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.
Ben Gibbard – “Thriller” (MP3)
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.
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.)