Thriller (song)

"Thriller" is a single by American singer Michael Jackson. The song released as a single by Epic Records on January 23, 1984 as the seventh and final single from his sixth studio album of the same name.[1] "Thriller" is a mix of post-disco and funk. The song was produced by Quincy Jones and was written by Rod Temperton who wanted to write a theatrical song to suit Jackson's love of film. The music and lyrics evoke horror films, with sound effects such as thunder, footsteps and wind. It ends with a spoken-word sequence performed by horror actor Vincent Price.

"Thriller"
Michael jackson thriller 12 inch single USA.jpg
U.S. 13" vinyl
Single by Michael Jackson
from the album Thriller
B-side"Things I Do for You"
ReleasedJanuary 23, 1984 (1984-01-23) (U.S. release)[1]
November 2, 1983 (1983-11-02) (U.K. release)
Format
Recorded1982
StudioWestlake Recording Studios (Los Angeles, California)
Genre
Length5:57
Label
Songwriter(s)Rod Temperton
Producer(s)Quincy Jones
Michael Jackson singles chronology
"Say Say Say"
(1983)
"Thriller"
(1984)
"Farewell My Summer Love"
(1984)
Music video
"Thriller" on YouTube

"Thriller" received positive reviews and became the album's seventh top-ten single on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number four. It reached the top of the charts in Belgium, France and Spain as well as the top 10 in many other countries. "Thriller" is certified 7x Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). It is one of the best-selling singles of all time having sold over 9 million copies worldwide. Following Jackson's death, his music experienced a surge in popularity.[2] In the week of Jackson's death, it was Jackson's best-selling track in the US, with sales of 167,000 copies on the Billboard Hot Digital Tracks chart.[2] It charted on the Billboard Hot Digital Singles Chart at number two, and remained in the charts' top ten for three consecutive weeks.[3]

"Thriller" won a Grammy Award.[4] It is often cited as a pop culture phenomenon and a Halloween anthem.[5] It appears on several of Jackson's greatest hits albums and has been covered by numerous artists. Michael Jackson's Thriller, the "Thriller" music video, was directed by John Landis and premiered on MTV on December 2, 1983.[6] In the video, Jackson becomes a zombie and performs a dance routine with a horde of the undead. Many elements of the video have had a lasting impact on popular culture, such as the zombie dance and Jackson's red jacket, and it was the first music video inducted into the National Film Registry. It has been named the greatest video of all time by various publications and readers' polls.[7]

WritingEdit

"Thriller" was written by English songwriter Rod Temperton, who had previously written for Jackson's 1979 album Off The Wall.[8] Temperton said he wanted to write something "really theatrical" to suit Jackson's love of film.[8] He improvised with bass and drum patterns until he developed the bassline that runs through the song, then wrote a chord progression that built to a climax.[8] He recalled: "I wanted it to build and build – a bit like stretching an elastic band throughout the tune to heighten suspense."[8]

Temperton's first version was titled "Starlight", with the chorus lyric: "Give me some starlight / Starlight sun".[9] The production team, led by Quincy Jones, felt the song should be the title track, but that "Starlight" was not a strong album title. Instead, they wanted something "mysterious to match Michael’s evolving persona".[8] Temperton considered several possible titles, including "Midnight Man", which Jones felt was "going in the right direction". Finally, he conceived "Thriller", but worried that it was "a crap word to sing ... It sounded terrible! However, we got Michael to spit it into the microphone a few times and it worked."[8]

With the title settled, Temperton wrote lyrics within "a couple of hours".[8] He envisioned a spoken-word sequence for the end of the song, but did not know what form it should take. It was decided to have a famous voice from the horror genre perform it, and Jones' then-wife, Peggy Lipton, suggested her friend Vincent Price.[10] Temperton composed the words for Price's part in a taxi on the way to the studio on the day of recording.[10]

CompositionEdit

"Thriller" is a disco/funk song.[11] Set in the key of C# minor,[12] the song has a moderate tempo of 120 beats per minute.[13] The lyrics and sound effects on "Thriller" pertain to frightful elements and themes.[14] At the beginning of the song, sound effects such as a creaking door, thunder, feet walking on wooden planks, winds and howling dogs are heard.[10] The instrumentation consists of a Minimoog synthesizer,[15] a Linn LM-1 drum machine, a Rhodes piano, a Roland Jupiter-8 synthesizer, an electric guitar, a pipe organ, and a horn section consisting of trumpet, trombone, flugelhorn, saxophone, and flute.[citation needed]

RecordingEdit

 
Quincy Jones produced "Thriller".

