Thriller (Michael Jackson album)

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Studio album by
ReleasedNovember 30, 1982 (1982-11-30)
RecordedApril 14 – November 8, 1982
Michael Jackson chronology
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
18 Greatest Hits
Michael Jackson studio album chronology
Off the Wall
Singles from Thriller
  1. "The Girl Is Mine"
    Released: October 18, 1982
  2. "Billie Jean"
    Released: January 2, 1983
  3. "Beat It"
    Released: February 14, 1983
  4. "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'"
    Released: May 8, 1983
  5. "Human Nature"
    Released: July 3, 1983
  6. "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)"
    Released: September 19, 1983
  7. "Thriller"
    Released: January 23, 1984

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. Reunited with Off the Wall (1979) producer Quincy Jones, Jackson was inspired to create an album where "every song was a killer". With the ongoing backlash against disco, Jackson moved in a different musical direction from the disco-heavy Off the Wall. Thriller explores genres 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.

Michael Jackson American singer, songwriter and dancer

Michael Joseph Jackson was an American singer, songwriter, and dancer. Dubbed the "King of Pop", he is regarded as one of the most significant cultural figures of the 20th century and one of the greatest entertainers. Jackson's contributions to music, dance, and fashion, along with his publicized personal life, made him a global figure in popular culture for over four decades.

Epic Records American record label

Epic Records is an American record label owned by Sony Music Entertainment, a subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America, Inc., the North American division of Japanese conglomerate Sony. The label was founded predominantly as a jazz and classical music label in 1953, but later expanded its scope to include a more diverse range of genres, including pop, R&B, rock, and hip hop. Epic Records has released music by artists including Bobby Vinton, Glenn Miller, Tammy Wynette, George Michael, The Yardbirds, Donovan, Shakin Stevens, Europe, Cheap Trick, Meat Loaf, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ted Nugent, Shakira, Sly & the Family Stone, The Hollies, Celine Dion, ABBA, Culture Club, Boston, Dave Clark Five, Gloria Estefan, Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, and Michael Jackson. Along with Arista, Columbia and RCA Records, Epic is one of Sony Music Entertainment's four flagship record labels.

Columbia Records American record label; currently owned by Sony Music Entertainment

Columbia Records is an American record label owned by Sony Music Entertainment, a subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America, the North American division of Japanese conglomerate Sony. It was founded in 1887, evolving from the American Graphophone Company, the successor to the Volta Graphophone Company. Columbia is the oldest surviving brand name in the recorded sound business, and the second major company to produce records. From 1961 to 1990, Columbia recordings were released outside North America under the name CBS Records to avoid confusion with EMI's Columbia Graphophone Company. Columbia is one of Sony Music's four flagship record labels, alongside former longtime rival RCA Records, as well as Arista Records and Epic Records.


Thriller peaked at number one on the Billboard 200. 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 the singles reached the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, breaking the record for most top 10 singles from an album, with "Beat It" and "Billie Jean" reaching number one on the chart. Following Jackson's performance of "Billie Jean" at Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever , where he debuted the moonwalk, the sales of Thriller significantly increased, selling one million copies worldwide per week. Michael Jackson's Thriller, the "Thriller" music video, was premiered to great anticipation on December 2, 1983 and played regularly on MTV, which also increased the sales of the album. By the end of 1983, Thriller became the world's best-selling album, having sold 32 million copies. It was the best-selling album worldwide of 1983 and 1984, and was also the best-selling album in the United States in 1983 and 1984, making it the first album to be the country's best-selling for two years. It spent a record 37 weeks at number one on the Billboard 200, from February 26, 1983 to April 14, 1984, and has spent 387 weeks on the chart.

The Billboard 200 is a record chart ranking the 200 most popular music albums and EPs in the United States. It is published weekly by Billboard magazine. It is frequently used to convey the popularity of an artist or groups of artists. Often, a recording act will be remembered by its "number ones", those of their albums that outperformed all others during at least one week. The chart grew from a weekly top 10 list in 1956 to become a top 200 in May 1967, and acquired its present title in March 1992. Its previous names include the Billboard Top LPs (1961–72), Billboard Top LPs & Tapes (1972–84), Billboard Top 200 Albums (1984–85) and Billboard Top Pop Albums.

