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|Studio album by|
|Released||November 30, 1982|
|Recorded||April 14 – November 8, 1982|
|Michael Jackson chronology|
|Michael Jackson studio album chronology|
|Singles from Thriller|
Thriller is the sixth studio album by American singer Michael Jackson, released on November 30, 1982, in the United States by Epic Records and internationally by CBS Records. It explores genres similar to Jackson's previous album, Off the Wall (1979), including pop, post-disco, rock and funk. Recording took place from April to November 1982 at Westlake Recording Studios in Los Angeles, with a production budget of $750,000.
In just over a year, Thriller became the world's best-selling album, having sold an estimated 66 million copies.[nb 1] It is the second-best-selling album in the United States, behind the Eagles' album Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975), and was the first to reach 30x platinum, with 33 million shipped album-equivalent units certified in the US. The album won a record-breaking eight Grammy Awards in 1984, including Album of the Year. It produced seven singles—"The Girl Is Mine", "Billie Jean", "Beat It", "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' ", "Human Nature", "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)", and "Thriller"—all of which reached the top 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. Thriller broke racial barriers in pop music, enabling Jackson's appearances on MTV and meeting with President Ronald Reagan at the White House. The album was one of the first to use music videos as successful promotional tools, and the videos for the songs "Thriller", "Billie Jean", and "Beat It" all received regular rotation on MTV.
In 2001, a special edition reissue was released, which contains additional audio interviews, demo recordings and the song "Someone in the Dark", a Grammy-winning track from the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial storybook. In 2008, Thriller was reissued again as Thriller 25, containing remixes with contemporary artists, previously unreleased songs, and a DVD with three music videos and Jackson's performance of "Billie Jean" from the 1983 television special Motown 25.
In the same year, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame along with Off the Wall. In 2012, Slant Magazine named Thriller the best album of the 1980s". In 2003, Rolling Stone placed the album at number 20 on their list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time". The album was listed by the National Association of Recording Merchandisers at number three on its "Definitive 200" album list. Thriller was also included in the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry of culturally significant recordings, and the Thriller music video was included in the National Film Preservation Board's National Film Registry of "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films".
Jackson's previous album Off the Wall (1979) received critical acclaim and was a commercial success, selling over 20 million copies worldwide. The years between Off the Wall and Thriller were a transitional period for Jackson, a time of increased independence. The period saw him become deeply unhappy; Jackson said, "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 told Branca that he wanted to be the biggest and wealthiest star in showbusiness. He was upset about what he perceived as the underperformance of Off the Wall, feeling it had deserved the Grammy Award for Record of the Year. He also felt undervalued by the music industry; in 1980, when Rolling Stone declined to run a cover story on him, Jackson responded: "I've been told over and over that black people on the cover of magazines doesn't sell copies ... Just wait. Some day those magazines are going to be begging me for an interview. Maybe I'll give them one, and maybe I won't."
Jackson reunited with Off the Wall producer Quincy Jones to record his sixth studio album, his second under the Epic label. They worked together on 30 songs, nine of which were included on the album. Thriller was recorded at Westlake Recording Studios in Los Angeles, California, with a production budget of $750,000 (US$1,926,319.15 in 2017 dollars). The recording commenced on April 14, 1982 at noon with Jackson and Paul McCartney recording "The Girl Is Mine"; it was completed on the final day of mixing, November 8, 1982. Several members of the band Toto were 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 dictated into a sound recorder; when recording he would sing from memory.
The relationship between Jackson and Jones became strained during the recording. Jackson spent much of his time rehearsing dance steps alone. When the album was 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 with obsessed fans. Jones wanted to shorten the long introduction, but 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 Steve Lukather of Toto to play the rhythm guitar parts and Eddie Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen to play the solo.
When Rod Temperton wrote the song "Thriller", he wanted to call it "Starlight" or "Midnight Man", but settled on "Thriller" because he felt the name had merchandising potential. Wanting a notable person to recite the closing lyrics, Jones brought in actor Vincent Price, an acquaintance of Jones' wife; Price completed his part in 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), "Got the Hots" (written by Jackson and Jones), "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), also known as "Slapstick". Jackson also cut a version of "Starlight". Demos of all these songs exist and have leaked onto the internet. "Carousel", "Got the Hots" and "Hot Street" were completed, but left off of the final version of the album. A short clip of "Carousel" appeared as a bonus track on the 2001 reissue of the album; the full version was later released on iTunes in 2013 as part of The Ultimate Fan Extras Collection.