"Thriller", along with the rest of the album, was recorded over eight weeks in 1982.[16] It was recorded at Westlake Recording Studios on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, California.[10]

Engineer Bruce Swedien had Jackson record his vocals in different approaches, doubling takes and recording at different distances from the microphone. Some background vocals were recorded in the Westlake shower stall.[10] The bassline was recorded with two modified Minimoog synthesizers playing in unison.[15]

To record the wolf howls, Swedien set up tape recorders up around his Great Dane in a barn overnight, but the dog never howled. Instead, Jackson recorded the howls himself.[17] For the creaking doors, Swedien rented doors from the Universal Studios film lot, specially designed for sound effects, and recorded the hinges closely.[17] Price recorded his part in two takes; Jones, acknowledging that doing a voice-over for a song is "difficult", praised Price and described his takes as "fabulous".[10]

Critical receptionEdit

Ashley Lasimone, of AOL's Spinner.com, noted that it "became a signature for Jackson" and described "the groove of its bassline, paired with Michael's killer vocals and sleek moves" as having "produced a frighteningly great single."[18] Jon Pareles of The New York Times noted that "'Billie Jean', 'Beat It', 'Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' ' and "the movie in the song 'Thriller'", were the songs, unlike the "fluff" "P.Y.T.", that were "the hits that made Thriller a world-beater; along with Mr. Jackson's stage and video presence, listeners must have identified with his willingness to admit terror."[19] Ann Powers of the Los Angeles Times described "Thriller" as "adequately groovy" with a "funked-out beat" and lyrics "seemingly lifted from some little kid's 'scary storybook'".[20] [21]

Chart performanceEdit

"Thriller" was the seventh and final Billboard Hot 100 top-ten single from the Thriller album. In Billboard issue date February 11, 1984, the single entered the charts at number 20 on the Hot 100.[22] It reached number seven the following week,[23] number five the next, and peaked the next week at number four, where it stayed for two weeks.[24][25] The song was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on December 4, 1989, for sales of over one million physical units in the U.S. (the requirement for gold and platinum singles was lowered after 1989).[26][27] It has sold a further 6 million copies in digital downloads as of August 2018 in the U.S.[28][29] As of August 2018, the song has sold 7.024 million copies in the US.[30]

For the issue date February 25, 1984, "Thriller" charted at number 19 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart.[31] The following week, the song placed at number five.[31] On March 10, 1984, it charted at number 3, where it peaked.[32] "Thriller" debuted on the UK Singles Chart on November 19, 1983, at number 24, and the following week charted at number ten, where it peaked; the song appeared on the chart for 52 weeks.[33] Beginning on February 5, 1984, "Thriller" peaked on the French Singles Chart at number one and topped the chart for four consecutive weeks.[34] "Thriller" also topped the Belgian VRT Top 30 Chart for two weeks in January 1984.[35]

Following Jackson's death, his music experienced a surge in popularity.[2] In the week of Jackson's death, "Thriller" was Jackson's best-selling track in the US, with sales of 167,000 copies on the Billboard Hot Digital Singles Chart.[2] On July 11, 2009, "Thriller" charted on the Billboard Hot Digital Singles Chart at number two (its peak), and the song remained in the charts' top ten for three consecutive weeks.[3] In the United Kingdom, the song charted at number 23 the week of Jackson's death.[36] The following week, the song reached its peak at number 12 on the UK Single Chart.[33] On July 12, 2009, "Thriller" peaked at number two on the Italian Singles Chart[37] and was later certified gold by the Federation of the Italian Music Industry.[38] "Thriller" reached at number three on the Australian ARIA Chart and Swiss Singles Chart and topped the Spanish Singles Charts for one week.[39] The song also placed within the top ten on the German Singles Chart, Norwegian Singles Chart and Irish Singles Chart, at number nine, number seven and number eight respectively.[39] "Thriller" also landed at number 25 on the Danish Singles Chart.[40] In the third week of July "Thriller" peaked at number 11 in Finland.[41] The song finished at #78 for the year on Billboard Hot 100 of 1984.