The Girl Is Mine single

"The Girl Is Mine" is a song recorded by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney. The track was written by Jackson and produced by Jackson and Quincy Jones. It was released as the first single for Jackson's sixth solo album, Thriller (1982). The song was recorded at Westlake Studios, Los Angeles, from April 14 to 16, 1982. The year before, Jackson and McCartney had recorded "Say Say Say" and "The Man" for the latter's fifth solo album, Pipes of Peace (1983). Although "The Girl Is Mine" was released as a single, Jackson never performed the song live.

Billie Jean 1983 single by Michael Jackson

"Billie Jean" is a song by American singer Michael Jackson, released by Epic Records on January 2, 1983 as the second single from Jackson's sixth studio album, Thriller (1982). It was written and composed by Jackson and produced by Jackson and Quincy Jones. "Billie Jean" blends post-disco, rhythm and blues, funk and dance-pop. The lyrics describe a woman, Billie Jean, who claims that the narrator is the father of her newborn son, which he denies. Jackson said the lyrics were based on groupies' claims about his older brothers when he toured with them as the Jackson 5.

In 1984, a pop art of Jackson designed by Andy Warhol was featured on the cover of Time who acclaimed the impact of the album, writing, "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'." Thriller broke racial barriers in popular 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 "Billie Jean", and "Beat It" and Michael Jackson's Thriller all received regular rotation on MTV and are credited for transforming music videos into a serious art form, with the latter also popularizing the making-of documentary format.

Pop art Art movement

Pop art is an art movement that emerged in the United Kingdom and the United States during the mid- to late-1950s. The movement presented a challenge to traditions of fine art by including imagery from popular and mass culture, such as advertising, comic books and mundane cultural objects. One of its aims is to use images of popular culture in art, emphasizing the banal or kitschy elements of any culture, most often through the use of irony. It is also associated with the artists' use of mechanical means of reproduction or rendering techniques. In pop art, material is sometimes visually removed from its known context, isolated, or combined with unrelated material.

Andy Warhol American artist

Andy Warhol was an American artist, director, and producer who was a leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art. His works explore the relationship between artistic expression, advertising, and celebrity culture that flourished by the 1960s, and span a variety of media, including painting, silkscreening, photography, film, and sculpture. Some of his best known works include the silkscreen paintings Campbell's Soup Cans (1962) and Marilyn Diptych (1962), the experimental film Chelsea Girls (1966), and the multimedia events known as the Exploding Plastic Inevitable (1966–67).

Time is an American weekly news magazine and news website published in New York City. It was founded in 1923 and originally run by Henry Luce. A European edition is published in London and also covers the Middle East, Africa, and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong. The South Pacific edition, which covers Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands, is based in Sydney. In December 2008, Time discontinued publishing a Canadian advertiser edition.

Thriller is the best-selling album of all time, with sales of 66 million copies worldwide. It is the second-best-selling album in the United States and was the first to reach 30x Platinum (3x Diamond), with 33 million certified album-equivalent units. The album won a record-breaking eight Grammy Awards at the 26th Annual Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year and Record of the Year (for "Beat It"). Thriller is viewed by critics and publications as one of the greatest albums of all time. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry of "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant recordings", and Michael Jackson's Thriller was inducted into the National Film Preservation Board's National Film Registry of "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films".

Album-equivalent unit measurement unit in the music industry

The album-equivalent unit is a measurement unit in music industry to define the consumption of music that equals the purchase of one album copy. This consumption includes streaming and song downloads in addition to traditional album sales. The album-equivalent unit was introduced in the mid-2010s as an answer to the drop of album sales in the 21st century. Album sales more than halved from 1999 to 2009, declining from a $14.6 to $6.3 billion industry. For instance, the only albums that went platinum in the United States in 2014 were the Frozen soundtrack and Taylor Swift's 1989, whereas several artists did in 2013.

Grammy Award Accolade by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of the United States

A Grammy Award, or Grammy, is an award presented by The Recording Academy to recognize achievements in the music industry. The trophy depicts a gilded gramophone. The annual presentation ceremony features performances by prominent artists, and the presentation of those awards that have a more popular interest. The Grammys are the second of the Big Three major music awards held annually.

The 26th Annual Grammy Awards were held on February 28, 1984, at Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, and were broadcast live on American television. They recognized accomplishments by musicians from the year 1983. Michael Jackson who had been recovering from scalp burns sustained due to an accident which occurred during filming of a Pepsi commercial, won a record eight awards during the show. It is notable for garnering the largest Grammy Award television audience ever.