Thriller explores genres including pop, post-disco, rock and funk. According to Steve Huey of AllMusic, it refined the strengths of Off the Wall; the dance and rock tracks are more aggressive, while the pop tunes and ballads are softer and more soulful. The album includes the ballads "The Lady in My Life", "Human Nature" and "The Girl Is Mine". The funk tracks "Billie Jean" and "Wanna Be Startin' Something'", and the disco songs "Baby Be Mine" and "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" have a similar sound to Off the Wall.
"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" climaxes in an African-inspired chant (often misidentified as Swahili, but actually syllables based on Duala), giving the song an international flavor. "The Girl Is Mine" tells of two friends' fight over a woman, arguing over who loves her more, and concludes with a rap. The album's songs have a tempo ranging from 80 beats per minute on "The Girl is Mine", to 138 on "Beat It".
Thriller foreshadows the contradictory themes of Jackson's later works. With Thriller, Jackson began using a motif of paranoia and darker themes including supernatural imagery in the title track. This is evident on the songs "Billie Jean", "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" and "Thriller". In "Billie Jean", Jackson sings about an obsessive fan who alleges he fathered her child; in "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" he argues against media gossip. For "Billie Jean", Jones had Jackson sing overdubs through a six-foot cardboard tube and brought in jazz saxophonist Tom Scott to play the lyricon, a wind-controlled synthesizer. Bassist Louis Johnson ran through his part on a Yamaha bass guitar. The song opens with a long bass-and-drums introduction. "Thriller" includes sound effects such as creaking doors, thunder, footsteps, wind, and howling dogs.
The anti-gang-violence "Beat It" became a homage to West Side Story and was Jackson's first successful rock cross-over piece. Jackson later said of "Beat It", "the point is no one has to be the tough guy, you can walk away from a fight and still be a man. You don't have to die to prove you're a man". "Human Nature", co-written by Steve Porcaro of the band Toto, is moody and introspective, as conveyed in lyrics such as, "Looking out, across the morning, the City's heart begins to beat, reaching out, I touch her shoulder, I'm dreaming of the street".
By the late 1970s, Jackson's abilities as a vocalist were well regarded; AllMusic described him as a "blindingly gifted vocalist". Rolling Stone critic Stephen Holden likened his vocals to the "breathless, dreamy stutter" of Stevie Wonder, and wrote that "Jackson's feathery-timbred tenor is extraordinarily beautiful. It slides smoothly into a startling falsetto that's used very daringly." With the release of Thriller, Jackson could sing low—down to a basso low C—but he preferred to sing higher because pop tenors have more range to create style. Rolling Stone critic Christopher Connelly wrote that Jackson was now singing in a "fully adult voice" that was "tinged by sadness".
"P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)", credited to James Ingram and Quincy Jones and "The Lady in My Life" by Rod Temperton, both gave the album a stronger R&B direction; the latter song was described as "the closest Jackson has come to crooning a sexy, soulful ballad after his Motown years" by J. Randy Taraborrelli. Jackson had already adopted a "vocal hiccup" (first used in 1973 on "It's Too Late to Change the Time"), which he continued to implement in Thriller. The purpose of the hiccup—somewhat like a gulping for air or gasping—is to help invoke a certain emotion, be it excitement, sadness or fear.
The cover for Thriller features Jackson in a white suit that belonged to photographer Dick Zimmerman. The gatefold sleeve reveals a tiger cub at Jackson's leg, which, according Zimmerman, Jackson kept away from his face, fearing he would be scratched. Another picture from the shoot, with Jackson embracing the cub, was used for the 2001 special edition of Thriller.
Thriller was released on November 30, 1982, and sold one million copies worldwide per week at its peak. Seven singles were released. "The Girl Is Mine" was criticized as a poor choice of lead single, and its release led to predictions by critics that listeners would find the album disappointing 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 title track was released as a single and also became a hit internationally.
On December 16, 2015, Thriller was certified 30× platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, for shipments of at least 30 million units in the US. After the inclusion of streaming and tracks sales into the RIAA album awards in 2017, Thriller was certified 33× platinum for a total of 33 million album-equivalent units. 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. 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. It remains the best-selling album of all time, having sold over 66 million copies worldwide.
