Saturday marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. These days Jackson is more of a court jester, but for those of you who have forgotten (or never knew) that he once wore the “King of Pop” crown, one look at the Thriller tracklist will set you straight:

01 “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”
02 “Baby Be Mine”
03 “The Girl Is Mine (Feat. Paul McCartney)”
04 “Thriller (Feat. Vincent Price)”
05 “Beat It (Feat. Eddie Van Halen)”
06 “Billie Jean”
07 “Human Nature”
08 “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)”
09 “The Lady in My Life”

That’s a murderer’s row: seven top-ten singles out of nine tracks, back in the days when such things had meaning, and not a cheap one in the bunch. 100 million copies later, the music still matters. The songs have been sampled, name-checked, and covered by everyone from Chris Cornell to Amy Winehouse to Ben Gibbard.

And we’d probably be remiss if we didn’t mention “Eat It” in here somewhere. Of all the iconic American artists that dominated pop in the ’80s (Madonna, Prince, Springsteen), MJ flew the highest, and had the farthest to fall.

And then there were the videos.

Specifically, the video for “Thriller.”

At the time it was released in 1983, Thriller was the longest, most expensive video ever made. Its dancing zombie-to-Jackson ratio was also the highest in music video history. Jackson set the gold standard for the music video as short film, and one of the more depressing aspects of his slow descent into crushing irrelevance has been watching his many failed attempts to recapture the magic. Anybody remember “Ghost“? Nope? How about “Remember The Time” with Eddie Murphy and Magic Johnson? Even “Smooth Criminal” clocked in at 9+ minutes, for reasons that remain unclear to this day.

In the meantime, Thriller has become the Star Wars of music videos: it came out, it was huge, it enjoyed a second wave of accolades during the beginning of the List Epoch in the late ’90s, and now all you have to do for your 15 minutes is pick your pop culture substrate and hit “save as“. Luckily for us, it also inspired 25 years of high-concept, high-budget videos that flail hilariously as often as they succeed.

So thanks, MJ, for the memories. You might have become a creepy weirdo with a plastic surgery fetish and questionable relationship to children, but we’ll always have Thriller to remember you by. And Off The Wall. And the good part of Bad. And the Free Willy song. But mostly Thriller.

Michael Jackson - Thriller (cover)

And no music album anniversary is complete without a jumbo repackage and re-release, right? Epic Records has gotcha covered, although you’ll need to wait a couple of months. Thriller – 25th Anniversary Edition features a DVD of videos (“Beat It,” “Thriller, “Billie Jean”) and that classic ’83 Motown performance, alongside unreleased bonus tracks like “Wanna Be Startin’ Something ’08 (Feat will.i.am and Akon),” “Beat It ’08 (Feat. Fergie)” and “Billie Jean ’08 (Feat. Kanye West).” The deluxe reissue is out 2/12/08. Why wait ’til then? So that the ’08s in the reworked song titles made sense, of course.

See ya at the Jackson 5 reunion tour next year! (OK, we don’t wanna be starting something — that’s still just a rumor.)

Comments (36)
  1. internet gangsta  |   Posted on Nov 30th, 2007 0

    Wow, that Ghosts video is way too ripe for parody for anyone that bothers to watch for a couple minutes.

    “Don’t you kids like it when I do my little [makes hand gesture] you know?”

  2. alf  |   Posted on Nov 30th, 2007 0

    Pop Quiz!- who wrote “p.y.t.”?

    the answer- God.that jam is soo amazing.

  3. Blu  |   Posted on Nov 30th, 2007 0

    Yeah, but see, he gave himself that ‘King Of Pop’ name.
    I remember the order form insert included with that HIStory double CD. You could buy, among other things, a leather jacket with ‘King Of Pop’ embroidered on the back. Of course, the inevitable ass-beating you’d get if you actually wore it outside would be totally free.

  4. mike francesca's insatiable appetite for pie  |   Posted on Nov 30th, 2007 0

    “Off the Wall” is a better album.

  5. Steve  |   Posted on Nov 30th, 2007 0

    Patton Oswalt on Michael Jackson…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osJmacN_vgE

  6. juepucta  |   Posted on Dec 1st, 2007 0

    Off The Wall is far superior. I am with the above poster.