Jackson's previous album Off the Wall (1979) received critical acclaim and was a commercial success, having sold 10 million copies at the time. [1] [2] [3] The years between Off the Wall and Thriller were a transitional period for Jackson, a time of increased independence. [4] 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." [5]

<i>Off the Wall</i> 1979 studio album by Michael Jackson

Off the Wall is the fifth solo studio album by American singer Michael Jackson, released on August 10, 1979 in the United States by Epic Records and internationally by CBS Records. It was Jackson's first album released through Epic Records, the label he recorded under until his death in 2009, and the first produced by Quincy Jones, whom he met while working on the 1978 film The Wiz. Several critics observed that Off the Wall was crafted from funk, disco, soft rock, Broadway and pop ballads. Its lyrical themes include escapism, liberation, loneliness, hedonism and romance.

When Jackson turned 21 in August 1979, he hired John Branca as his manager. [6] 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. [7] 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." [7]

John Branca American lawyer

John Gregory Branca, is an entertainment lawyer and manager who specializes in representing rock and roll acts, as well as independent investors, music publishing catalogs, and independent music labels. He has represented over 30 acts in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, including The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, The Jackson 5, Carlos Santana, Aerosmith, The Beach Boys, ZZ Top, Fleetwood Mac, Bee Gees, Earth, Wind And Fire, John Fogerty and The Doors, which is believed to be more than any other entertainment attorney.

The Grammy Award for Record of the Year is presented by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of the United States to "honor artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry, without regard to sales or chart position." The Record of the Year award is one of the four most prestigious categories at the awards presented annually since the 1st Grammy Awards in 1959. According to the 54th Grammy Awards description guide, the award is presented:

for commercially released singles or tracks of new vocal or instrumental recordings. Tracks from a previous year's album may be entered provided the track was not entered the previous year and provided the album did not win a Grammy. Award to the artist(s), producer(s), recording engineer(s) and/or mixer(s) if other than the artist.

<i>Rolling Stone</i> American magazine focusing on popular culture, based in New York City

Rolling Stone is an American monthly magazine that focuses on popular culture. It was founded in San Francisco, California, in 1967 by Jann Wenner, who is still the magazine's publisher, and the music critic Ralph J. Gleason. It was first known for its musical coverage of rock music and for political reporting by Hunter S. Thompson. In the 1990s, the magazine broadened and shifted its focus to a younger readership interested in youth-oriented television shows, film actors, and popular music. It has returned to its traditional mix of content, including music, entertainment, and politics.


Thriller was the second Michael Jackson album produced by Quincy Jones. Quincy Jones 2008.jpg
Thriller was the second Michael Jackson album produced by Quincy Jones.

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. [8] 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 [9] ). 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. [10] Several members of the band Toto were involved in the album's recording and production. [8] Jackson wrote four songs for the record: "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", "The Girl Is Mine", "Beat It" and "Billie Jean". [11] 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. [12] [13]

The relationship between Jackson and Jones became strained during the recording. Jackson spent much of his time rehearsing dance steps alone. [13] When the album was completed, both Jones and Jackson were unhappy with the result and remixed every song, spending a week on each. [13]

Jackson was inspired to create an album where "every song was a killer" and developed Thriller with that in mind. [14] [15] 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. [11] The ongoing backlash against disco made it necessary to move in a different musical direction from the disco-heavy Off the Wall. [15] 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. [11] [13]

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. [13] 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. [11]

Music and lyrics

Thriller explores genres including pop, post-disco, rock and funk. [18] [19] [20] 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. [21] 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)" [17] [18] [21] [22] 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), [23] giving the song an international flavor. [24] "The Girl Is Mine" tells of two friends' fight over a woman, arguing over who loves her more, and concludes with a rap. [13] [24] The album's songs have a tempo ranging from 80 beats per minute on "The Girl is Mine", to 138 on "Beat It". [25]

Thriller foreshadows the contradictory themes of Jackson's later works. [26] With Thriller, Jackson began using a motif of paranoia and darker themes including supernatural imagery in the title track. [17] This is evident on the songs "Billie Jean", "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" and "Thriller". [18] 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. [17] [21] For "Billie Jean", Jones had Jackson sing overdubs through a six-foot (180 cm) 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. [27] "Thriller" includes sound effects such as creaking doors, thunder, footsteps, wind, and howling dogs. [13]

The anti-gang-violence "Beat It" became a homage to West Side Story and was Jackson's first successful rock cross-over piece. [21] [28] 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". [24] "Human Nature", co-written by Steve Porcaro of the band Toto, [29] 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". [24]

