Even though his fifth solo album, “Off The Wall” still managed to become a worldwide success, Michael Jackson was simply not content with its overall performance: He wanted it to be bigger, so he began to start thinking outside the box, knowing full well that he absolutely had to do something that was going to make the whole world stand back in complete and total awe, which was exactly what he did. Producer Quincy Jones later stated they recorded close to 300 songs and then he and Michael cut them all the way down to the strongest nine. However, the album was still not quite ready for release, as they both thought the album sounded “clenched together.” They then took a couple of weeks off, went back into the studio and remixed the record from scratch. Eventually, they got it right and the album that we now know today as “Thriller” was released towards the end of 1982. Here’s a review of the biggest selling album of all time:
Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’: Although this is quite a strange song lyrically, with someone being compared to a buffet and a vegetable, it still managed to rock the floor. In fact it still does to this very day, especially the African chant, which everybody in the whole entire world recognises no matter where they are. Structurally, it’s quite similar to “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” in that both songs are sung in a staccato style by Michael Jackson, who wrote the song entirely on his own. What more needs to be said? It’s absolutely infectious!: “Someone’s always trying to start my baby crying….” Furthermore, it’s the perfect way to kick off the album. Simple as that.
Baby Be Mine: Next up is a joyous, funky dance number with plenty of eighties synth lines. Vocally it’s exactly what you would expect from Michael Jackson: He’s singing in that beautiful soulful voice and the harmonies are nothing short of legendary. If he was somehow dared to record his own personal version of, say, “Blame It On The Boogie” then, he most definitely hit the nail on the head, as this song is absolutely drenched in that classic Jacksons sound. Though Michael didn’t write this one, Rod Temperton did. It’s lyrically romantic, in a non-cheesy type of way.
The Girl Is Mine: Although this song was a duet with Paul McCartney, it was written by Michael Jackson entirely on his own. It’s a mid-tempo R’n’B number, which is basically all about two guys fighting over the same woman, but they’re doing it in a very playful type of manner. At one point during the song, Paul turns to Mike and says: “Michael, we’re not gonna fight about this, okay?” To which Michael replies, with possibly the most memorable quote in pop music history: “Paul, I think I told ya, I’m a lover not a fighter.” Contrary to rumour, it was actually this particular song that was chosen as the album’s first single, not “Beat It” or “Billie Jean.”
Thriller: Doors creaking open, zombies crawling out of tombs, werewolves howling. Just what was all of this… madness?! It was Michael Jackson conquering the world, that’s what it was. And he did it with the help of Rod Temperton, who wrote all the lyrics, including the now legendary “rap verse,” from… hey, let’s face it, even MORE legendary horror actor, Vincent Price: “Darkness falls across the land, the midnight hour is close at hand…” Of course, the chorus is now ingrained in everybody’s mind: “Cos this is thriller. Thriller night and no one’s gonna save you from the beast about to strike.” In the original demo, Michael was actually singing: “We need some starlight, starlight sun,” but he and Quincy weren’t too thrilled with that (no pun intended) so they started throwing other ideas around. And the rest, they say is history. The background vocals on this one are like… whoa!
Beat It: One of the first times where Michael Jackson combined his soulful singing style with hard rocking guitar riffs, which were of course laid down by Mr Eddie Van Halen. Michael sings about a gang of youths who are walking around town acting tough and picking fights with everybody that they run into, whereas Michael felt you could still be a man by not having to fight at all, which was why he was seen breaking up the fight between the two (real life) gang-members in the video clip. Indeed, this is also the very same video in which he wore that legendary red jacket and performed that incredible dance sequence, inspired by “Westside Story.”
Billie Jean: One of the most recognised songs in the entire Michael Jackson catalogue is also one of the most legendary and iconic pop songs ever written. Michael had originally stated that the song was about some crazy fan who (literally) jumped over his fence and claimed that he was the father of one of her twins, which…..as you can see, does not make the slightest bit of sense. He later came clean and stated that there never was a real Billie Jean and that it was actually a few of his brothers who came across such women. Of course the video clip blew everybody’s minds to smithereens, with him strutting down the street and each tile lighting up.
Human Nature: This song’s music was composed by Steve Porcaro of the group Toto, while the lyrics were written by John Bettis, but one thing’s for sure, when Michael Jackson got on the mic to sing, he completely made the song his own. If you take a look at the lyrics sheet, you’ll notice that it’s magnificent poetry… and who better to interpret it than Michael Jackson? Best lyric: “If this town is just an apple, let me take a bite.” Originally a song by the name of “Carousel” was supposed to go here, but it’s just as well they replaced it with “Human Nature,” as that song is a tad bit nauseating.
Pretty Young Thing: At first this song was a much more chilled out, mid tempo type of R’n’B number, which, again featured Michael singing in that soulful voice of his. The end result, however, was musically reminiscent of Earth Wind & Fire’s sound at the time. Michael gets smooth on this one: “I want to love you, pretty young thing. You need some loving. Tender loving care. And I’ll take you there.” He even sang about dimming the lights in order to create a certain mood. At the end of the day, though, “PYT” is an absolute classic! Complete, with Michael’s sisters, Janet and LaToya on backing vocals. Penned by James Ingram and Quincy Jones.
The Lady In My Life: One more ballad to take us out. Although it’s just a love song where two people are having a night in, it also features some much deeper lines, such as: “Baby through the years, gonna love you more each day… even when we’re old and grey,” which would then make it an ideal wedding song. As Eddie Murphy said, Michael Jackson has that sensitivity that hooks you in. Point taken. This song was later sampled by LL Cool J for his collaboration with Boyz II Men, “Hey Lover.” Penned, once again, by Rod Temperton.
Verdict: Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was released during a time where artists were keeping it simple and the listener could listen to the whole thing from beginning to end, without having to lift the needle off the record, or press rewind on the tape deck. Which is definitely not to say the actual songs themselves are simple, for they are anything but! “Thriller” is the biggest selling album of all time… and it’s absolutely essential!