  7. and don’t forget about dave chappelle’s defense of micheal jackson: “i’ve never seen micheal’s alleged penis… but the guy made thriller. he made thriller.”

  8. Fiz  |   Posted on Dec 1st, 2007 0

    So tell me, which part of Bad is the good part? Cause I liked the whole thing. I’m just trying to find out which songs I’ll need to hide my love from the world.

  9. George Simian  |   Posted on Dec 1st, 2007 0

    Some credit should go to Quincy Jones too, shouldn’t it? His sound is all over that album, and “Off the Wall”.

  10. Hello My name is Tae. I found out about your “stereogum” not too long ago and ever since then I’ve been enjoying quite a lot. I am also wondering if you would be interested in checking out my music.

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  11. Steve Balboni  |   Posted on Dec 1st, 2007 0

    Michael Jackson on Patton Oswald…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6E-Y-d58HIU

    Tae, forget whoring your tracks, what do you think of MJ?

  12. Sammy  |   Posted on Dec 1st, 2007 0

    Tae, the topic is Michael Jackson. How’d you like it if I went over to your myspace page and talked about my shitty electronica band for a half hour? It’s not a very polite thing to do so tighten up fucko.

  13. akhtar  |   Posted on Dec 1st, 2007 0

    the album “thriller” is at least 50% shit. this is unarguable

  14. I am remember Thriller, hehe:)

  15. David  |   Posted on Dec 1st, 2007 0

    My favorite buzzkill? Toto is ALL OVER this thing. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha …!

  16. Michael  |   Posted on Dec 2nd, 2007 0

    I’m with akhtar. Thriller is pretty awful, except for Billie Jean. Wanna Be is decent but just a retread of Don’t Stop Till… All the ballads are dreadful, there is a Toto song (joke writes itself), PYT is beyond lame (making late Kool+TheGang sound funky), we all know Quincy heard the final record and said: “it needs a rock song. My Sharona is #1,copy that” – a week later Beat It was finished. And I challenge anyone to listen to all of the song, Thriller, without stabbing themselves with a fork. 2 decent songs on this crapfest IMO.

  17. MJ might be a joke to us Stateside, but he is still huge outside of the US. He can still sell out venues.

  18. brutha-man  |   Posted on Dec 2nd, 2007 0

    Whoever said Thriller is a joke is a joke. 100+ million people trump your negative opinion.

  19. Apexa  |   Posted on Dec 2nd, 2007 0

    I’m with the above commentor, Thriller has to be one of the best albums I’ve ever listened to.

  20. furthermore, the idea that you can’t listen to the song thriller without stabbing yourself with a fork is ridiculous, even when you don’t take it literally.

  21. Vanilla Thunder  |   Posted on Dec 2nd, 2007 0

    It’s true.

    I just tried listening to “Thriller” – the song. I got to about the 2:30 mark and I had to stab myself with a fork.

  22. Clete  |   Posted on Dec 2nd, 2007 0

    Everybody here who’s talking shit about Thriller probably weren’t even alive when the album came out. I was in the 8th grade when it was released and it was huge. Know why? Because it’s a solid album. And I’m not even an MJ fan but you youngsters can stick it up your ass because you clearly have no idea what you’re taking about.

    And LOL @ that Patton Oswalt bit. “Michael Jackson is a 5 asshole having, pterodactyl marrying, werewolf raping, baby dangler.” That was rich.

  23. @ Michael:

    Know your shit before slinging it.

    The album Thriller was largely inspired (at least according to Michael) by Queen’s Hot Space, so the rock direction was hardly centered on Quincy’s supervision. Late Kool and the Gang is fucking rad, just ask Andre 3000. Picaro is a master of melody not to mention able to write incredibly intricate r&b jams, rhythm-wise. Michael’s duet with Paul? It’s called “priceless pop moment,” you muppet.

  24. For The Record  |   Posted on Dec 2nd, 2007 0

    Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this album in no way endorses a belief in the occult.

  25. Eli Manning  |   Posted on Dec 2nd, 2007 0

    50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong, but 100+ million Michael Jackson fans can be.

  26. As it’s already been stated, the album was great for it’s time even tho I wasn’t a huge fan . Jacko owes a lot of his sound to Quincy Jones. Just listen to The Dude (1980) and you will hear all the signature sounds used three years later.

