Michael Jackson – Thriller

Year :
The Bee Gees / Lady Gaga / Usher

Today is Halloween! The Great Pumpkin cometh! For the traditionalists among us this means one thing: It’s time to dust off Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and get down.

Here’s a fun experiment: Listen to “Thriller” without watching the music video. (Seriously, when was the last time you did that?) The track opens not with it’s unmistakable groove, but with the sounds of a creaky door opening… then howling of a (were?)wolf kicks in. The wolf howls once more before we even get to the music. The message is clear: Welcome to Spookytown. Before long, the listener is cautioned to beware a litany of monstrous dangers ranging from beasts, to demons, to ghouls, before being treated to one of the oddest “raps” ever recorded, courtesy of Vincent Price.

This is, of course, totally ridiculous. It’s hard for me to imagine hearing this song for the first time and not letting out a pronounced “WTF?” “Why does this song exist?” I would ask myself. Or maybe, “Why is Michael so into monsters and Vincent Price?” Enter the video. Amazingly, it was aired on MTV just over a full year after the release of the album. Though no less ridiculous, it’s mere existence retroactively justifies every odd indulgence within the song itself. You write a song like “Thriller” so that you can give it the full treatment. One could argue that the song itself is incomplete without the video–it’s as if they were conceived in the same wackadoo brainstorming session. This, I suppose, is the kind of thing you can do when you’re the most famous person on the planet. Or, R. Kelly.

Oddly enough, the plot of the music video makes a strange kind of sense within the greater Michael Jackson mythology. There’s probably an entirely different article to be written about MJ’s interaction with his “girl” at the start of the the video for “Thriller.” (“I’m not like other guys” he warns her before transforming into a monster.) That’s not my aim here, but it’s worth nothing how wooden and uneasy Michael is in these scenes. The result of limited acting ability? Probably. But what’s fascinating is how Michael becomes absolutely electric as things progress and get increasingly weird. Weird is were Michael did his best work and, really, what’s weirder than “Thriller”?

To paraphrase the great Patton Oswalt, some artists like to visit weird, but Michael Jackson had a townhouse in weird. “Thriller” is something only Michael Jackson could have pulled off. Michael got a pass on this project because we knew he’d make it work. Ducks quack, the Jacksonville Jaguars lose football games, Michael Jackson made batshit music videos and hung out with a chimp. It was his thing.

To this day, the video and song stand as some of the most idiosyncratic, iconic, fun, and all-around great pieces of pop culture that have ever been produced. It’s been parodied, ripped-off, mocked, dismissed, and otherwise shaken down over the years… but nothing seems to stick. “Thriller” is simply awesome. It’s not something that needs to be reserved strictly for Halloween, but if you need an excuse there’s no better day to don a goofy outfit, toss on “Thriller,” and dance like a zombie.

Editor’s note: This post originally cited the release date of the music video for “Thriller” as two days after the release of the album. That timing was so interesting that we neglected to look at the year. Sometimes numbers are hard.

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(@YahSureMan) is the Founder of The Daily Soundtrack and Bark Attack Media. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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