Michael Jackson’s groundbreaking sixth studio album Thriller, is celebrating its 40-year anniversary next month. Released Nov. 30. 1982, the LP became the greatest selling global album of all time. This achievement is one the Grammy-winning album deserves all these years later.
Jackson was already a global superstar due to his time with The Jackson 5 and his hit 1979 album, Off the Wall. However, it wasn’t those previous achievements which made Thriller so successful, but the diversity, production and heart that went into it.
The variety of songs Jackson and producer Quincy Jones brought to the nine-track album wasn’t only new to Jackson’s discography but to the industry as a whole.
Opening the album is “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” a classic upbeat pop track. Followed by the underrated ear-worm “Baby Be Mine.” Next is the most sophisticated argument you’ll ever hear between Jackson and Paul McCartney on “The Girl Is Mine.” McCartney sings a subtle jab without being too crude: “sending roses and your silly dreams, really just a waste of time.”
This is followed by the best three-track-run on any album ever made “Thriller,” “Beat It,” and “Billie Jean.” From hiding under your bed scared, to playing air guitar along a one–take Van Halen solo, to the greatest pop song ever, the strength of those three tracks one after another is unprecedented.
Jackson and Jones close out the album by sandwiching “Pretty Young Thing” between two heartwarming ballads: “Human Nature” and “The Lady in My Life.”
What makes the album is Jones’ fantastic production. By the time work started on the LP, he had won 11 Grammy awards. Seven more were added to his resume in 1984, along with an additional one for the E.T. Storybook, in a record-breaking night for Thriller.
If Jackson wasn’t given creative control of “Billie Jean,” the colourful intro wouldn’t exist. If Jones didn’t recruit Eddie Van Halen for “Beat It,” the track would be missing the head-banging guitar solo.
The production value comes through on “Pretty Young Thing,” with Jackson’s signature voice pitched up creating the catchy melody.
Without the brilliance of Jones as a producer and Jackson’s peak vocals, the album wouldn’t have been what it is.
Jones and songwriter Rod Temperton went through over 800 songs to pick the nine that landed on the album and it is clear these songs tell the story of the Thriller.
Beyond the production, it comes down to the heart Jackson brought to his work.
Jackson helped create what is seen today in Music Videos. Referring to them as short films, he made the music video to “Billie Jean” even though MTV refused to play an African American on their channel until two things happened: they saw the popularity of the song and got a letter from CBS records president threatening to expose their racial views. The music video was inducted into the Music Video Producers Hall of Fame in 1992.
Following in the footsteps of “Billie Jean,” came iconic short films “Beat It” and “Thriller.” These, as well as the album itself, paved the way for follow-up records like 1987’s Bad and 1991’s Dangerous, both of which were groundbreaking in their own ways. Neither of those albums would exist if not for the success and foundation of Thriller.
No album before Nov. 1982, or since, has ever been as diverse, well-produced, barrier breaking, or artistically progressive as Thriller. This album paved the way for music today and will continue to have an impact well into the future.
Despite what is said about Michael Jackson, it is impossible to deny Thriller being the greatest album ever made and any album trying to compete can “Beat It.”