Thriller was ranked as the third best album of all time on the Billboard Top 200 Albums of All Time.
|Christgau's Record Guide||A|
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
In a contemporaneous review for Rolling Stone, Christopher Connelly called Thriller "a zesty LP" with a "harrowing, dark message". He compared the songs on the album with the life challenges that the 24-year-old Jackson had faced since Off the Wall, while observing that he "dropped the boyish falsetto" and was facing his "challenges head-on" with "a feisty determination" and "a full, adult voice".
John Rockwell wrote in The New York Times that perhaps Jackson was a "sometimes too practiced ... performer", 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". Rockwell nonetheless deemed Thriller "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". Rockwell believed it helped 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".
In The Village Voice, Robert Christgau said "this is virtually a hits-plus-filler job, but at such a high level it's almost classic anyway". He later wrote in Christgau's Record Guide: The '80s (1990), "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'." In 1989, Toronto Star music critics reflected on the albums they had reviewed in the past ten years in order to create a list judging them on the basis of "commercial impact to social import, to strictly musical merit." Thriller was placed at number 1 on the list, where it was referred to as his "master work" and that "commercial success has since overshadowed Jackson's artistic accomplishments on Thriller, and that's a pity. It was a record for the times, brimming with breathless anticipation and a dread fear of the adult world, a brilliant fantasy that pumped with sexual heat, yet made room for serious reflection".
The album won a record-breaking eight Grammy Awards in 1984, including Album of the Year. Jackson won seven of the Grammys for the album, while 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.
Blender described Jackson as the "late 20th century's preeminent pop icon", while The New York Times gave the opinion that he was a "musical phenomenon" and that "in the world of pop music, there is Michael Jackson and there is everybody else". Jackson changed the way the industry functioned: both as an artistic persona and as a financial, profitable entity. His attorney John Branca observed that Jackson achieved the highest royalty rate in the music industry to that point: approximately $2 (US$4.82 in 2018 dollars) for each album sold.
As a result, Jackson earned record-breaking profits from compact disc sales and from the sale of copies of the documentary, The Making of Michael Jackson's Thriller, produced by Jackson and John Landis. Funded by MTV, the film sold over 350,000 copies in its first few months. In a market then driven by singles, Thriller raised the significance of albums, yet its multiple hit singles changed perceived notions as to the number of successful singles that could be taken from an individual album. The era saw the arrival of novelties like the Michael Jackson doll, that appeared in stores in May 1984 at a price of $12 (US$29 in 2018 dollars). Thriller retains a position in American culture; biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli explains, "At some point, Thriller stopped selling like a leisure item—like a magazine, a toy, tickets to a hit movie—and started selling like a household staple".
At the time of the album's release, a press statement from Gil Friesen, the then President of A&M Records, read that, "The whole industry has a stake in this success". Time magazine speculated that "the fallout from Thriller has given the [music] business its best years since the heady days of 1978, when it had an estimated total domestic revenue of $4.1 billion". Time summed up Thriller's impact as a "restoration of confidence" for an industry bordering on "the ruins of punk and the chic regions of synthesizer pop". The publication described Jackson's influence at that point as, "Star of records, radio, rock video. A one-man rescue team for the music business. A songwriter who sets the beat for a decade. A dancer with the fanciest feet on the street. A singer who cuts across all boundaries of taste and style and color too".
When Thriller and "Billie Jean" were searching to reach their market demographic, MTV and cable TV had a smaller market share than the much larger reach of broadcast television stations in the United States. A national broadcast TV audience on ABC, NBC and CBS affiliate stations, as well as major independent TV stations, was desired by CBS/Epic Records to promote Thriller. The national broadcast TV premiere of the Thriller album's first video, "Billie Jean", was during the week of Halloween in October 1984 and was the idea of Video Concert Hall executive producers Charles Henderson and Jerry Crowe. Video Concert Hall, the first nationwide music video TV network, taped the one-hour special in Hollywood and Atlanta, where the TV studios of Video Concert Hall were located. The Thriller TV special was hosted by Thriller video co-star Vincent Price, distributed by Henderson-Crowe Syndications, Inc. and aired in the top 20 TV markets and much of the United States, including TV stations WNEW (New York), WFLD (Chicago), KTTV (Los Angeles), WPLG (Miami), WQTV (Boston) and WXIA (Atlanta), for a total of 150 TV stations.
