Having the best-selling album of all time is no simple feat, not to mention the huge expectations that come with it. Luckily Jackson’s history making album is more than capable of living up to these expectations. It’s sometimes hard to look at the actual music of Thriller without thinking about all of the achievements and records that came with it.
The album starts off with “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”. The song has an absolutely killer production with a Caribbean edge. Despite the song’s pure infectiousness, the lyrics are surprisingly dark, similar to “Billie Jean” and “Beat It”. The darkest being: “You’re a vegetable, you’re a vegetable/They’ll eat off you, you’re a vegetable“. The three aforementioned songs proved that Jackson could make music with a much darker substance than his previous work, without sacrificing its stellar production.
The album’s weakest song is its first single “The Girl Is Mine” which is a duet with Paul McCartney. The song is about as cheesy as they come, but there’s something about the way that these two great artists embrace that ridiculousness that makes even this song enjoyable. Sure both have done better (they even have a much better duet), but it’s great in a novelty kind of way.
The album’s big ballad, “Human Nature”, is put simply a stunner. The song speaks of Jackson’s desire to break free, giving us another brief glimpse into the singer’s personal life.. It features heavenly harmonies and perfect melodies, creating a flawless sonic cushion. His sensual vocal performance breaths life into this song and helps raise it to an even higher place, as if it were truly a gift from the heavens.
The two songs that weren’t released as singles, “Baby Be Mine” and “The Lady In My Life”, were definitely single worthy. “The Lady In My Life” is pretty much as subtle as Jackson gets. He gives a restrained, but powerful vocal performance and the production is extremely stripped compared to the album’s other tracks. While “Baby Be Mine” is a funky thrill. Both songs deal with a sexual tension that would become gradually more obvious as his career progressed.
Despite all nine of the tracks being shining achievements, the two brightest of them all were the masterpieces known as “Billie Jean” and “Beat It”. “Billie Jean” is arguably his greatest single moment and one the greatest moments ever in the entire music landscape, regardless of genre. The song is haunting and irresistibly catchy at the same time. Jackson pours his whole heart and soul into this song and it gives us one of our painfully few glimpses at the man behind the legend, since the song’s haunting tale is inspired by true events in Michael’s life. “Beat It” on the other hand takes his love for disco and fused it with rock to create “Beat It”. At the time of its release “Beat It” was like nothing else on the radio, it combines funky disco beats and Eddie Van Halen’s killer guitar solo.
Thriller helped bring Michael from the mere superstar that the Jackson 5 and Off The Wall made him to legend status, thanks not only to the songs on this album, but equally because of showstopping videos. The title track’s 14 minute mini-movie would eventually end up overshadowing the great and equally bombastic single, the “Billie Jean” video would end up breaking many barriers on MTV, while “Beat It” would win a host of awards and helped establish Jackson as a pop icon.
The diverse combination of different genres and moods helped make this album timeless. Jackson and Quincy Jones put so much attention into the production of each song. From the iconic bass line of “Billie Jean”, to the guitar work on “Beat It”, from the sample of “Soul Makossa” in “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”, to the lovely synths of “Human Nature”, from getting his sisters to record back up vocals on “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” all the way to getting Vincent Price to record his memorable rap/spoken word part on the title track. Asides from “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” and “The Girl Is Mine”, the album’s lyrical substance is arguably the most innovative of his career. Thriller helped define what a classic album is, an artistic and commercial masterpiece.
Top Tracks: “Billie Jean”, “Beat It”, “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”, “Human Nature”