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Offline moonstreet

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THRILLER turns 30
« on: December 02, 2012, 01:43:28 PM »

by Trent Fitzgerald

Although there’s been much ado about Michael Jackson‘s influential ‘Bad’ album, nothing eclipses the unparalleled achievements of its predecessor ‘Thriller.’ 30 years ago, Michael’s sixth album conquered the music world both with its astonishing sales records and musical impact.

‘Thriller’ is, undoubtedly, the greatest pop album in modern history and currently holds the distinction of being the best-selling album of all time, with 110 million copies sold worldwide.

Released on Nov. 30, 1982, the album, produced by studio maestro Quincy Jones, held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart for 37 weeks in 1983 and garnered seven top 10 singles, including ‘P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing),’ ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Something,’ ‘Human Nature,’ ‘Beat It’ and of course, the title track. The collection was also honored with 12 Grammy awards, eight for Michael himself and four for Jones.

MJ and Jones first collaborated on his fifth album ‘Off the Wall,’ which garnered four top 10 hits including the title track and sold millions of copies. However, Jackson wasn’t happy with the album and felt he could do better.

“Ever since I was a little boy, I would study composition,” he told Ebony magazine in 2007 (via MTV News). “And it was Tchaikovsky that influenced me the most. If you take an album like Nutcracker Suite, every song is a killer, every one. So I said to myself, ‘Why can’t there be a pop album where every [song is a killer]?’”

That statement pretty much sums up ‘Thriller’ — it was a killer album. The songs were well-crafted thanks to his songwriting team: Rod Temperton (who penned ‘Thriller’), James Ingram (‘P.Y.T.’), and Steve Pocaro and John Bettis (‘Human Nature’). Production-wise, Jones masterfully created music that was far-reaching than just R&B and soul music.

“I picked one of the most incredible teams in the world, the guys that I worked with… it was a divine situation,” Jones recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 2009. “Everybody had this incredible respect and love and affection for each other.”

“We ended up making ‘Thriller’ in eight weeks, the entire album,” he continued. “We didn’t have time to think about all that intellectual stuff. Music is a strange element of the planet, really. You can’t see it, taste it, touch it, smell it — but you sure can feel it.”

‘Thriller’ is a flawless album because it had something that everyone could enjoy. ‘The Girl Is Mine’ (featuring Paul McCartney) was a sweet ballad that girls would love, while ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘P.Y.T.’ catered to the dance floor. ‘Beat It,’ with Eddie Van Halen‘s charging guitars, could easily appeal to rock heads and ‘Human Nature’ touched the human spirit. It was hard for anyone to not like this album.

However, Michael did endure some obstacles with his musical masterpiece. Despite the overwhelming success of the album, MTV, at the time, refused to air any of Michael’s videos, particularly ‘Beat It’ and ‘Billie Jean,’ because of their strict format of playing rock videos.

According to urban legend, CBS Records boss Walter Yetnikoff threatened to pull every artist’s video from his label if MTV didn’t play ‘Billie Jean.’ Eventually, MTV relinquished and premiered ‘Billie Jean,’ which is widely recognized as the video that broke racial barriers for black artists on the channel. The video for ‘Beat It’ followed and the response was so overwhelming that it boosted album sales to 800,000 copies per week.

Costing over $150,000 to produce, the ‘Beat It’ video was Michael’s urban version of ‘West Side Story.’ Directed by Bob Giraldi, the clip features an exciting ensemble dance piece choreographed by the late Michael Peters. Dressed in his iconic red zippered jacket, Michael snapped his fingers and displayed mesmerizing footwork along with hundreds of extras, which also included members of a Los Angeles-area gang.

Michael Jackson’s ascension into pop stardom was nothing short of amazing. So how does Michael top that? He creates one of the most popular videos of all time with ‘Thriller.’

The 13-minute horror short film, which cost around $500,000 to produced, holds the Guinness Book of World Records title of being the most successful music video of all time. “Michael was terrific to work with,” said veteran filmmaker John Landis who directed the iconic clip. “He was in his mid-twenties, but he was like a gifted 10-year-old. He was emotionally damaged but so sweet and so talented.”

