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20 things to revere about Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' on its 30th anniversary




thriller-cover-640-80.jpgWant to feel old? Just keep saying this to yourself: Michael Jackson's Thriller turns 30 years old today. ... Michael Jackson's Thriller turns 30 years old today. ... Michael Jackson's Thriller turns 30 years old today.

Not to be confused with the video for the video for Thriller, which is almost a year younger (it was released Dec. 2, 1983), Jackson's followup album to Off To Wall hit stores on Nov. 30, 1982. (Yes, "record stores.") Chances are you bought your first copy that same week. Then bought it again on tape three years later. Then bought it again on CD 10 years later. Then bought it again on iTunes 20 years later.

It's impossible to understate the importance of the album, which oddly enough doesn't even break into the top 10 of Rolling Stone's list of 500 greatest albums of all time. (It's at No. 20.) But maybe we can boil it down to 20 remarkable things to remember.


1. The album had nine songs and a production budget of just $750,000.

2. Of the nine songs, seven were released as singles -- each of them reached the top 10.

3. It took just more than a year for Thriller to become the best-selling album of all time. 

4. In the United States, Thriller basically shares the "best-selling" title with another group: The Eagles and Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975), though MJ probably regained the record after his death fueled sales again.

5. It wasn't MJ's only album in 1982. That same year, MCA Records released an album of Jackson reading "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" and performing the song Someone in the Dark."

6. Thriller was the most notable long-form video from the album, but it wasn't the only one. 1985's "The Legend of Billie Jean" was believed to be based on MJ's song, though the connection seems fairly weak.

7. Ever notice that weird knocking song just as Eddie Van Halen's guitar solo begins in Beat It? Legend has it that it's either a person knocking on the studio door as it was being recording or Eddie knocking on his guitar.

8. The Billie Jean video was directed by Steve Barron, who also directed the landmark video for A-ha's Take on Me.

9. The UPC code on the album cover contained 7 digits that were rumored to be Jackson's telephone number.

10. Vincent Price told Johnny Carson that when he did the narration for Thriller, he had a choice between taking a percentage of the album sales or $20,000. What did he pick? Because of his advanced career and age, Price took the $20 grand.

11. Eddie Van Halen played the guitar solo as a favor to Quincy Jones and was not paid. Later he would tell an interviewer, "I didn't want nothing. Maybe Michael will give me dance lessons someday."

12. Beat It's sound and feel is loosely based on The Knack's My Sharona, which had been a huge hit in 1979. Jones suggested that Michael use it as inspiration.

13. The lyric "Show me how funky and strong is your fight" is often misheard as something you can't say on the radio or print in a blog.

14. Sheryl Crow performed with Michael Jackson on his Bad tour. She later told Rolling Stone, "My favorite memory of Michael was watching him do Human Nature every night. he'd cry, and those tears were so directly linked to the wounds that drove him to anesthetize himself."

15. The infamous chorus to Wanna Be Startin' Something is: "Ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sas." It's borrowed Manu Dibango's 1972 song Funky Soul Makossa, but borrowed is the nice way of saying Jackson would later have to reach an out-of-court settlement with Dibango for its use.

16. Do you know which single was released first off Thriller? It was actually The Girl is Mine, his duet with Paul McCartney. The former Beatle's participation guaranteed plenty of radio play. It was released a full month before the album was released.

17. Janet and La Toya Jackson are the backup singers who provide the "na-na-na" in PYT (Pretty Young Thing).

18. More than 80 real-life L.A. gang members appear in the video for Beat It, which was shot on L.A.'s Skid Row for then incredible amount of $150,000.

19. In Human Nature, the words "why, why, dah dah da-dum dah dah, why, why" were originally dummy lyrics that were supposed to be replaced with real words before the song was completed.

20. The New York Times, in its review of Thriller, said Human Nature "should be an enormous hit." Continuing the reviewer wrote, "But there are other hits here, too, lots of them. Best of all, with a pervasive confidence infusing the album as a whole, 'Thriller' suggests that Mr. Jackson's evolution as an artist is far from finished. He is, after all, only 24 years old." 



[Last modified: Friday, November 30, 2012 1:22pm]


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