Special Feature: 32 facts about Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'

Updated: 01 December, 2014 09:23 IST | A Correspondent |

Music history was made on November 30th 1982, when Michael Jackson's sixth studio album 'Thriller' was released, which would go on to become a huge success in the music industry and establish Jackson as the King of Pop...

Music history was made on November 30th 1982, when Michael Jackson's sixth studio album 'Thriller' was released, which would go on to become a huge success in the music industry and establish Jackson as the 'King of Pop'...

On its 32nd anniversary, here are 32 interesting things that you may or may not know about one of Michael Jackson's most famous works...

1. The titular song 'Thriller' was not written by Michael Jackson but by British songwriter and musician Rod Temperton.

2. Rod Temperton originally wanted the song's title to be 'Starlight' or 'Midnight Man' but eventually settled on 'Thriller' as felt the name had marketing potential.

3. Michael Jackson wrote four songs out of the nine featured in 'Thriller', namely, "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", "The Girl Is Mine", "Beat It", and "Billie Jean".

4. Instead of writing the songs on paper Michael Jackson preferred to dictate them into a sound recorded and would sing from memory while recording them.

Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' music video
(Clockwise from top) Michael Jackson's transformation from man to beast in the opening sequence of the music video 'Thriller'. Directed by 'An American Werewolf' in London director John Landis, the same special effects wizards who worked on the 1981 film were used for this video. Pics courtesy/ YouTube

5. Michael Jackson and producer Quincy Jones, who collaborated with the singer on his 1979 album 'Off The Wall' worked together on 30 songs out of which 9 were eventually released on the final record.

6. Michael Jackson's iconic red jacket that he donned in the 'Thriller' music video was actually designed by the video's director John Landis' wife Deborah Nadoolman a film and theatre costume designer.

7. The music video for 'Thriller' was shot in 4 days.

8. The 'Thriller' music video was selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in December 2009. This makes it the first ever music video to be selected.

Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' music video
(Left) Michael Jackson in full 'zombie mode' and A cat-eyes sporting Michael Jackson grins at the camera as the music video for 'Thriller' draws to a close. Pics courtesy/YouTube

9. Michael Jackson did his famous moonwalk for the first time while performing 'Billie Jean' in the 1983 TV special 'Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever'.

10. The Guinness World Records listed 'Thriller' as the "most successful music video of all time" in 2006.

11. The music video for 'Thriller' was shot on a budget of USD 500,000, an extravagant sum for 1983.

12. Michael Jackson was able to break down racial barriers in pop music with Thriler via appearances on MTV. He also with then President of the United States Ronald Reagan at the White House.

13. Michael Jackson felt his previous album 'Off the Wall' had underperformed and was apparently upset about being devalued in the music industry due to his race. After being turned down by a major magazine after he requested them to do a cover page on him, he decided to create an album that would make him the undisputed king of music. 'Thriller' went on the do just that and made Michael Jackson the household name that he aspired to be.

Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' jacket
Michael Jackson's iconic jacket from the 'Thriller' music video. Pic/AFP

14. The music videos for 'Thriller', 'Billie Jean' and 'Beat It' received regular rotation of MTV, which was a relatively new TV channel at the time as it was launched in 1981, two years before the release of 'Thriller', to become a popular medium for music.

15. 'Beat It' was inspired from the determination of Michael Jackson and producer Quincy Jones to create a rock song in response to the ongoing backlash against disco music. The found a suitable guitarist in Eddie Van Halen, the lead guitarist of the famous rock band Van Halen. His distinctive riff is one of the most recognizable traits of the song.

16. Quincy Jones made Michael Jackson sing vocal overdubs through a six-foot-long cardboard tube for 'Billie Jean'. Jazz saxophonist Tom Scott was brought in to play the lyricon, a rare wind-controlled analog synthesizer.

Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean' music video
Stills from Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean' music video. The innovative set with glowing tiles made the video popular among fans. Pic courtesy/YouTube

17. In 1984, 'Thriller' won a record-breaking eight Grammy Awards in 1984, including for Album of the Year.

18. Seven singles from 'Thriller' were released from the album, all of which reached the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

19. Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' became—and currently remains—the best-selling album of all time, with sales of 65 million copies worldwide according to various sources.

20. Rolling Stone magazine ranked 'Thriller' number 20 on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list in 2003.

21. The National Association of Recording Merchandisers list 'Thriller' at number three in its "Definitive 200" albums of all time.

22. Michael Jackson's collaboration with legendary Beatles singer Sir Paul McCartney for the duet 'The Girl is Mine' is credited with helping promote racial equality in the United States.

23. Legendary yesteryear Hollywood actor Vincent Price, famous for his performances in several classic horror films performed the spoken word rap in the final part of 'Thriller' the song.

24. With 'Thriller' Michael 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.

25. Michael Jackson decided to cast 80 genuine gang members for his music video 'Beat It' in order to give some authenticity to the production.

26. The 'Beat It' video, is noted for opening up many job opportunities for dancers in the US, also featured 18 professional dancers and four breakdancers.

Michael Jackson's first moonwalk during Billie Jean's performance
Michael Jackson's first-ever moonwalk on the TV special 'Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever' (1983). Pic courtesy/ YouTube

27. Both the music videos for 'Beat It' and 'Thriller' are notable for their "mass choreography" of synchronized dancers, a Michael Jackson trademark.

28. The 'Billie Jean' song was promoted with a short film that broke down MTV's racial barrier as the first video by a black artist to be aired in heavy rotation.

29. According to some sources Michael Jackson got the inspiration for the song 'Billie Jean' after a female fan alleged that Jackson (or one of his brothers) had fathered one of her children. The singer however refuted this and stated that the song is based on a few groupies that he encountered during performances.

30. According to John Branca, Michael Jackson's attorney, the singer achieved the highest royalty rate in the music industry to that point for 'Thriller': approximately $2 for each album sold.

31. 'Wanna Be Startin Something', the first track from the album 'Thriller' featured a African-inspired chant during the song's closing moments, which gave the song an international flavour.

32. 'Thriller' continued to set additional records after Michael Jackson's death in 2009. 100,000 copies were sold making the album rank number 2 on the Top Pop Catalog Albums chart. Songs from Thriller also helped Jackson become the first artist to sell more than one million song downloads in a week.

First Published: 30 November, 2014 08:30 IST

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