By the late 1970s, Jackson's abilities as a vocalist were well regarded; AllMusic described him as a "blindingly gifted vocalist". [3] 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." [2] 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. [30] Rolling Stone critic Christopher Connelly wrote that Jackson was now singing in a "fully adult voice" that was "tinged by sadness". [17]

"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. [24] Jackson had already adopted a "vocal hiccup" (first used in 1973 on "It's Too Late to Change the Time" [31] ), 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. [32]


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. [33] Another picture from the shoot, with Jackson embracing the cub, was used for the 2001 special edition of Thriller. [34]


Thriller was released on November 30, 1982 by Epic Records and internationally by CBS Records. [35] [36] It peaked at number one on the Billboard 200 on February 26, 1983. [37] Thriller sold one million copies worldwide per week at its peak. [30] By the end of 1983, it became the world's best-selling album, having sold 32 million copies. [38] Thriller was the best-selling album in the United States in 1983 and 1984, making it the first album to be the best-selling for two years. It also spent a record 37 weeks at number one on the Billboard 200, from February 26, 1983 to April 14, 1984, and has remained on the chart for 387 weeks. [39] [40]

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. [41] [42] 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. [43]

The album topped the charts in many countries, sold 4.2 million copies in the UK, [44] 2.5 million in Japan, [45] and was certified 15× Platinum in Australia. [46] 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. [47]

Thriller was the best-selling album worldwide of 1983 and 1984. [48] It remains the best-selling album of all time, having sold over 66 million copies worldwide. [nb 1] [54]


Seven singles were released, with the first being the "The Girl Is Mine" which was released as a single on October 18, 1982. It 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. [24] Despite some of the public's concerns, "The Girl Is Mine" topped the R&B Singles Chart, peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached number one on the Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart. [55]

"Billie Jean" was released next and reached number one on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, where it remained for seven weeks. "Billie Jean" also topped the R&B Singles Chart within three weeks where remained at number one for nine weeks. Billboard ranked it as the No. 2 song for 1983. It was also a number one hit in the UK, Switzerland and Belgium and reached the top ten in many other countries. "Billie Jean" was one of the best-selling singles of 1983, helping Thriller become the best-selling album of all time. It also became Jackson's best-selling solo single. "Billie Jean" was described as a pioneer of "sleek, post-soul pop music" and also the beginning of a more paranoid lyrical style for Jackson, a trademark of his later music. [27]

Success continued with the single "Beat It", which featured guitarists Eddie Van Halen and Steve Lukather. [56] It was released on February 14, 1983 and peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, staying there for three weeks. [57] The song also charted at number one on the R&B Singles Chart. [58] Billboard ranked the song No. 5 for 1983. "Beat It" was a number one hit in Europe, reaching number one in Spain and the Netherlands. [58] The single helped propel Thriller into becoming the best-selling album of all time. "Beat It" became one of the most critically acclaimed songs in the history of popular music. [59]

The title track was released as a single. Noted for its frightful elements and themes, [16] the sounds included in the song are a creaking door, thunder, feet walking on wooden planks, winds and howling dogs. [13] The song became a hit internationally and is often cited as a pop culture phenomenon and a Halloween anthem. [60]

Critical reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svg [18]
Blender Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svg [61]
Christgau's Record Guide A [62]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svg [63]
Entertainment Weekly A [64]
MusicHound R&B 5/5 [65]
Q Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svg [66]
Rolling Stone Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar empty.svg [17]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svg [67]
Slant Magazine Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svg [22]

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". [17]

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". [68] 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". [68]

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". [69] 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." [62]

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'." [30] 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". [70]

The album won a record-breaking eight Grammy Awards in 1984, including Album of the Year. Jackson won seven of the Grammy Awards for the album, while the eighth Grammy Award went to Bruce Swedien. [71] [72] [73] That same year, Jackson won eight American Music Awards, the Special Award of Merit and three MTV Video Music Awards. [47] 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 . [74] It is one of four albums to be the best-seller of two years (1983–1984) in the US. [75]

Legacy and influence

Music industry

Jackson (center) with President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan at the White House in 1984. Michael Jackson with the Reagans Uncropped.jpg
Jackson (center) with President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan at the White House in 1984.

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". [27] [76] 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 [9] ) 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. [21] 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 [9] ). [30] 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". [77]

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". [30] 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". [30] 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". [30]

The '80s were when stars replaced artists as bearers of significance... When art is intellectual property, image and aura subsume aesthetic substance, whatever exactly that is. When art is capital, sales interface with aesthetic quality—Thriller's numbers are part of its experience.

