People often talk about how the amount of copies Michael Jackson’s 1982 album Thriller has sold. People often bring up that it’s the biggest selling album of all time. They bring up all of the awards it’s won.
All of that stuff is great for the trivia nerd in all of us (and I’ve certainly got one in me) but what really makes Thriller remarkable is the music itself. While most pop music from 1982 sounds positively dated today, I believe most of the tracks from Thriller still sound just as fresh in 2009 as they did 27 years earlier.
The album opener “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” is the most over the top song on the album and it says something that he opens the album with this one. There’s so much packed into this song, it’s bursting at the seams. These days most hit songs have about 1/3 of the imagination that this song has packed into it (and that’s being generous.)
The three most known songs on the album are “Thriller,” “Billie Jean,” & “Beat It.” In fact these are arguably the three most well known songs of Michael Jackson’s entire career. Amazingly they come one right after the other on the album. How many albums have three songs that memorable one after the other?
It seems the music video for “Thriller” is talked about all the time. But what about the song itself? The video wouldn’t have been so great if there wasn’t an awesome soundtrack for it.
“Billie Jean” is so great that it really doesn’t even need me to say anything about it here. It’s the ultimate dance pop song. It demands you to the dance floor but it also has an irresistible melody and interesting lyrics that beg you to sing along.
“Beat It” featured rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen. When you think about it, that’s quite an interesting move to make for an R&B pop artist like Michael Jackson. People forget what an original idea it was for him to do such a rocking tune at that time. His groundbreaking ideas were so influential that it’s difficult to see them in their original context now.
Those three songs are fantastic but it’s some of the others that really tickle me these days. “PYT (Pretty Young Thing),” “Human Nature,” & “Baby Be Mine” are all wonderful songs that were not huge hits so they sometimes get overlooked by casual fans. These are great songs. Forget the “Greatest Hits” albums because they don’t include great songs like these. You need to get Thriller.
Even the album’s lesser songs have their moments and their charms. “The Girl is Mine” is a silly duet with Beatles legend Paul McCartney but it’s actually quite enjoyable once you accept it for what it is. “The Lady in my Life” takes awhile to get going but once the groove sets in, it’s a cool song.
One thing that I definitely feel is too often overlooked with Michael Jackson is his songwriting ability and Thriller was really the first proof that he was a great songwriter (although he did write one song, the #1 hit “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough” for Off the Wall.)
Michael Jackson has the sole songwriting credit on four of the nine songs on this remarkable album: “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” & “The Girl is Mine.” Writing four songs for Thriller was just the beginning, because from 1987’s Bad through 2001’s Invincible Jackson would write about 90% of his album’s original songs (I’m not counting his covers of “Smile” & “Come Together” in my quick & dirty estimate.)