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Michael Jackson: Thriller

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We’ve hit #20 on the Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums of All Time list: Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

As many times as I’ve taught classes dealing with American popular culture, that’s how many times I’ve shown the video of Michael Jackson introducing the moonwalk while singing “Billie Jean” at the Motown 25th Anniversary show. Baby Boomers will tell you that the pinnacle of rock and roll television came when the Beatles first appeared on Ed Sullivan … older fans might remember Elvis’s early teevee performances … but for anyone old enough to remember, Michael Jackson’s moonwalk is right up there.

It’s difficult to get across to students the full impact of Michael Jackson in the early 80s. They’ve all grown up in a post-Michael world … they’ve seen the moonwalk a thousand times … and Michael himself has gotten a bit weird over the years. And so students bring their preconceived notions of Michael Jackson to the table, and they don’t get the revolutionary nature of his work, and they see elements of today’s Michael whenever they watch early-80s Michael, and so they think “yeah, I remember back in the day when Michael Jackson was the shit” as if he was just the R. Kelly of his day.

Well, that’s not true. The early/mid-80s were, among other things, one of the key periods in recent American pop culture not just for stars, but for SUPERSTARS. There were artists like Prince and Bruce Springsteen, transcendent figures, for better or worse. Bruce sold 15 million copies of Born in the USA, then released a live box-set that at the time was claimed to have kickstarted the CD revolution (people bought CD players just to make it easier to listen to Bruce Live). Prince sold 13 million copies of Purple Rain, the movie grossed $68 million in the States, and Prince got himself an Oscar in the process.

And yet these guys were pikers compared to Michael Jackson. Thriller has sold something like 26 million copies. Michael Jackson was the crossover act supreme, arguably the last such musician America has seen. His music was popular with a diverse audience. Eddie Van Halen stuck a hot guitar solo onto “Beat It,” and all of a sudden, MTV was playing black artists. Beatle icon Paul McCartney appeared on Thriller singing a duet with Jackson. Even Vincent Price got into the act.

And the videos from Thriller were also groundbreaking. “Beat It” had the dancing, but “Thriller” had the “plot” as it were … the latter was so popular, when a “making of” video was released, that was popular, too.

Of course, this is supposed to be about the music on the album of Thriller. And the album doesn’t disappoint. Some of Michael Jackson’s greatest music is here, which is to say, some of the greatest pop music ever can be found on Thriller. “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “Thriller,” “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” by themselves probably earn the album its #20 ranking. It would rank even higher if the filler wasn’t so, well, fillerish, but even piffle like the McCartney duet “The Girl Is Mine” has its fans. Thriller is that rarity, a best-selling album that also works as art. This time, at least, 26,000,000 fans can’t be wrong.

About Steven Rubio

  • Eric Olsen

    No, we weren’t wrong about Thriller or Off the Wall, or Bad, or about the Jackson 5 before them. The greatness of the music and his performing charisma through Bad is what makes his persoanl collapse so hard to take, and so hard for many to even believe.

  • joe

    I think you guys are all wrong. because the thriller album should of been #2 of all time and #1 of all time should be micheal jackson dangerous and #3 should be micheal jackson bad.you peeps are only judging him and his music instead of just the music.micheal is the best in the world not just in the usa.so i think you are all very wrong sorry to see and read that wow i thought you guys know what you guys were doing.

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    joe, this right here was from a rolling stone poll, i belive, and nothining to do with the good blogcritic types. Steve just reported the placing, and then added his own thoughts. The actual #20 for Thriller ain’t a thing to do with anyone but those folks that gather no moss, apparently.

    And i gotta say, Bad is embaressing for at least 60% of its duration.

  • jonty

    please who ever reads this i need micheal’s email pls its a matter of life and death

  • Eric Olsen

    Jonty, if obtaining MIchael Jackson’s email is truly a matter of life and death, I would contact one of his lawyers, although I can’t imagine this really being the case.

  • Jose

    Ha-ha-ha…what?? Michael Jackson the inventor of the “MOONWALK”??? Shit, my fellow ignorants, he used that name for a dance that Mexican immortal comedian RESORTES invented back in 1954!! Man…Americans can’t come up with anything, cause the entired world will think they invented everything. Guess who invented the modern color TV? Look south of the border, little kids. Adios

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    One of the things I keep on my computer is the full video of Thriller. I watch it at least once a month.