From the moment Thriller was released, it set the standard for the music industry: artists, record labels, producers, marketers and even choreographers. The music video was ahead of its time and it is considered a monumental one—not only in Jackson's career, but also in the history of pop music. Epic Records' approach to creating a song and video that would appeal to the mass market ended up influencing the way that professionals now market and release their songs. John Landis' production of a mini-movie, rather than the usual short music video, would raise the bar for other directors and producers.
Before the success of Thriller, many felt Jackson had struggled to get MTV airing because he was black. In an effort to attain air time for Jackson, CBS Records President Walter Yetnikoff pressured MTV and declared, "I'm not going to give you any more videos and I'm going to go public and fucking tell them about the fact you don't want to play music by a black guy."
His position persuaded MTV to begin airing "Billie Jean" and later "Beat It", (along with Prince's "Little Red Corvette") which led to a long partnership and later helped other black music artists to gain mainstream recognition. MTV denies claims of racism in their broadcasting. The popularity of his videos, such as "Beat It" and "Billie Jean", helped to place the young channel "on the map" and MTV's focus shifted in favor of pop and R&B. Jackson transformed the medium of music video into an art form and promotional tool through the use of complex story lines, dance routines, special effects and cameo appearances by well known personalities.
When the 14-minute-long Thriller video aired, MTV ran it twice an hour to meet demand. The short film marked an increase in scale for music videos and has been routinely named the best music video ever. The popularity of the video sent the album back to number one in the album chart, but Jackson's label did not support the release of the third music video from the album. They were already pleased with its success, so Jackson convinced MTV to fund the project.
Author, music critic and journalist Nelson George wrote in 2004, "It's difficult to hear the songs from Thriller and disengage them from the videos. For most of us the images define the songs. In fact it could be argued that Michael is the first artist of the MTV age to have an entire album so intimately connected in the public imagination with its imagery". Short films like Thriller largely remained unique to Jackson, while the group dance sequence in "Beat It" has been frequently imitated. The choreography in Thriller has become a part of global pop culture, replicated everywhere from Bollywood to prisons in the Philippines.
For a black artist in the 1980s to that point, Jackson's success was unprecedented. According to The Washington Post, Thriller paved the way for other African-American artists to achieve mainstream recognition, such as Prince. Christgau credited "The Girl Is Mine" for giving radio exposure to the idea of interracial love. Time wrote: "Jackson is the biggest thing since the Beatles. He is the hottest single phenomenon since Elvis Presley. He just may be the most popular black singer ever."
Thriller has continued to receive positive reviews. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic wrote that it had something to interest everyone. He believed it showcased harder funk and hard rock while remaining "undeniably fun", and wrote that "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", was "the freshest funk on the album [but] the most claustrophobic, scariest track Jackson ever recorded." Erlewine felt it was an improvement on Jackson's previous album, although he was critical of the title track, describing it as "ridiculous" and "sucked out the momentum" of the record.
In The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), Jon Pareles wrote that Jackson had "doubled his ambitions and multiplied his audience ... Thriller had extra musical help in becoming the best-selling non compilation album of all time: Jackson's dancing feet and dazzling stage presence, amplified by the newfound promotional reach of music video and the Reagan era's embrace of glossy celebrity. But especially in the album's seven hit singles (out of nine songs), the music stands on its own."
Sputnikmusic reviewer Tyler Fisher wrote that Thriller "stands one of Jackson's greatest efforts, giving him an eternal legacy in pop music." Culture critic Nelson George wrote that Jackson "has educated R. Kelly, Usher, Justin Timberlake and countless others with Thriller as a textbook". As a sign of the album's longevity, in 2003 Thriller was ranked at number 20 on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list and was listed by the National Association of Recording Merchandisers at number three of the "Definitive 200" albums of all time. In 2008, 25 years after its release, the record was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and, a few weeks later, was among 25 recordings preserved by the Library of Congress to the National Recording Registry as "culturally significant". In 2009, music critics for MTV Base and VH1 both listed Thriller as the best album released since 1981. Thriller, along with other critic favorites, were then polled by the public. 40,000 people found Thriller to be the Best Album of all time by MTV Generation, gaining a third of all votes.
