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Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ Turns 40 | Album Anniversary

Happy 40th Anniversary to Michael Jackson’s sixth studio album Thriller, originally released November 30, 1982.

Thriller. Just the mere mention of the album throws up a string of iconic images and record shattering statistics. It is the biggest selling album of all time. It spent a record-breaking 37 weeks at #1 (including two 17-week consecutive runs.) It was the highest selling album of the year for two consecutive years in 1983 and 1984. It was the first album to spawn 7 Top Ten singles. It helped Michael Jackson set a record GRAMMY Award haul for one night with eight trophies. Its videos reshaped what promo clips could be and broke down the racial lines of the burgeoning MTV. It brings to mind images of lit-up pavements, zipper jackets, dancing zombies, glittering socks, sequined single gloves, and moonwalks. It became the blueprint for every album that followed. It outsold the collective sales of the remainder of the Top 10 albums of all time. As Quincy Jones infamously said, it “saved the record industry.” It catapulted a superstar into the rarefied air of the stratosphere.

But before all that. Before all the awards and the accolades. There was simply Thriller, the follow-up to Jackson’s landmark Off The Wall (1979) album. Jackson, no longer just considered the twirling Wunderkind of The Jackson 5, had proven himself as a vibrant and viable solo artist with his disco-defying breakout.

With Thriller, Jackson wanted to continue to push his creativity. He was intent on creating an album that wouldn’t be restricted by racially drawn classification of genre or radio play. He wanted to create an album where every track was a hit—an album of all Thriller no filler, if you will.

Jackson reconvened with producer Quincy Jones and engineer Bruce Swedien in Westlake Studios on April 14, 1982 to start on the road towards Thriller. The first track recorded, and ultimately the album’s first single, was the famed duet between Paul McCartney and Jackson, “The Girl Is Mine,” a sweet-enough MOR song that while charming, didn’t allude to the juggernaut that was to follow.

After an extended break, Jackson and crew returned to the studio later in the year and resumed work on the new album. Sessions that would last until November 8th and would see the team whittle down a collection of thirty songs (since inflated to numbers in the hundreds by Jones) to the final nine that would make up the final album.

When Thriller debuted on November 30, 1982, the echoes of Off The Wall and the more current Jacksons album Triumph (1980) filled the expectations of the album buyer. With “The Girl Is Mine” nestled in the Top 10, many wondered if it was indicative of a new direction Jackson was taking. One thing was certain—this wasn’t the “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough Part II” many were expecting. Looking back, “The Girl Is Mine” might have been the sacrificial first single to get the big duet on the air and out of the way, making space for what was to come.


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