Produced by Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson
Label – Epic
If the bounding success of 1979s “Off The Wall” whetted the appetite for the solo star, then the ambition to command the pop world for the follow up would mean a full frontal assault on not just the slick dance floor numbers from his debut, but fully fledged pop classics that would resonate for years to come. History will reveal that “Thriller” is an incredible achievement by any standards. Selling more than 40 million copies on its first release and containing seven hit singles, it is statistically the biggest album of all time. Jackson’s deliberate and courageous move to mould pop, rock, funk and R&B is carefully detailed with his producer and close ally Quincy Jones fusing memorable elements such as the thumping groove of the title track, the rumbling eerie bass lead from “Billie Jean”, and the sweet synth melody from “Human Nature”. Forget the twee clunker with Paul McCartney on “The Girl Is Mine” and celebrate the 8 masterpieces that qualify Jackson’s prodigious talent. In addition, one can’t underestimate the singer’s understanding of the music video as a promotional tool, immensely benefitting the songs and raising his profile. Lyrically, Jackson’s newly found public persona leave a bitterness that lace “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”, “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” with angry messages that are hidden by the up-tempo arrangements.
The opener, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”, probably bears the closest resemblance with the material from “Off The Wall”, with a sinewy beat that’s hard to resist, as Jackson berates the ever increasing scrutiny from the press. Rod Temperton provides three songs for the album; the upbeat pop of “Baby Be Mine”, the seductive closer “The Lady Of My Life”, and the memorable title track. Vincent Price’s comic horror narrative made the “The funk of 40,000 years” audibly camp in its presentation, but the killer groove is the foundation for all that follows and arguably it’s one of Jackson’s finest songs. “Billie Jean” is a perfect example of combining an almost sinister rhythm, stabbing keyboard fills and Jackson’s story of a woman claiming to be the mother of his child, realising the price he pays for the cult of celebrity personality. It preludes his eventual downfall to a world of paranoia, fear and isolation and even now sounds genuinely personal. Many critics correctly agree that the majestic “Human Nature” lays the template for the new jack swing style that would develop a decade later.
Jackson would sporadically return with a selection of fine tunes, but he would never again manage to accumulate a collection as painstakingly crafted and as skilfully realised as “Thriller”. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that this was the crowning glory and the defining moment for the King of Pop. His musical influence would radiate for the next 30 years and beyond.
1 – Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ – 9
2 – Baby Be Mine – 9
3 – The Girl Is Mine – 5
4 – Thriller – 10
5 – Beat It – 9
6 – Billie Jean – 10
7 – Human Nature – 10
8 – P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) – 9
9 – The Lady In My Life – 8