In the video, Michael played a young man who goes on a movie date with his beautiful girlfriend (played by Playboy playmate Ola Ray). Afterward, the two share a moonlit walk on a cavernous street and things start to go awry. Michael, who in an earlier scene montage turned into a werewolf, now transforms himself into a stylistic zombie and choreographs the undead in a thrilling dance performance. The success of ‘Thriller,’ both the album and video, earned Michael the well-deserved title of the “King of Pop.”

Sadly, Michael died on June 25, 2009 after apparently suffering from cardiac arrest at his rented mansion in Los Angeles. The late pop icon left this world way too soon and left a big void in pop music.

“I always want to do music that influences and inspires each generation,” Michael said in a 2007 Ebony interview. “Let’s face it, who wants mortality? You want what you create to live, and I give my all in my work because I want it to live.”

Michael Jackson may be gone, but his musical legacy will continue to live forever.

Thank you, MJ.

Offline moonstreet

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Re: THRILLER turns 30
« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2012, 01:49:50 PM »

Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' At 30
Thirty years ago today (Nov. 30), Michael Jackson unleashed nine tracks that thrilled the world. Billboard.com takes a look back at each song on his iconic 1982 album, "Thriller."
By Daniel Durchholz

Michael Jackson's "Thriller" was an album born of outsized ambitions. Having come into his own with the multiplatinum-selling "Off the Wall," Jackson wanted to make a record that would turn him into the biggest star in the world. That's not asking for too much, is it?  But here's the incredible part: That's exactly what happened. And it began with the album's release on November 30, 1982 -- 30 years ago today.
Helmed by producer Quincy Jones, Thriller was an album built for across-the-board acceptance. The tracks appealed variously to nearly every radio format - pop, R&B, adult-contemporary, and even rock. More importantly, its remarkable video clips - for "Billie Jean," "Beat It" and "Thriller" - helped break down racial and genre-based barriers at MTV, transforming the channel into a juggernaut of not just music video, but of fashion and marketing; and transforming the music industry as well.
The album's sales figures and performance on the Billboard charts are staggering.
"Thriller" is the best-selling studio album in U.S. history with 29 million sold, according to the RIAA. It is locked in a tie with the Eagles' collection "Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 for the overall domestic title. [Worldwide, estimates range as high as 110 million albums sold.] On the Billboard charts, the album became the first to generate seven Hot 100 top 10s -- with "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" going to No. 1. The album spent the most weeks (37) atop the Billboard 200 of any album by a single artist.
At the Grammys in 1984, the album won seven awards, including album and record of the year ("Beat It"). Jackson and Jones actually won an eighth award, best recording for children, for "E.T. the Extra Terrestrial."
And the superlatives go on and on.
Sadly, the stunning success of "Thriller" may have laid the groundwork for Jackson's own long and very public undoing. Having topped everyone else's accomplishments, Jackson -- who was driven in ways unlike almost any other artist -- was unable to top his own, though he never really stopped trying. A psychological examination of Jackson is not the agenda for today, however. We're just here to revel in the amazing sights and sounds of the pop era's most truly popular work: "Thriller."

Thriller" may lean less on dance anthems than does its predecessor, 1979's "Off the Wall," but you'd never know it from the album's opening salvo, which is led by relentless, machine-driven rhythms, an elastic bassline and Jackson's insistent, almost angry, vocal performance. His self-penned lyrics about harmful gossip reveal a paranoid streak that would resurface on future albums, but here include the unique if bizarre self-assessment, "You're a vegetable/You're a buffet/They'll eat off you." The song's genius move, though, is the closing chant of "Mama-say mama-sah ma-ma-coo-sah," borrowed directly from Manu Dibango's "Soul Makossa" (for which the parties later settled out of court). "Thriller"'s fourth single, "Wanna Be Startin' Somthin'" made it to No. 5 on the Hot 100.
"Baby Be Mine"

The album's second track is only one of two songs that was not released as a single. Written by Rod Temperton, it's a pleasant enough pop/R&B come-on, promising everlasting, magical love; but what's more at issue is getting the girl to whom it's addressed to "stay with me until the morning sun." Who hasn't heard that one before? Musically, "Baby Be Mine" is upbeat, danceable and punctuated by twittering keyboards and punchy horn fills.

