wall (1979) received strong critical acclaim and was also a commercial success, eventually selling over 20 million copies worldwide. The years between Off the Wall and Thriller were a transitional period for the singer, a time of increasing independence. The period saw the singer become deeply unhappy; Jackson explained, “Even at home, I’m lonely. I sit in my room sometimes and cry. It’s so hard to make friends … I sometimes walk around the neighborhood at night, just hoping to find someone to talk to. But I just end up coming home.” When Jackson turned 21 in August 1979, he hired John Branca as his manager.
Jackson confided in Branca that he wanted to be the biggest star in show business and “the wealthiest”. The singer was upset about what he perceived to be the under-performance of Off the Wall, stating, “It was totally unfair that it didn’t get Record of the Year and it can never happen again.” He also felt undervalued by the music industry; in 1980 when Jackson asked the publicist of Rolling Stone if they would be interested in doing a cover story on him, the publicist declined, to which Jackson responded, “I’ve been told over and over that black people on the cover of magazines doesn’t sell copies … Just wait. Someday those magazines are going to be begging me for an interview. Maybe I’ll give them one, and maybe I won’t.”
Recording: Jackson reunited with Off the Wall producer Quincy Jones to record his sixth studio album. The pair worked together on 30 songs, nine of which were eventually included. Thriller was recorded at Westlake Recording Studios in Los Angeles, California, with a production budget of $750,000. The recording for Thriller commenced on April 14, 1982 at 12:00 noon with Jackson and Paul McCartney recording “The Girl Is Mine”, and the album was completed with the final day of mixing on November 8, 1982.Several members of the band Toto were also involved in the album’s recording and production. Jackson wrote four songs for the record: “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”, “The Girl Is Mine”, “Beat It”, and “Billie Jean”. Unlike many artists, Jackson did not write these songs on paper. Instead, he would dictate into a sound recorder; when recording he would sing from memory.
The relationship between Jackson and Jones became strained during the album’s recording. Jackson spent much of his time rehearsing dance steps alone. When the album’s nine songs were completed, both Jones and Jackson were unhappy with the result and remixed every song, spending a week on each.
Jackson was inspired to create an album where “every song was a killer”, and developed Thriller with that in mind. Jones and songwriter Rod Temperton gave detailed accounts of what occurred for the 2001 reissue of the album. Jones discussed “Billie Jean” and why it was so personal to Jackson, who struggled to deal with a number of obsessed fans. Jones wanted the long introduction on the song to be shortened; however, Jackson insisted that it remain because it made him want to dance. The ongoing backlash against disco made it necessary to move in a different musical direction from the disco-heavy Off the Wall. Jones and Jackson were determined to make a rock song that would appeal to all tastes and spent weeks looking for a suitable guitarist for the song “Beat It”. Eventually, they found Eddie Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen.
When Rod Temperton wrote the song “Thriller”, he originally wanted to call it “Starlight” or “Midnight Man”, but settled on “Thriller” because he felt the name had merchandising potential. Always wanting a notable person to recite the closing lyrics, Jones brought in actor Vincent Price who was an acquaintance of Jones’ wife, who completed his part in just two takes. Temperton wrote the spoken portion in a taxi on the way to the recording studio. Jones and Temperton said that some recordings were left off the final cut because they did not have the “edginess” of other album tracks.
Songs recorded by Jackson for consideration included “Carousel” (written by Michael Sembello), “Nite Line” (written by Glen Ballard), “Trouble” (aka “She’s Trouble”, written by Terry Britten, Bill Livsey and Sue Shifrin), and “Hot Street” (written by Rod Temperton, and aka “Slapstick”). Jackson also cut a version of “Starlight”. Demos of all these songs exist and have leaked onto the internet. “Carousel” and “Hot Street” were completed, but left off the final version of the album. A short clip of “Carousel” appeared as a bonus track on the 2001 reissue of the album.
Release and Reception: Thriller was released on November 30, 1982, and sold one million copies worldwide per week at its peak. Seven singles were released from the album, including “The Girl Is Mine”—which was seen as a poor choice for the lead release and led some to believe that the album would be a disappointment, and to suggestions that Jackson was bowing to a white audience. “The Girl Is Mine” was followed by the hit single “Billie Jean”, which made Thriller a chart-topper. Success continued with the single “Beat It”, which featured guitarists Eddie Van Halen and Steve Lukather. The album’s title track was released as a single and also became a hit internationally.
Thriller was well received by most critics. Christopher Connelly in a January 1983 review in Rolling Stone described it as “a zesty LP” with a “harrowing, dark message”.Comparing the songs on the album with the life challenges that the 24-year old Jackson had faced since Off the Wall, Connelly remarks that he has “dropped the boyish falsetto” and is facing his “challenges head-on” with “a feisty determination” and “a full, adult voice”. John Rockwell in a December 1982 review in The New York Times also commented on Jackson’s age, comparing his youth with his experience as an entertainer, feeling that perhaps he is a “sometimes too practiced … performer”, and that at times Quincy Jones may “depersonalize his individuality” with his “slightly anonymous production”, and that Jackson may be hiding his true emotions behind “layers of impenetrable, gauzy veils”. The bulk of Rockwell’s review concentrated on how he felt that the album was helping breach “the destructive barriers that spring up regularly between white and black music”, especially as “white publications and radio stations that normally avoid black music seem willing to pretend he isn’t black after all”. He feels that Thriller is “a wonderful pop record, the latest statement by one of the great singers in popular music today”, and that there are “hits here, too, lots of them”.
In his consumer guide for The Village Voice, Robert Christgau gave the album an A– rating and commented that “this is virtually a hits-plus-filler job, but at such a high level it’s almost classic anyway”. He later revised it to an A, and commented in retrospect, “what we couldn’t know is how brilliantly every hit but ‘P.Y.T.’ would thrive on mass exposure and public pleasure.” A year after the album’s release, Time summed up the three main singles from the album, saying, “The pulse of America and much of the rest of the world moves irregularly, beating in time to the tough strut of “Billie Jean”, the asphalt aria of “Beat It”, the supremely cool chills of “Thriller”.
The album won Jackson a record-breaking eight Grammy Awards in 1984, including Album of the Year. The eighth Grammy went to Bruce Swedien. That same year, Jackson won eight American Music Awards, the Special Award of Merit and three MTV Video Music Awards. Thriller was recognized as the world’s best-selling album on February 7, 1984, when it was inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records. It is one of four albums to be the best-seller of two years (1983–1984) in the US. The album was also the first of three to have seven Billboard Hot 100 top ten singles.
On August 21, 2009 Thriller was certified 29× platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, for shipments of at least 29 million copies in the US. The album topped the charts in many countries, sold 4.2 million copies in the UK, 2.5 million in Japan, and was certified 15× Platinum in Australia. Still popular today, Thriller sells an estimated 130,000 copies in the US per year; it reached number two in the US Catalog charts in February 2003 and number 39 in the UK in March 2007. Outside the US, the album has sold over 20 million copies.