The world has never seen (and will probably never see again) an artist like Michael Jackson. To some, artists in the likes of Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Usher, and recently The Weeknd, are reminiscent of the late King of Pop. While all of these acts are talented, in my eyes, they are kind of like the store brand version of a product juxtaposed to the name brand, and like most modern music today, their sounds are derivative. Most of what they do has been done before, and in some cases, ( or most) in a better fashion. In other words, the sequel is never quite as good as the original.
Think what you will about Michael Jackson, but he was a transcendent talent, and this was evident at a young age. Jackson was a genius, an innovator, an icon, and a generous philanthropist. Oh, and he could dance pretty well too. His “short films,” as he called them, helped put MTV on the map, and he was a force in music for four decades. There is no denying his tremendous impact on not only music, but culture as well.
Jackson experienced widespread success in his band of brothers the Jackson 5. Some of their singles like “I Want You Back” and “I’ll Be There” were released almost 50 years ago, yet they still have me singing along. These songs have so much soul and charisma. Jackson, clearly the superior talent in the family, eventually pursued a solo career, releasing his first adult album Off the Wall in 1979. The album spawned hits like “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” and one of my personal favorites, “Rock With You.”
Off the Wall was a success, but in 1982, Michael Jackson had truly arrived, solidifying himself as a force in the music industry with the release of the best selling album of all time: Thriller.
When I was 14, I was dead set on getting a record player and some vinyl to go with it. For my birthday, I had gotten the Paramore record that I had wished for, but my dad also gifted me with a copy of Thriller. At the time, I was kind of put off by it. I liked Michael Jackson’s music in passing, and I knew he was a legend, but I still felt indifferent towards it. I turned the record on a few times, and really enjoyed the album, but as time went on, I stopped using my record player. It’s just too much work. I hate to sound like a typical 21st century teen, but digital music is much more convenient. Three years later, after revisiting much of Jackson’s music, I’m so grateful that I posses such an album because it’s a timeless classic and a work of art.
Pictured is the Thriller vinyl I received four years ago.
Thriller is one of the great albums of the modern era. The album was not only a commercial success, but a critical success as well. Almost 40 years removed from its release, I’m convinced that people will be listening to Thriller for many more years to come.
So what is it about Thriller that makes it so great? Let’s find out.
Maybe I should start from the beginning with the song that really got this album on its feet-“Billie Jean.” “Billie Jean” may be one of Jackson’s most brilliant songs, both lyrically and from a production standpoint. The smooth beats, the dark tone, and the persistent synths make this song slick and edgy with a slight sense of nervousness. The pop appeal is undeniable. It was “Billie Jean” that Jackson was performing when he first debuted “the moonwalk.” He became a legend that night. The performance was electric. I found myself moved by his talents through my phone screen. There are certain moments in history that I wish I could have been alive for. Jackson’s performance at Motown 25 was one of those moments.
The link to this epic performance:
Then there’s “The Girl is Mine” featuring Paul McCartney. What I love most about this track is Jackson’s smooth vocals. He makes it seem effortless. Having McCartney along was a great choice. They complement each other well. The song is dreamy, playful, and melodious.
“Human Nature” is simply gorgeous. It just seeps into the soul. The track has a modern sound to me which is just more proof that Michael Jackson was truly ahead of his time. It has a beautiful melody, emotive vocals, and it evokes a sense of nostalgia. This song has been sampled quite a bit too. Check out Chris Brown’s “She Ain’t You” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
The title track “Thriller” is one of those songs that will never be forgotten, thanks in part to its groundbreaking video. While it’s not my favorite off the album, I appreciate its thematic elements and the novelty of the whole thing. And of course, Jackson delivers a solid vocal performance.
“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” is number one on the albums track listing, getting Thriller off to a great start. The song is like a symphony of sorts. The synths, The beats, Jackson’s soul, and the groove of it all is literally music to my ears. The outro with the “mama-say-mama sa mama coosa” is glorious, and it’s also been sampled quite a bit. Check out Rihanna’s “Please Don’t Stop The Music,” and you’ll hear it there.
“Beat It” is an anti violence anthem with stellar vocals and amazing instrumentation. When put into a historical context, it really bridged the gap between pop, R&B, and rock music. The video is pretty cool too. “Beat It” is one of those tracks that every one knows right from that opening guitar riff, and it is one that anyone can sing along to.
“Pretty Young Thing (PYT)” is a feel good song in nature. It’s just got this groove that makes you want to dance, and Jackson blesses us with an energetic performance.
Thriller was and is a pop masterpiece. In this day in age, artists release albums that have maybe three good songs on them( usually singles) and the rest are filler. Not the case with Thriller. The entire album was listenable, and every song on it was basically a hit. What’s most fascinating to me is that Jackson’s music is still so listenable and relatable to this day. It doesn’t sound dated.
Music these days isn’t about longevity; it’s about the here and now. Timeless music, the type that Jackson created, comes from the heart-it sets its own trends, breaks barriers, doesn’t try too hard, and is truly about the art and its impact on people.
Of course the music Jackson put forth following Thriller was equally amazing, but there is always something special to me about an artist’s break out.
Although Michael Jackson is no longer here, his music, videos, and his contributions to popular culture and the world will live on forever.
Couturely Sound ❤