Robert Christgau in Christgau's Record Guide: The '80s (1990) [78]

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. [79] [80] 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. [81] [82] [83] [84] 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. [79] [80]

Included in their list of The 40 Most Groundbreaking Albums of All Time, Rolling Stone wrote, "It's hard to imagine the present-day musical landscape without Thriller, which changed the game both sonically and marketwise. The album's nervy, outsized blend of pop, rock and soul would send seismic waves throughout radio, inviting both marquee crossovers (like Eddie Van Halen's guitar solo on "Beat It") and sneakier attempts at genre-meshing. The album's splashy, cinematic videos — from the John Landis-directed short film that promoted "Thriller" to the West Side Story homage accompanying "Beat It" — legitimized the still-nascent form and forced MTV to incorporate black artists into its playlists. Its promotional strategy, which led to seven of its nine tracks being released as singles, raised the bar for what, exactly, constituted a "hit-laden" LP. Beyond breaking ground, it broke records, showing just how far pop could reach: the biggest selling album of all time, the first album to win eight Grammys in a single night and the first album to stay in the Top 10 charts for a year." [85]

Epic Records also reflected on the importance of the album: "More than just an album, Thriller has remained a global cultural multi-media phenomenon for both the 20th and the 21st centuries, smashing musical barriers and changing the frontiers of pop forever. The music on Thriller is so dynamic and singular that it defied any definition of rock, pop or soul that had gone before." [86]

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. [87] John Landis' production of a mini-movie, rather than the usual short music video, would raise the bar for other directors and producers. [88]

Music videos and racial equality

Thriller's music videos and singles--including the Paul McCartney duet "The Girl Is Mine"--are credited with helping promote racial equality in the United States. Paul McCartney black and white 2010.jpg
Thriller's music videos and singles—including the Paul McCartney duet "The Girl Is Mine"—are credited with helping promote racial equality in the United States.

Before the success of Thriller, many felt Jackson had struggled to get MTV airing because he was black. [27] 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." [27]

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. [89] MTV denies claims of racism in their broadcasting. [90] 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. [89] [91] 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. [21]

When the 14-minute-long Thriller video aired, MTV ran it twice an hour to meet demand. [92] The short film marked an increase in scale for music videos and has been routinely named the best music video ever. [21] 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. [13] [92]

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". [16] Short films like Thriller largely remained unique to Jackson, while the group dance sequence in "Beat It" has been frequently imitated. [11] The choreography in Thriller has become a part of global pop culture, replicated everywhere from Bollywood to prisons in the Philippines. [93] [94]

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. [95] Christgau credited "The Girl Is Mine" for giving radio exposure to the idea of interracial love. [62] 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." [30]


Thriller platinum record on display at the Hard Rock Cafe, Hollywood in Universal City, California Thriller platinum record, Hard Rock Cafe Hollywood.JPG
Thriller platinum record on display at the Hard Rock Cafe, Hollywood in Universal City, California

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. [18]

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." [67] Sputnikmusic reviewer Tyler Fisher wrote that Thriller "stands one of Jackson's greatest efforts, giving him an eternal legacy in pop music." [96] Culture critic Nelson George wrote that Jackson "has educated R. Kelly, Usher, Justin Timberlake and countless others with Thriller as a textbook". [97]

In 2002, as a sign of the album's longevity, Thriller was awarded the Special Billboard Award at the 2002 Billboard Music Awards. [98] In 2003, it was ranked at number 20 on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, maintaining the rating in a 2012 revised list, [99] and was listed by the National Association of Recording Merchandisers at number three of the "Definitive 200" albums of all time. [100] [101] 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". [102] [103] In 2009, music critics for MTV Base and VH1 both listed Thriller as the best album released since 1981. [104] 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. [104] [105] Thriller was ranked as the third best album of all time on the Billboard Top 200 Albums of All Time. [106] In 2018, it was named the "most inspiring album of all time" by the The Independent . [107]

Reissues and catalog sales

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. [11] [108] Sony also hired sound engineer and mixer Mick Guzauski [109] [110] 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. [111] Consequently, Thriller was issued on SACD only in a stereo version. [112]

In February 2008, Epic Records released Thriller 25 ; Jackson served as executive producer. [113] 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,, Kanye West and Akon. [113] [114] [115] It also included a DVD featuring three music videos, the Motown 25 "Billie Jean" performance and a booklet with a message from Jackson. [113] The ballad "For All Time" supposedly dates from 1982, but is often credited as being from the Dangerous sessions. [116]

