Review: Michael Jackson – Thriller


We reviewed Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

10 years after the release of Thriller, Janet Jackson said at the 1993 Grammy Awards, if someone was to write a manual of how to become a music legend, it would be based on her brother’s music career. Similarly, if someone was to make a blueprint of a legendary album, Thriller would be the example to use. Musically, commercially and professionally, it ticked all the boxes. It spawned hits such as Billie Jean, Beat It, Thriller and Human Nature, it made Michael Jackson a household name, thanks largely to MTV and the Thriller video and, last but by no means least, it went on to sell more than 50 million copies worldwide, making it the biggest selling music album of all time.

After his first album, Off The Wall, much was expected of Michael. By 1983, he was 25 and had been away from The Jacksons for a while. If Off The Wall had been a disaster, it would have been attributed to the fact that he couldn’t perform as well as a solo artist. But Off The Wall went on to become, then, the biggest selling debut album. After such an accolade, many in the music industry were expecting big things, and they weren’t disappointed.

The album starts with from where Off The Wall left off, with Wanna Be Starting Something, a song perfect for the time it was released. Not too 1970s disco but not too mature as to alienate his growing fanbase. With the use of African call and response in the outro and a mention of a certain Billie Jean, the track was a great starting point for the album. Thriller then mellowed out, with Baby Be Mine and Michael’s duet with ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, whom he also dueted with in the hit single Say Say Say. Many stumble when trying to change the mood so quickly in an album, but not Jackson. His loving lyrics almost make you forget the imagery he portrayed in Wanna Be Starting Something (“Someone’s always trying, to keep my baby crying”). After these two soothing love songs came his three biggest hits, coincidently placed consecutively in the track listing. The first up was Thriller, which {spawned} a pioneering music video, which set the benchmark for nearly every single dance video that was subsequently released after it. The choreography was second to none with dance moves million across the globe stayed up to watch and still remember to this day; videos on YouTube pay a testament to this. The beat itself has been remixed too many times to count and featured the famous rap by the late Vincent Price. Surely after Thriller, it couldn’t be topped? Low and behold, it was. The next song on the album was the gritty Beat It. Featuring a guitar solo from the one Eddie Van Halen and a chorus that has been parodied countlessly, Beat It was Jackson’s first foray into the rock scene and started what was to become a staple in his subsequent album releases (Dirty Diana, Give In To Me, D.S and being some of the others).

By now, the album was beginning to go back to the “scary world” image first conveyed at the start and Billie Jean continued this trend. Being arguably his greatest song ever released and the track that made the album sell 900,000 a week after its release, Billie Jean without a doubt will stay in the world’s memory, for more reasons than one. The legendary song has possibly one of the most recognizable pieces of music known to man: the bassline. Just playing 5 seconds of it would instantly have anyone dancing like he/she was Michael Jackson themselves. This then leads into the infamous lyrics, based on a stalker that claimed she was carrying Michael’s child; Billie Jean, of course, not to be mistaken by the former tennis star, Billie Jean King. The video was probably the first proper showing of just how good Michael’s dancing really was. The lighting up of the tiles beneath his feet were a perfect metaphor for his near perfect liquid movement. But it was his performance of Billie Jean at the Motown 25th Anniversary concert that the whole universe will remember, as it was the first time that he did his phenomenal Moonwalk. Even if you’ve never heard of Michael Jackson (near impossibility, but still a chance) or heard his music, you’ll know about the Moonwalk. Millions watched as he appeared to be walking backwards without his feet leaving the floor, whilst giving the audience the illusion that he was supposed to be walking forwards. A move easily learnt but never mastered, only The King of Pop himself could do the move its true justice.

Towards the end of the album, however, and we glide back into the idyllic nature of the world we live in, with songs Human Nature, PYT (Pretty Young Thing) and Lady In My Life. Such a paradoxical mixture of emotions could only have been achieved by legends such as Michael Jackson. His lyrics are so poignant for the topic in question, nobody can really dispute them. And while his words are magnificent, the music that intermingles with them has been sampled, remixed and edited for years, with songs such as SWV’s Right Here and most recently Kanye West’s Good Life and Rihanna’s Don’t Stop The Music using Thriller’s mantle as their base. You may criticise his behaviour, you may even dislike the man himself, but no person that has ever lived can say his music has not influenced nor benchmarked the music industry forever.


About Luke Alex Davis

Luke Davis is a music producer and editor of music blog Sampleface. In his spare time, he enjoys watching tennis and football and reading.