Thriller was reissued on October 16, 2001, in an expanded set, Thriller: Special Edition. The album is remastered and includes a new booklet and bonus material, including the songs "Someone in the Dark", "Carousel" and Jackson's original "Billie Jean" demo, as well as audio interviews with Jones and Temperton. Sony also hired sound engineer and mixer Mick Guzauski to create 5.1-channel surround sound mixes of Thriller and Jackson's other albums for the Super Audio CD format, but Jackson did not approve the mixes. Consequently, Thriller was issued on SACD only in a stereo version.
In February 2008, Epic Records released Thriller 25; Jackson served as executive producer. Thriller 25 appeared on CD, USB and vinyl with seven bonus tracks, the new song "For All Time", a snippet of Price's voiceover and five remixes featuring American artists Fergie, will.i.am, Kanye West and Akon. It also included a DVD featuring three music videos, the Motown 25 "Billie Jean" performance and a booklet with a message from Jackson. The ballad "For All Time" supposedly dates from 1982, but is often credited as being from the Dangerous sessions.
Thriller 25 was a commercial success and did particularly well as a reissue. It peaked at number one in eight countries and Europe. It peaked at number two in the US, number three in the UK and reached the top 10 in over 30 national charts. It was certified Gold in 11 countries including the UK, received a 2× Gold certification in France and received platinum certification in Poland. In the United States, Thriller 25 was the second-best-selling album of its release week, selling one hundred and sixty six thousand copies, just fourteen thousand short of reaching the number one position. It was ineligible for the Billboard 200 chart as a re-release but entered the Pop Catalog Charts at number one (where it stayed for ten non-consecutive weeks), with the best sales on that chart since December 1996. With the arrival of Halloween that November, Thriller 25 spent an eleventh non-consecutive week atop the US catalog chart. This brought US sales of the album to 688,000 copies, making it the best-selling catalog album of 2008. This was Jackson's best launch since Invincible in 2001, selling three million copies worldwide in 12 weeks.
After Jackson's death in June 2009, Thriller set additional records. It sold more than 100,000 copies, placing it at number two on the Top Pop Catalog Albums chart. Songs from Thriller also helped Jackson become the first artist to sell more than one million song downloads in a week. According to Nielsen SoundScan, Thriller was the 14th best-selling album of 2009 in the United States, with 1.27 million copies sold.
For one week beginning November 20, 2015, Google Play Music offered a free copy of the album to its users in the U.S. It is called Thriller (Google Play Exclusive Version). It adds a tenth track to the original, Billie Jean (Home Demo from 1981).
|1.||"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'"||Michael Jackson||6:02|
|2.||"Baby Be Mine"||Rod Temperton||Jones||4:20|
|3.||"The Girl Is Mine" (with Paul McCartney)||Jackson||3:41|
|8.||"P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)"||Jones||3:58|
|9.||"The Lady in My Life"||Temperton||Jones||4:59|
|Australia (Kent Music Report)||3|
|Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)||1|
|UK Albums (OCC)||3|
|Australia (ARIA)||16× Platinum||1,150,000|
|Austria (IFPI Austria)||8× Platinum||400,000*|
|Canada (Music Canada)||2× Diamond||2,400,000|
|Denmark (IFPI Denmark)||2× Platinum||160,000^|
|Germany (BVMI)||3× Platinum||1,500,000^|
|Hong Kong (IFPI Hong Kong)||Platinum||20,000*|
|Netherlands (NVPI)||8× Platinum||1,400,000|
|New Zealand (RMNZ)||12× Platinum||180,000^|
|Sweden (GLF)||4× Platinum||400,000^|
|Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)||6× Platinum||300,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||13× Platinum||4,470,000|
|United States (RIAA)||33× Platinum||33,000,000|
For sales in 2009
*sales figures based on certification alone
the lustrous post-disco sound of Thriller seems an unlikely muse for Stump and his bandmates
The story behind these seemingly nonsensical syllables is a fascinating one, originating in the Cameroonian language Duala ... Jackson apparently claimed his version was Swahili, but he eventually acknowledged his debt to [Cameroonian singer Manu] Dibango ...