So why is Michael Jackson’s Thriller on this best 1,000 albums ever thing?
I’m just old enough to recall how massive Thriller was as an album and cultural phenomenon when it was released in 1982.
A blizzard of memories come to mind when I think about Thriller and Michael Jackson and how that album and artist more broadly dovetailed with my childhood.
One of the first things that comes to mind is the importance of “Thriller” the song and especially its groundbreaking music video. In this media and content-drenched era, it’s hard to explain how a single music video – even if it was produced and directed almost as a mini-film by John Landis – could comprise a true pop cultural event and phenomenon, but it really did. When “Thriller” was broadcast on MTV, my brother, sister, or I would scream so that the others could promptly run over to the TV set.
I still love “Thriller” and its video, and it brings to mind warm memories from that period of my childhood. There was something about watching and hearing “Thriller” that captured my imagination about what was possible with pop music and telling stories, and that those stories can sometimes be scary and fun and entertaining all at the same time. I loved that.
And I still find it to be Michael Jackson’s finest song, too. I love the pop/funk/r&b beat, the theatrical production of the music, and I always get amped up to hear the part when Vincent Price does his thing.
“Beat It” is far and away Jackson’s best rock song, and of course it’s powered by a guest appearance on guitar by Eddie Van Halen. This is also a good time to give massive credit to Quincy Jones, who produced Thriller in such a way where a wide array of sounds and genres (as he had also done on the Off the Wall album in 1979) sonically makes sense on the same album.
And I’ve gotten this far without mentioning “Billie Jean,” one of the most iconic songs of the 1980s. Its synth-y and pulsing beat still sounds electric and alive. And I believe that Jackson’s voice has never sounded better here and on Thriller as a whole.
“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” is a fun party track. I was going to go so far as call it a “deep cut,” but then I was reminded that Thriller launched seven of its nine songs to Top 10 singles status. That fact alone is simply astonishing.
Personal stuff that’s somehow related to Michael Jackson’s Thriller
I mentioned above that Thriller and Michael Jackson call to mind a blizzard of memories from my childhood. Here’s a small, curated selection:
- One of my uncles was the kind of guy who claimed to work in the entertainment industry, but no one really knew exactly what that meant. The part that most directly impacted my young life was when this uncle promised to get my sister and I tickets and backstage passes to a Michael Jackson concert. We were ecstatic. This ended up never happening… so we became less ecstatic. (Yes, I’ve thought about this over the years from the perspective of what we now know about Jackson’s personal life.)
- Even without the Jackson concert, I had a pretty great life as a kid. Part of that involved frequent visits to our grandparents’ house in Orlando, Florida. Theme parks were much cheaper back then, which helped to fund our visits to Disney World and the newer Epcot Center. I recall the Captain EO attraction opening way back in 1986, which was a fun “3D science fiction short film,” starring Jackson.
- When I was a little older, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker became a pretty decent arcade game. Jackson still looked great at that point, and it was around the time when he sported that style where he’d wear a kind of custom suit and Panama style hat. I mention this because in later years, he evolved that style in such a way where there was like a custom “extra” brim on the hat, which seemed to be part of an attempt to hide his face.
And then cut to my adulthood, a few more quick anecdotes:
- I helped to run a blogging community called Blogcritics in the mid-2000s, which featured a lot of pop culture news stories. Well, Michael Jackson news was very popular at the time as sadly his life spun further out of control. One thing that always pops to mind is the fascinating ways in which some people misinterpreted the Internet. What I mean is that we would publish news stories about a Michael Jackson trial, for example, and some people would comment on the story, believing they were contacting Michael Jackson directly in doing so.
- And then there’s just the awful downfall and eventual death of a once beloved celebrity and pop culture icon. I tried to keep this piece mostly positive, but there’s no getting around the fact that this artist was a broken person in some fundamental respect and, if accounts are to be believed, did damage to children who were allowed to be in his orbit.
There’s some lesson in there about not idolizing our idols, so to speak. Or at least not overly much.
Some stats & info about Michael Jackson – Thriller
- What kind of musical stylings does this album represent? Pop Music, R&B
- Rolling Stone’s greatest 500 albums ranking – #12
- All Music’s rating – 5 out of 5 stars
- When was Thriller released? 1982
- My ranking, the one you’re reading right now – #435 out of 1,000
Michael Jackson’s Thriller on Spotify
A lyrical snippet from Michael Jackson’s Thriller that’s evocative of the album in some way, maybe
It’s close to midnight and something evil’s lurking in the dark. Under the moonlight you see a sight that almost stops your heart.
What does the “best 1,000 albums ever” mean and why are you doing this?
Yeah, I know it’s audacious, a little crazy (okay, maybe a lot cray cray), bordering on criminal nerdery.
But here’s what it’s NOT: a definitive list of the Greatest Albums of All-Time. This is 100% my own personal super biased, incredibly subjective review of what my top 1,000 albums are, ranked in painstaking order over the course of doing research for nearly a year, Rob from High Fidelity style. Find out more about why I embarked on a best 1,000 albums ever project.