"The Girl Is Mine"

The record's first single, "The Girl Is Mine" climbed to No. 2 on the Hot 100. Even though the song found Jackson squaring off lyrically with fellow pop titan Paul McCartney - the two were previously paired on "Say, Say, Say" and "The Man" (recorded before, but released after "Thriller," on Macca's "Pipes of Peace" album), their battle over the "doggone girl" is saccharine. No way these two buds are gonna let a babe get between them. Now, music publishing. . . that's another story.

Even before it became music video's defining moment, the audio track for "Thriller" was already a classic horror flick that played between your ears. A vivid monster-mash-up penned by Rod Temperton, the song features gruesome (but fun) lyrics, sound effects of creepy footsteps, wolf howls and slamming doors, plus actor Vincent Price's indelible recitation. (Hearing him say "the funk of 40,000 years" is by itself worth the price of admission.) "Thriller" peaked at No. 4 on the Hot 100, but its real legacy lies in its groundbreaking 14-minute mini-movie, directed by John Landis. It showed the scope of what music videos could be, inspiring a host of musical artists, directors and choreographers to blow their budgets sky-high - to say nothing of, years later, inspiring a prison yard full of Filipino jailbirds to dance like the zombie apocalypse had arrived.

What brings murderous rival gangs together more than dancing? Nothing, if we're to believe the famed video for "Thriller"'s third single (and second No. 1 on the Hot 100.) "Beat It" is notable not just for its attempt at Crip vs. Blood detente (real gang members appeared in the video), but for following "Billie Jean" into the breach and further breaking down MTV's near-total lack of African-American artists. Unlike "Billie Jean," "Beat It" spoke MTV's language. It boasted a rock vibe and featured Eddie Van Halen's dazzling guitar solo (reportedly performed gratis, much to the regret of EVH's accountant). Such compelling fusions of R&B to rock and music to video were not just good news (and good business) for Jackson and for MTV, but also for clothing designer J. Parks, who sold one of those red, multi-zippered leather jackets to every Jackson wannabe on the planet.

Quick: name another song by one of pop music's iconic artists that insists he/she is NOT getting laid. You can't. Theories abound about the origins of the Jackson-penned lyric: Either it's about a crazed fan whose delusion that Jackson was the father of her child went so deep she eventually threatened to harm herself and the baby, or it was at the very least a cautionary tale about groupies in general. The track itself is a sonic marvel, with its stark, driving snare and hi-hat figure, throbbing bass, sparse keyboards and Jackson's extraordinary vocal hiccups and wordless exclamations. The song's video is every bit as stunning, but supposedly required threats by CBS Records chief Walter Yetnikoff before MTV would play it. "Billie Jean" was Thriller's second single, but its first Hot 100 No. 1, and the song that drove the album to the top of the charts as well.

"Human Nature"

"Human Nature," which peaked at No. 7 on the Hot 100, is one of Jackson's best ballads, and one of the few songs to capture the wide-eyed, childlike wonder that is part and parcel of his personality. He didn't write it - Steve Porcaro of Toto and John Bettis did - but Jackson's breathy vocals and the gossamer harmonies perfectly capture the mood and spirit of the song. In retrospect, it can be viewed as a sad song, however: The anticipation that Jackson sings about with such relish - of breaking out, hitting the streets, connecting with strangers - was a pleasure that was denied him for at least the last quarter century of his life, in large degree because of the unprecedented fame and fanfare generated by the success of "Thriller."

"P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)"

Having already scored its major points, "Thriller" begins to wind down with "P.Y.T.," an bit of pop that reflects the superficial aspects of Jackson's artistry from years past. Compelling enough to make it to No. 10 on the Hot 100, the song - a co-write from Jackson and James Ingram - is lighthearted stuff, evidenced by the chipmunk-style vocals tacked on near the end. Fun fact: Jackson's sisters Janet and LaToya sing backup on the track, portraying the pretty young things instructed to "repeat after me" and sing "na na na." Which is exactly what they do.
"The Lady In My Life"

The other Thriller track (besides "Baby Be Mine") that was not released as a single, "The Lady in My Life" is an quiet album closer, considering everything that preceded it. Written by Rod Temperton and Quincy Jones, it's a serviceable R&B seduction ballad, but not the sort of song that is likely to shake the echoes of "Thriller," Beat It" and "Billie Jean" out of your head.