In 2013, "Thriller" re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number 42.[42] Also, in November 2018, it re-entered at number 31.[43]

Music videoEdit

The music video for "Thriller" premiered on MTV on December 2, 1983.[6] It was directed by John Landis and written by Landis and Jackson. In the video, It begins in a 1950s era where Michael and his unnamed girlfriend ran out of gas at a dark forest where his girlfriend mentioned on what they would do next. They walk on foot as the unnamed girlfriend told him about her apology for what happened and which Michael forgives her and asks her to be his girlfriend. He gives her the ring and he also tells her that he is a different person. As the full moon appears, Jackson convulses in agony transforming himself into a werecat as Ola screams in terror running away from the scene. He catches up to her lunging his claws at her. It is revealed to be a movie as Michael and his girlfriend are seen where she told him that if they can leave. But Jackson decided not to because of his excitement over the movie as she leaves the theater while Jackson glares and passes the popcorn to a moviegoer. Outside, Jackson meets up with Ola and told her it was only a movie and some of the events declined if she was scared by the movie but Michael disagrees. While walking through the streets, Jackson starts singing the three verses to the song as teasing her where they come across a cemetery. As Vincent Price begins his haunted rap, the zombies rise from their grave and including the sewers. Jackson and his girlfriend (played by Ola Ray) are confronted by zombies, whom they surround while walking home from a movie theater; Jackson becomes a zombie and performs a dance routine with a horde of the undead. They dance to the beat, followed by the main chorus where his date frightenedly runs away in horror for cover at an abandoned house where Jackson and the zombies surrounded Ola and Jackson grabs her by the throat as she screams. It was only a dream as Jackson asks her if he likes to take her home and they prepared to leave. Then, Jackson turns around at the camera and stares at it with his yellow werecat eyes as Price laughs. The credits stars from the same scene leading to where the zombies dancing back to their grave and where a Zombified Vincent Price looks at the camera with a grimace. The video references numerous horror films.[44]

Jackson contacted Landis after seeing his film An American Werewolf in London. The pair conceived a 13-minute short film with a budget much larger than previous music videos. Jackson's record company refused to finance it, believing Thriller had peaked, so a making-of documentary, Making Michael Jackson's Thriller, was produced to receive financing from television networks.[45]

Michael Jackson's Thriller was launched to great anticipation and played regularly on MTV. It doubled sales of Thriller, and sold over a million copies on VHS, becoming the bestselling videotape at the time.[46] It is credited for transforming music videos into a serious art form, breaking down racial barriers in popular entertainment, and popularizing the making-of documentary format.[47]

Many elements have had a lasting impact on popular culture, such as the zombie dance and Jackson's red jacket, designed by Landis' wife Deborah Nadoolman.[47] Fans worldwide re-enact its zombie dance and it remains popular on YouTube. The Library of Congress described it as "the most famous music video of all time". In 2009, it became the first music video inducted into the National Film Registry as "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant.[48]

Live performancesEdit

"Thriller" was performed on all of Michael Jackson's solo tours and was slated to be performed during This Is It. These concerts were cancelled due to his death on 25 June 2009. "Thriller" was performed during Cirque Du Soleil's Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour and is also featured on Immortal.

Cover versionsEdit

1980s
2000s
2010s

PersonnelEdit

ChartsEdit

CertificationsEdit

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[95] 3× Platinum 210,000^
Denmark (IFPI Denmark)[96] Gold 45,000 
France (SNEP)[98] Platinum 975,000[97]
Italy (FIMI)[99] Platinum 30,000*
Mexico (AMPROFON)[101] Platinum 60,000[100]
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[102] 2× Platinum 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[103] Platinum 600,000 
United States (RIAA)[104] 6× Platinum (digital) 6,000,000 
United States (RIAA)[105] Gold (MT) 500,000^
United States (RIAA)[106] Platinum (physical) 1,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

Track listingEdit

Film adaptationEdit

In October 2010, it was found that GK Films plans to produce a horror film inspired by the song, directed by Kenny Ortega and produced with Ivan Reitman.[109][110] As of February 2016, there has been no further news.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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Bibliography

External linksEdit