21 July 2015

Michael Jackson - Thriller


Seeing that there are other MJ blogs on here (and here they are if you click the link), it was inevitable this album would be blogged next. There may be more to come if I can be chewed, as I've other stuff to be working on. Namely music released this decade...

You all know the drill by now, the blog is about the man and the music, no discussions on the personal life etc.

Released in 1982, this is the album that put Jackson in the stratosphere. Ready to record again after  a three year gap between this and "Off The Wall" (released in 1979), the objective was to record an album that was an absolute killer. a one which would grab everybody's attention, a one in which every song was a potential hit single. Apparently, Jackson had felt the sales for "Off The Wall" were underwhelming and wanted to become the biggest and wealthiest pop star on the planet.

Reuniting with Quincy Jones, they took to the studio. According to wiki, they recorded over thirty songs but narrowed it down to the final nine on the album. The sessions themselves produced a strain between the two, particularly during the composition and recording of "Billie Jean" - Jones felt the intro was too long whereas Jackson reckoned it was perfect. There was also some discussion over the direction of the album itself. Due to an ongoing backlash against the Disco genre, it was decided to try and move the album into another direction musically, hence the inclusion of a rock song ("Beat It") and contemporary ballads. Songwriting was handled by Jackson himself with contributions from songwriter Rod Temperton and members of rock band Toto.

The results would be an album which would be hailed as one of the greatest albums of all time. Critics and fans loved it, plus it did well at the Grammys too. The videos from the singles would become staples on then-fledgling TV network MTV (back when they showed music videos instead of reality TV) - mind, they had to deny they were racist first due to not showing many videos by black artists. Indeed, the album seemed to do a bit for race relations too, with "The Girl Is Mine" being an example of the first interracial love song. There may have been others but I've not heard them. As for the videos, these would set new bars themselves, becoming more and more elaborate in terms of not only choreography but in plot as well, almost becoming mini-movies, as I may have mentioned in another blog. More on that later, but in the meantime, we're gonna listen to some music now...

The album opens up with the song "Wanna Be Startin' Something" which was a tirade against people spreading rumours and false accusations. Apparently, it was written for his sister, LaToya Jackson, but he ended up using it. The song itself is quite up-tempo, with a nod to the disco influence on "Off The Wall". An African tribe chant is featured prominently towards the end of the song. all in all, a good opener. Next song is "Baby Be Mine" with is a synth-driven pop song, with nice keyboard chords and a smooth drum beat. It's all very good, but there isn't really anything else to say. It's a song that sounds typical of the era.

Then we're onto "The Girl Is Mine" which is a song about two men fighting over a girl. It features a duet with Paul McCartney (surely you know who he is???) and, I'll be honest, I think this song is fucking cheesy as fuck! The blog creator, Eddie Carter, reckons it's fucking awful.The music, lyrics, melodies...it's all a massive slab of cheddar! However, it still manages to be good in my opinion, which is quite an achievement as this song had disaster written all over it. If someone did one of those "Guilty Pleasure" lists, I dare say this song would end up on there...and no disrespect to either Paul or Michael, but they are both the least likely people I can imagine getting ready to throw down!

We're onto the title track now, "Thriller". I first saw the video to this song when I was about four or five years old (I'm thirty-six so it'll have been round about the time the video first came out) and it scared the shit out of me! I later found out that it was directed by John Landis who also directed An American Werewolf In London. You can tell because a) they used the same 'growling' sound effects from that movie and b) it includes the famous "See You Next Tuesday" Easter egg that Landis is fond of leaving in his movies. The video itself is a fucking masterpiece. We've no doubt by now seen it - if you haven't then go watch it - so I'll not spend too much time there. Needless to say, the choreography and dance moves of the video are now a staple of pop-culture. From a season one episode of South Park to a prison in the Philippines, the 'thriller dance' has been replicated the world over! The song itself is a stormer! Harking back to disco-inspired funk, it contains supernatural-inspired lyrics which sit well with the video. There are a few sound effects in this, mainly creaking floor boards and doors, wolf howls, stuff like that. It all adds to the atmosphere. And, as we all know, the famous horror actor Vincent Price does the voice-over at the end. It's a bit cheesy if we're honest, but it's well done and adds to the atmosphere. The man had such a distinctive voice, he could make reading a birthday card sound cool. Just ignore his turn as "Egg Head" in the 60's Batman TV show and you'll be fine!

The other major song from this album follows next, and it's the anti-gang warfare tune "Beat It" which contains a guitar solo from Eddie Van Halen, Rumour has it that Michael Jackson wanted Eddie Van Halen on guitar for this song so sent him a triumphant video in order to persuade him to join (Not really, I just fancied referencing Bill &Ted's Excellent Adventure). This is one of Michael's forays into rock music and it's very good. It's a pattern he'd follow a couple more times in the course of his career. The video has him stopping a gang fight breaking out. It's all a bit "West Side Story" but nevertheless, it was very popular. It's also - along with next song "Billie Jean" - one of the only songs off this album to have appeared in every Moonwalker video game (The arcade game was a fucking brilliant isometric action-shooter and the Megadrive/Genesis version was an average Shinobi clone). As for "Billie Jean", it's a prime slice of pop! Telling the story of a groupie who reckoned Michael had fathered her son, it's a bloody good song. Traces of more disco and funk in there, it's another song off this album that entered pop culture thanks to it's video which had Michael Jackson being pursued by a private-eye type person. Whenever MJ touched stuff, it lit up. Again, a great song.

Then we're taking a breather with the quite laid back "Human Nature". A gentle song with a soothing melody, it's one of Michael's most underrated songs. It was added to the album at the last minute, replacing a song called "Carousel". Apparently, it set the standard for soul-pop and all that stuff.

"PYT (Pretty Young Thing)" is up next and is another funky number. It's OK but it's not as good as what's preceded it. It's got an infectious bass line and is well funky, but it's not enough. I wouldn't go as far as to say it's a stinker but it's definitely the worst track on here. At least "The Girl Is Mine" has an awkward charm about it. This just seems like it's a by-the-numbers track.

"The Lady In My Life" is the final track and it's a ballad about how assuring your special someone that they'll always be the special one. I suppose it's quite schmaltzy but compared to what would come, it's actually quite restrained. Especially when compared to the likes of "I Just Can't Stop Loving You". It's actually quite good...

So, there you go. One of the biggest albums of all time is now on the blog! Now, I'm gonna be honest here - although I think it's a great album, I prefer "Dangerous" as that had a harder sound. Yes, there was more filler but that's because of ratios - there are nine tracks on "Thriller" and fourteen on "Dangerous". If you narrowed that down to the best nine, you'd get an album that stands equal to "Thriller".

7/10 - This is good and well worth a check.

Top Track: Billie Jean.

Chris J.

This album is on iTunes.

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