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. [117] [118] [119] 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), [120] with the best sales on that chart since December 1996. [121] [122] [123] 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. [124] This was Jackson's best launch since Invincible in 2001, selling three million copies worldwide in 12 weeks. [125]

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. [126] According to Nielsen SoundScan, Thriller was the 14th best-selling album of 2009 in the United States, with 1.27 million copies sold. [127]

For one week beginning November 20, 2015, Google Play Music offered a free copy of the album to its users in the U.S. [128] It is called Thriller (Google Play Exclusive Version). It adds a tenth track to the original, Billie Jean (Home Demo from 1981).

Track listing

Side one
1."Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" Michael Jackson
2."Baby Be Mine" Rod Temperton Jones4:20
3."The Girl Is Mine" (with Paul McCartney)Jackson
  • Jones
  • Jackson [a]
Side two
1."Beat It"Jackson
  • Jones
  • Jackson [a]
2."Billie Jean"Jackson
  • Jones
  • Jackson [a]
3."Human Nature"Jones4:07
4."P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)"Jones3:58
5."The Lady in My Life"TempertonJones4:59
Total length:42:19



Personnel as listed in the album's liner notes are: [130]


Year-end charts

Decade-end charts

Chart (1980–1989)Position
Australia (Kent Music Report) [131] 3
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40) [155] 1
Japan (Oricon) [156] 2
UK Albums (OCC) [145] 3


RegionCertification Certified units/sales
Argentina (CAPIF) [157] Diamond500,000^
Australia (ARIA) [158] 16× Platinum1,150,000 [159]
Austria (IFPI Austria) [160] 8× Platinum400,000*
Belgium300,000 [161]
Canada (Music Canada) [162] 2× Diamond2,400,000 [163]
Denmark (IFPI Denmark) [164] 2× Platinum160,000^
Finland (Musiikkituottajat) [165] Platinum129,061 [165]
France (SNEP) [166] Diamond3,545,200 [166]
Germany (BVMI) [167] 3× Platinum1,500,000^
Hong Kong (IFPI Hong Kong) [168] Platinum20,000*
Italy (FIMI) [169] Platinum1,000,000*
Japan (RIAJ) [170] Gold2,500,000 [45]
Latvia (LaMPA) [171] 17× Platinum153,000*
Mexico (AMPROFON) [172] Platinum+Diamond+Gold1,600,000^
Netherlands (NVPI) [173] 8× Platinum1,400,000 [174]
New Zealand (RMNZ) [175] 12× Platinum180,000^
Portugal (AFP) [176] Platinum50,000^
South Korea50,000 [177]
Sweden (GLF) [178] 4× Platinum400,000^
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland) [179] 6× Platinum300,000^
United Kingdom (BPI) [180] 13× Platinum4,470,000 [181]
United States (RIAA) [182] 33× Platinum33,000,000Double-dagger-14-plain.png
Europe (IFPI) [183]
For sales in 2009
1× Platinum1,000,000*
Worldwide66,000,000 [54]

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
Double-dagger-14-plain.pngsales+streaming figures based on certification alone

See also


  1. Representatives for Sony and Jackson's estate say that Thriller has sold 105 million copies globally. [49] Although sales estimates for Thriller have been as high as 110 million copies, [50] these sales figures are unreliable according to various music specialists. [51] [52] [53]

Related Research Articles

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<i>Bad</i> (album) 1987 studio album by Michael Jackson

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HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I is the ninth studio album by American singer Michael Jackson, released on June 20, 1995. It was the fifth Jackson album released through Epic Records, and the first on his label MJJ Productions. It comprises two discs: HIStory Begins, a greatest hits compilation, and HIStory Continues, comprising new material written and produced by Jackson and collaborators. The themes include environmental awareness, isolation, greed, suicide, injustice, and Jackson's conflicts with the media.

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"Thriller" is a song recorded by American singer Michael Jackson and produced by Quincy Jones, first released on Jackson's album Thriller on November 30, 1982. It was rereleased as the album's seventh and final single on January 23, 1984. "Thriller" is a mix of post-disco and funk. Songwriter Rod Temperton wanted to write a theatrical song to suit Jackson's love of film. The music and lyrics evoke horror films, with sound effects such as thunder, footsteps and wind. It ends with a spoken-word sequence performed by horror actor Vincent Price.

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