Michael Jackson – Thriller [Finely Tuned #3]
Michael Jackson, lovingly dubbed as the ‘King of Pop’, came out with Thriller towards the end of 1982. Even though Jackson was involved in the music industry with The Jackson 5 from a really young age, nothing could have prepared the world for the release of Thriller. The magnitude of success that surrounds it is simply unimaginable. When critics are fundamentally undisputed in their praise, and music lovers the world over, speak with their wallets and make this the best-selling album of all time, there’s not much else to be said about it. It takes real emotion and artistry to rise above the rest, and Michael more than any other Pop entertainer has proven this.
When Thriller opens, those 100 million sales feel just. ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ is pure confused, shocked teenage rush while the song’s lyrics pertain to strangers spreading rumours to start an argument for no good reason. Musically, the song evokes the disco sound of Jackson’s previous studio album and is characterized by a complex rhythm arrangement along with a distinctive horn arrangement. It is followed by ‘Baby Be Mine’, which was written by Rod Temperton. A catchy tune and a pumping bass line best define the song. In ‘The Girl is Mine’, Jackson features alongside Paul McCartney in a duet that is both cheesy and saccharine.
Even before the music video of ‘Thriller’ played a significant role in redefining the MTV era, its audio was already a classic horror flick that played between ears. A gaudy monster-mash-up penned by Rod Temperton, the song features gruesome lyrics, sound effects of eerie footsteps, howling wolfs and slamming doors, plus actor Vincent Price’s indelible recitation. Jackson transformed the medium of music video into an art form and promotional tool through the use of complex story lines, dance routines, special effects, and cameo appearances by well-known personalities. The choreography in Thriller has become a part of global pop culture, replicated everywhere from Bollywood to prisons in the Philippines.
‘Beat It’, now most notable for Eddie Van Halen’s guitar work, is a fiery piece of counter-cultural programming; a piece of prefabricated rebellion that is utterly self-affirming. The lyrics of are about defeat and courage, and have been described as a “sad commentary on human nature”. The line “Don’t be a macho man” is said to express Jackson’s dislike of violence, whilst also referring to the childhood abuse he faced at the hands of his father Joseph. ‘Billie Jean’ is well known for its distinctive bass line played by Louis Johnson and Jackson’s vocal hiccups. The song was mixed 91 times by audio engineer Bruce Swedien before it was finalized, though he reportedly went with the second mix as the final product. The lyrics are said to be derived from a real-life experience, in which a female fan claimed that Jackson had fathered one of her twins. However, Jackson himself stated that the song was based on groupies he had encountered.
The album ends in a paradise of pop which is built around ‘Human Nature’, ‘P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)’, and ‘The Lady in my Life’. Jackson has made no secret of his affection for traditional showbiz and the glamour that is written all over the album. His talents, not just singing but dancing and acting, have made him the perfect mainstream performer.
Finely Tuned is The MIT Post’s weekly album review column. It is an attempt to add a new dimension to the way Manipal looks at music. Every week, we will bring you a fresh album; carefully picked from a catalogue composed of both critically acclaimed mainstream releases and noteworthy independent ones.