It is difficult to talk about the album Thriller, especially today and especially for somebody who didn’t experience the album at the time of its release. You are talking about something that is more than a collection of songs when you speak about Thriller, you are talking about a cultural event. It is an album so influential that you still hear it reverberate in modern music nearly 30 years later.
It’s also worth repeating the fact that Thriller is the biggest selling album of all time with 65 million records sold. Think about that for a moment – that is more than the population of the United Kingdom.
But with that said, it’s probably the Michael Jackson album that I have moved away from the most while I have journeyed from childhood to adulthood. It’s tough for me to listen to the song Thriller and not see it as an over the top, camp and melodramatic Halloween anthem – I know how unfair that analysis is, but that is the way I feel. And although I have a place in my heart from the Paul McCartney assisted The Girl is Mine, it is difficult for me not to see it as the cheesiest duet of all time.
For me, Thriller has aged badly – it hasn’t aged as much as the Bad album but, unlike the latter piece of work, the quality of the music in Thriller is questionable. Apart from Billie Jean, which we will come back to later on, there isn’t a song on this album that chills the hairs at the back of my neck. That isn’t to say that the songs aren’t brilliant – they absolutely are top notch pieces of pop art – but, for me at least, that isn’t enough. If I was making a compilation of Michael’s greatest songs and I could only pick 10 songs, (damn it, even 20 songs) only Billie Jean would make the cut.
The problem is, this album tried to appeal to everybody. If you listen to what Quincy says in the interviews which are on the Limited Edition version of the CD, he pretty much confirms that they went into the studio not to make the very best music they possibly could, but to make a CD that everyone dug – these two objectives are not the same thing.
Thriller is the £1.49 Double Cheeseburger of the Michael Jackson world and that really isn’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, especially when looking at it in the context of the music industry as a whole. The album just isn’t the most nourishing or the most satisfying of the Michael’s work. As Fantastic as Beat it is you can tell that it was made specifically for the white MTV generation kids. Lady of my life was made for the soul/ R’n’B crowd, especially the ladies. You can go through the whole album and you can hear the cold-hearted calculation – and it worked. The issue is that you come out with a product and not a cohesive album – or what I look for, a soulful album.
But I still love Thriller – trust me I really do. I love the urgency of the opening track and how it builds up to the African chant; I love the sensual, almost spirituality of Human Nature; and I love the unashamedly pop P.Y.T is. And Billie Jean is just perfect – it is the only word to describe that song. I have said it many times to as many people that will listen and I will say it again, Billie Jean is the greatest song ever written.
There is no doubt about it that this is an important album and I would say that everyone on this earth should listen to it at least once. If you don’t fall in love with it or you are not in love with it, that is fine. A shame, but fine.