“Thriller” by Michael Jackson, the forty years of a pop revolution –

A duet with Paul McCartney or the hard rock guitar of Eddie Van Halen appears on the album “Thriller”. With this record, the best seller of all time, forty years ago Michael Jackson formed a hybrid pop that has since become the norm. An album enriched with new releases celebrates this anniversary.

Selling “more than 100 million” copies according to the Sony record company and the legacies of the artist who died in 2009, “Thriller” was released on November 30, 1982. And inaugurated Michael Jackson as the “King of pop”. The image of the megastar is no longer the same forty years later, except for his fans. A recent documentary, disputed by his heirs, resurfaced the accusations of pedocrimination, which were denied during his lifetime by the singer, who was never convicted of such facts.

“Thriller” is nonetheless a marker of musical history. “Dawn FM”, album by hit machine The Weeknd, released in early 2022, was clearly inspired by it. “Michael is someone I admire. He’s not a real person, you see? When I started music, that’s what I aspired to,” the Canadian told the GQ review.

The layered sound of “Thriller” owes much to the association between Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones, legendary producer recruited on his previous album (“Off The Wall”, 1979).

>> To Watch: The Music Video for “Beat It”

Casings on fire

The singer initially calls Quincy Jones for his address book to find a producer. But “Q,” as Frank Sinatra nicknamed him, presents himself. “Quincy, who the record company didn’t want for ‘Off The Wall,’ who had a dim view of this producer coming from jazz, this music ‘that didn’t sell a peanut,’ as they used to in the music industry back then “, told AFP the French Olivier Cachin, author of the books “Michael Jackson, Pop Life” and “Michael Jackson, musical metamorphoses”.

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However, the collaboration between Jones and Jackson, both co-producers of “Thriller,” will spark. Literally as well as figuratively. For the title “Beat It”, “we worked five days and nights in a row without sleeping. So much so that at one point the studio speakers overheated and caught fire”, recalls Quincy Jones in the Rolling Stone magazine. On this track, Toto guitarist Steve Lukather is crushed by Eddie Van Halen’s solo. So we get a pinch of hard rock on “Thriller”, but also Paul McCartney in duet for the blues “The Girl Is Mine”.

A photo from 1983 showing Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson. [AFP]

We also hear a rap beat on “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”. Not to mention the example – without authorization – on this same piece of “Soul Makossa”. Its creator, saxophonist Manu Dibango, figure of Afro-jazz, will file a series of lawsuits for plagiarism, leading to a financial settlement.


The disc, originally nine titles, was expanded with tracks in 1983. But the new music channel MTV, which programs rock performed by white artists, refuses to air that of “Billie Jean.” The boss of Jackson’s label, Walter Yetnikoff, “threatened MTV to publicly condemn them as big racists and to block their access to the tracks of rock artists in his catalog”, remembers Olivier Cachin. The battle is won.

Yetnikoff then takes aim when, for the end of 1983, Jackson proposes a clip of almost 14 minutes for the track “Thriller”, directed by John Landis, the director of the “Blues Brothers”, whose film “The Werewolf of London” he likes . . “Yetnikoff does not see why it is stubborn to spend almost a million dollars – unheard of for a music video – when the album is already No. 1 (on the charts), but Michael does not have a vision”, flushes the journalist Olivier Cachin back.

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>> To watch: the clip from “Thriller”

The mini-film is previewed in a Los Angeles cinema before an audience of stars. In it, Jackson is seen transforming into a werewolf in a four-minute prologue before the song begins. Then the living dead emerge from their graves, voiced by Vincent Price, a cult actor in horror films from the 1950s and 60s. “Thriller” just gave birth to another revolution between pop music and horror film.




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