    The video is available for download on several peer-to-peer networks. Not that I’m counseling people to break the law or anything-:).

  • MYKE

    DEAR SIR,
    I WANT YOU TO SEND MICHAEL JACKSON PRESENT PICTURE TO ME,BEFORE I WILL RAZE CURMENT.
    BEST REGARD,
    MYKE.

  • lloyd bond

    plz email me

  • abbi

    hey… could you find a link to somewhere to download the video of thriler, where’d you get it from?

    ta xx

  • Diana Farrant

    I need to be able to send him and e-mail.I want to support him.He needs are prayers.

  • Eric Olsen

    go through his website or record label

  • craig

    why don’t u all shut up MICHAEL JACKSON is the best thing to happen to the music Industry.

  • Rock

    Where can I find Thriller video ? Pls ! I must download it fast !! Mail me at [deleted. com]

  • nick

    Ebay

  • ndilalolo

    hi

    Jesus- Christ is the only one who can disguilt anybody from any accusation if you accept him like your lord and saviour. so i like michael j.and i think that he must accept Jesus Christ and not only believe that he exists but he must confess Jesus in his heart and not on his lips. Jesus is alive and wants to be gloried in your life Michael. don’t harden your heart, think about a minute and be graceful to Jesus for his assistance, the elevation and wealthiness he has been giving you. You have to know that money can’t pay for everlasting life,whatever rich you are.
    JESUS CHRIST LOVES YOU MICHAEL DONT HARDEN YOUR HEART. JESUS IS STANDIND AT THE DOOR OF YOUR HEART. HE LOVES ALL OF YOU.

  • modest

    hi micheal,
    how can i get ur mail.
    iwant to disscus some private issues
    with u it is important

    ur reply pls.

  • Kristen

    Michael Jackson is one of the most naturally talented performers in the history of the World. No matter what he has been acussed of, no matter what he has physically transformed into, the FACT still remains that his TALENT is UNSURPASSED.

  • MJ_NO.1_LOVER

    MICHAEL JACKSON IS THE KING OF THE WOLRD..HE IS THE KING OF ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL MUSIC..I LOVE U TO BITS MICHAEL… INVINCIBLE IS THE BEST ALBUM OF ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL TIME AND THEN ALL YOUR OTHER ALBUMS… WE LOVE U MICHAEL… ur the best of the best!!!!!! mj-the sex god…

  • GotDamn

    PEOPLE ARE NUTZ! LOSERS. MJ is not even aware of this crap.

  • Steve

    I reckon Bad and Dangerous were better albums than Thriller. Thriller was huge because of MTV and the advent of music videos, along with MJ’s moonwalk.

  • samsom 4rm Nigeria

    IT IS WELL WITH U MICHEAL BUT GIYE UR LIFE TO JESUS AND STOP SATANISM

  • Diana

    hi people. I know michael is innocent, cuz i saw him for the first time when i was 4. And his music is great. When i saw him in London, i was so happy, because when you see him in real, it’s just a lovely man! I just wanted to say that,
    xx, Diana

  • fisher

    i need to know all thsi about the thriller? ::

    when?
    what?
    where?
    who?
    why?

  • carl

    I THINK MICHAEL JACKSON LOOKS LIKE A MONKEY NOW HE SHOULD NOT OF GOTTEN PLASTIC SURGERY

  • carl

    MICHAEL IS A MONKEY, NOW.

  • carl

    HE WILL NOT BE AFENDED BY THIS BECAUSE HIS FAVORITE ANIMAL IS A CHIMP.

  • nat

    i pray michael does receive Jesus….we all need to…He died for us and gave us al this wealth and most of all forgives us when we accept Him as Lord n Savior.
    ndilalolo, i need to talk to u dude!!
    God Bless in JC’z name

  • pastor anih

    oh miko i personally missed u i wish i had a time 2 pray 4 u b/4 u passed out ,my concern about u is ur soul i know made money and firm more than other person in this life but that does justified may jesus padon u and accept. [Personal contact info deleted]