Since September 2010, this blog has recorded the journey of this middle-aged man as I attempt to listen to all the music in my CD collection. CDs revisited in their entirety from start to finish - no skipping tracks, no shuffle. CDs only - no vinyl, no tapes, no downloads. And just as CD technology (and the album format itself) becomes obsolete. I'm no music critic, just a music junkie with too much time on my hands.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Michael Jackson - Thriller (1982)

Note: my CD is the 2001 "Special Edition" reissue.

Released 30 years ago today.  Almost a perfect storm of pop goodness: Quincy Jones' production, the hottest West Coast session musicians (mostly members of Toto), an all-star guest list (Paul McCartney, Eddie Van Halen, Vincent Price, James Ingram, etc.), top-notch songwriting, and, of course, Jackson himself.

The history is well-known.  The album went on to win 8 Grammy awards and become one of the best selling albums of all time.  For a great recap, check out this list from The Stuck In the '80s blog.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #1 (37 weeks between Feb 26, 1983 - Apr 14, 1984, including 17 consecutive weeks in 1983 and another 17 consecutive weeks in 1984). As I write this, it is currently on the chart in spot #185.
Peak on Billboard's R&B albums chart: #1 (37 weeks) 
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #1 (38 non-consecutive weeks)

  1. Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' - (Peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, July 16, 1983)  A great opener.  Rarely has more been done with just two chords.  Funky bass line, tasty horn licks, and background vocals that really push the whole thing along.  By the time you get to the breakdown section and the backup singers yell "Yee-haw!!" around 3:39 you should be in full dance mode. "Ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo-sa"
  2. Baby Be Mine -Maybe just hint of filler here, but MJ's filler would be other people's hits.  Written by Rod Temperton, this reminds of his song Spice Of Life which later appeared on The Manhattan Transfer's Bodies And Souls album.
  3. The Girl Is Mine - (Peaked at #2, Jan 8, 1983)  Written by MJ; a duet with Paul McCartney.  Laughable lyrics including a spoken word section.  I love Macca, but this is probably my least favorite track on the album.
  4. Thriller - (Peaked at #4, March 3, 1984)  Most people remember this tune solely for the music video, er, I mean short movie, its a great song from the pen of Temperton and includes the classic voice over by Price at the end.  Yes, I remember where I was when the short premiered.  I was hooked from the first time I heard the chorus' revoiced chord progression at 3:51.  I'm a sucker for Jerry Hey's horn parts and that guitar ostinato that plays underneath both verse and chorus (you can hear it kick in at 1:14).
  5. Beat It - (Peaked at #1, April 30, 1983)  I had the 45 single.  What a great riff.  I listened to it so much that I quickly tired of it, much like...
  6. Billie Jean - (Peaked at #1, March 5, 1983)  A bass line shamelessly lifted from Hall & Oates' I Can't Go For That (No Can Do).  It's a catchy line and was subsequently lifted by numerous artists like Cee Lo Green his wonderful Bright Lights, Bigger City and sampled by Simply Red in Sunrise.  My youngest son still loves this tune; I pretty much skip over it these days whenever it comes on the radio.  That speaks more to the song's ubiquity than the quality of the song.  FYI, I can't moonwalk, never could.
  7. Human Nature - (Peaked at #7, Sept 17, 1983)  My favorite tune on the album.  The New York Times agreed with me, calling this tune the "most striking" song on the album.  Written by Steve Pocaro, this sounds a lot like a Toto tune, but MJ's pleading vocals take it to another level.  As the Rolling Stone review states, "Where lesser artists need a string section or a lusty blast from a synthesizer, Jackson need only sing to convey deep, heartfelt emotion."
  8. P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) - (Peaked at #10, Sept 17, 1983)  Another fantastic bass line.  Just as danceable as Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'.  I could do without the vocoder and emulator, but that's just nitpicking.
  9. The Lady In My Life - Not a great verse, but a beautiful chorus.  It also works as a smooth jazz tune; it was soon covered by Stanley Jordan, among others.  I like the sequencing here, calmly and smoothly bringing the album to a close.
This Special Edition includes 12 bonus tracks: audio interviews with Quincey Jones and Rod Temperton, demo recordings of Billie Jean and a cut track titled Carousel, the Thriller voice over work outtakes from Vincent Price, and the song Someone In the Dark, which was a Grammy-winning track from the "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Storybook."  Interesting to hear once, but don't rip these bonus tracks to iTunes.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: You probably won't believe this, but I never owned a copy of this on LP or cassette back in the '80s.  Back then you didn't need to - all the songs were on the radio.  I don't think I bought this CD copy until 4 or 5 years ago.

My senior year in high school, I broke numerous copyright laws and made a jazz band arrangement of the song Thriller.  It was a crappy arrangement, but thanks to a very supportive band director, I learned a great deal during the arranging and rehearsing process.  I think I've got a cassette recording around here somewhere of a performance of that arrangement.  I should find that and make a digital mp3 transfer for prosperity's sake ;-)

In 1983, I knew a family of 6 that would gather together at some point every day and listen to Thriller.  It was a family event - they sang and danced together every day.  I'm not sure if that's true or they were just telling me a story, but just the thought of that happening makes me smile.

Previously revisited for the blog:
Off the Wall (1979)

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