  27. Michael  |   Posted on Dec 2nd, 2007 0

    Hey Kevin r hollo!
    I’ll let you in on how much i “know my s#$t…” (charming, by the way)

    1st off I’m 35 I grew up with Thriller, I’m no kid.
    Let’s roll it for you:

    1. Hot Space is notoriously one of the worst albums ever made.
    Queen probably agree. I mean, come on! It is heavily disco influenced
    due to the success of Dust.
    In.
    1981.
    Do the math.

    2. Personally I love pre-Ronald Bell Kool and The Gang.
    Love+Understanding is amazing, especially for Sugar. Mind-blowing.
    But if you want to bandy about the merits of Joanna and Celebration,
    well I’m afraid you may be alone. And I stopped asking Andre 3000
    about what’s “rad” quite a while ago.

    3. There is no one named “Picaro (sic)” in the Thriller world.
    I imagine you are speaking of Toto member/songwriter, Jeff Porcaro.
    And enjoy your discourse on Toto and K+TG’s Joanna with the
    7 people who will join you in that lovefest. Oh btw, they are probably
    Toto members.

    4. If you want to question the whole Beat It/My Sharona thing, please
    consult Walter Yetnikoff’s “Howling At The Moon”. One of the great
    books ever written about the music industry, (IMO). It’s outlined
    and also Michael’s descent into megalomania.

    5. And I challenge the fact that “… the doggone girl is mine” (I threw
    up typing that) is really a priceless pop moment.

    6. When did “muppet” become a scathing insult? Do better.
    Kinda like throwing a chicken mcnugget at me instead of a real punch.

    7. I don’t in any way question the importance of Thriller. It’s iconic,
    it’s huge, it’s so important. Do I think it dates well. Hells no. Off The
    Wall is far superior. Ben is far superior. LOL. I just hate it when we
    can’t understand the importance of a landmark in history with
    honesty.

    I love you Vanilla Thunder.

  28. Michael  |   Posted on Dec 2nd, 2007 0

    vinnie:
    it’s called hyperbole
    sorry

  29. Michael Jackson has a mole on his penis.

  30. Michael  |   Posted on Dec 2nd, 2007 0

    Sorry to keep going on but also…

    Thriller (the song) is just Off The Wall redux.
    Forgot about that one.

    I’ve now listened to Off The Wall all weekend and those first 3 songs totally kill. Brilliant. Again, down with the Thriller myth. Sorry.

  31. Steve  |   Posted on Dec 2nd, 2007 0

    @ Michael, right or wrong you’re fucking annoying. Put a sock in it ya douche bag. KTHANXBYE.

  32. hemionie  |   Posted on Dec 3rd, 2007 0

    sorry Michael made me laugh and proved his point quite well. but that’s besides my point- Off The Wall ftw.

  33. stephen  |   Posted on Dec 3rd, 2007 0

    Thriller is better than Off the Wall in so many ways. Off the Wall starts stronger than perhaps any of MJ’s albums, but it can’t maintain those standards the whole way through. Thriller’s consistency is it’s main strength.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to pour myself another glass of jesus-juice. Mmm….sweet, sweet jesus juice.

  34. sean  |   Posted on Dec 3rd, 2007 0

    Three words: Filpino Prison Thriller

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMnk7lh9M3o

    Wow.

  35. Dan  |   Posted on Dec 3rd, 2007 0

    Thriller the album is good, “Thriller” the song is terrible.

    It’s a smooth, soulful R & B album (for the most part) and then this weird song about zombies pops up out of nowhere. It brings the whole mood of the album to a stop.

  36. michael,

    i appreciate the thorough follow up, and kudos to pointing out my spelling erroar. i get so worked up when people bring up michael jackson, i often forget the exact spelling of various toto band members.

    kudos also for the wikipedia lesson. and while i’m not sure if i discourse correctly, i can’t wrap my mind around your statements on the “redux.” do you play an instrument? does that tome on the biz mention anything about polyrhythms, or meter, or song structure?

    these songs you mention…i’m not even sure we’re listening to the same swatches of brilliant pop. how exactly are they the same? cuz they both have a bassline?

    and what myth are you even trying to fuck with? i mean, in all seriousness, i DO really value your response in an otherwise all-too-often vapid blogosphere. but give me a break. fucking with the myth of mj is picking the wrong cultural battle.

    did you just say “hells no?”

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