Michael Jackson – Thriller

A lot has been said about old MJ over the last 20 years.

All rumor and innuendo aside, he strikes me as a kind of tragic figure in the music world.  Here was a guy who hit it big as a child star in The Jackson 5, then went out and became an international superstar almost over night.  He literally ruled the pop world, putting out two consecutive classic albums, and one “sort of alright” album before the musical downhill slide really began.

Now living as a pariah somewhere (Dubai?) I look back and think “It’s too bad he surrounded himself with the wrong people.”

Too many “Yes Men” seems to be the root of the problem, at least to me.  Michael strikes me as someone who didn’t have anyone telling him “no” very often…or didn’t keep them around if they did.  So, instead they all just nodded at everything he said, and kept telling him he was brilliant.

There was no one to tell him that hanging around young boys all the time might not be a good idea, and could be viewed as “creepy.”  No one got through to him and said “Mikey, you might want to invest some of this money you have lying around instead of buying a zoo.”  No one suggested he just “own” his skin condition and stop walking around wearing masks, or perhaps not dressing like some sort of glittery circus ringmaster.

Or maybe people tried, but no one was successful.

But most of all, MJ was not made to understand that if he just stopped whining about conspiracies or being misunderstood, and just go back to making awesome, no nonsense R&B again…he might still have a career.


For years I kept asking myself, why doesn’t he get The Neptunes to produce his next album?  Why isn’t he working with Timberlake?  Why is he still trying to relive the 80’s?

For the love of God, this is the kid who made “Off The Wall” when he was twenty-one years old!!! And then , for an encore…he made “Thriller!”

The year was 1982, and still reeling from his fathers recently admitted affair, Jackson teamed up with his “Off The Wall’ producer Quincy Jones to begin his second album in April of that year.   Michael had one vision for the record, summed up with his question of  “Why can’t you make an album where every song is a hit?”  Unlike his previous album, “Thriller” took on a much darker tone from the beginning, as Michael dealt with issues in his life and clashed with Jones in the studio.

Out of the nine songs on the album, Jackson wrote four:  ‘The Girl is Mine'(with Paul McCartney), ‘Wanna Be Startin Somethin,’ ‘Beat It,’ and the seminal dance floor destroyer ‘Billie Jean.’  Better yet, he never wrote them down on paper, but instead dictated them into a recorder, then sang them later from memory.

I think its important to note that not all of Jackson’s arguments with Jones were misguided, as was the case with ‘Billie Jean.’  Jones wanted to leave the song off the album, as he felt it wasn’t strong enough.  When Jackson insisted on keeping it, Jones wanted him to cut down the intro instead…but Michael held firm saying it “made him want to dance.”  We came that close to being denied one of the greatest dance songs of all time.  Yo, remember the first time he dropped the moonwalk???

Wanting more of a rock song feel to ‘Beat It’ that would appeal to all tastes, they spent weeks looking for an appropriate guitar player to accompany Michael on drums.  The kid they settled on was Eddie Van Halen.  The title song, ‘Thriller’ was written by by songwriter Rod Temperton, who had collaborated with Michael on his previous album with ‘Rock with You’ and ‘Off The Wall.’  (Unfortunately for the rest of us, he also penned the Michael McDonald hit ‘Yah Mo B There.’)

When all was said and done though, “Thriller” had become the best selling album of all time with seven of it’s nine songs becoming hit singles.  That and it was one of the first albums to use the new music video genre to it’s full marketing potential…especially with the John Landis directed 14 minute mini movie that was ‘Thriller.’

Shit, I remember staying up late to see that one premier on MTV!

So, in closing, I’d like to pretend that the Michael of today just doesn’t exist…because with the brilliant promise of the album at the time, it might have been better if he retired to producing afterwards.  Nuff said.


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