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Thriller (song)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Michael jackson thriller 12 inch single USA.jpg
U.S. 12" vinyl
Single by Michael Jackson
from the album Thriller
B-side"Things I Do for You"
ReleasedJanuary 23, 1984 (1984-01-23)
StudioWestlake Recording Studios, Los Angeles, California
Length5:57 (album version)
4:02 (7" single edit version)
LabelEpic · CBS
Songwriter(s)Rod Temperton
Producer(s)Quincy Jones
Michael Jackson singles chronology
"Say Say Say"
"I Just Can't Stop Loving You"
Music video
"Thriller" on YouTube

"Thriller" is a song recorded by American singer Michael Jackson, composed by Rod Temperton, and produced by Quincy Jones. It is the seventh and final single released by Epic Records from his 1982 studio album of the same name. A 13-minute video showing Jackson in a horror-themed performance premiered on MTV on December 2, 1983.[1] The song was not released as a single until January 23, 1984.

"Thriller" has appeared on multiple greatest hits compilation albums from Jackson, including HIStory (1995), Number Ones (2003), The Ultimate Collection (2004).The Essential Michael Jackson (2005) and Michael Jackson's This Is It (2009) and was remixed for the Immortal album in 2011. The song has a voice-over from actor Vincent Price.

In the song, sound effects such as a creaking door, thunder, feet walking on wooden planks, winds and howling dogs can be heard, and the lyrics contain horror-related themes and elements. "Thriller" received positive reviews from critics and became Jackson's seventh top-ten single on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart from the album, while reaching the top of the charts in France and Belgium and the top ten in many other countries.

"Thriller" was adapted by director John Landis into a highly successful music video, known independently as "Michael Jackson's Thriller". At fourteen minutes, the video is substantially longer than the song and ties together a narrative featuring Jackson and actress Ola Ray in a setting heavily inspired by horror films of the 1950s. In the video's most iconic scene, Jackson leads other actors costumed as zombies in a choreographed dance routine. Though it garnered some criticism for its occult theme and violent imagery, the video was immediately popular and received high critical acclaim, being nominated for six MTV Video Music Awards in 1984 and winning three. In 2009 it was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, the first music video ever selected.


"Thriller" was written by the British songwriter Rod Temperton, who had previously written for Jackson's 1979 album Off The Wall.[2] Temperton said he wanted to write something "really theatrical" to suit Jackson's love of films.[2] He improvised with bass and drum patterns until he developed the bassline that runs through the song, then wrote a chord progression that built to a climax.[2] He recalled: "I wanted it to build and build – a bit like stretching an elastic band throughout the tune to heighten suspense."[2]

Temperton's first version was titled "Starlight", with the chorus lyric: "Give me some starlight / Starlight sun".[3] The production team, led by Quincy Jones, felt the song should be the title track, but that "Starlight" was not a strong album title. Instead, they wanted something "mysterious to match Michael’s evolving persona".[2] Temperton considered several possible titles, including "Midnight Man", which Jones felt was "going in the right direction". Finally, he conceived "Thriller", but worried that it was "a crap word to sing ... It sounded terrible! However, we got Michael to spit it into the microphone a few times and it worked."[2]

With the title settled, Temperton wrote lyrics within "a couple of hours".[2] Temperton said he had always envisioned a talking section at the end of the song, but did not know what form it should take. It was decided to have a famous voice from the horror genre perform it, and Jones' then-wife, Peggy Lipton, suggested her friend Vincent Price.[4] Temperton composed the words for Price's part in a taxi on the way to the studio on the day of recording.[4]


"Thriller" is a disco-funk song.[5] Set in the key of C Modern Dorian,[citation needed] the song has a moderate tempo of 120 beats per minute.[6] The lyrics and sound effects on "Thriller" pertain to frightful elements and themes.[7] At the beginning of the song, sound effects such as a creaking door, thunder, feet walking on wooden planks, winds and howling dogs are heard.[4] The instrumentation consists of a Minimoog synthesizer,[8] a Linn LM-1 drum machine, a Rhodes piano, a Roland Jupiter-8 synthesizer, an electric guitar, and a horn section consisting of trumpet, trombone, flugelhorn, saxophone, and flute.[citation needed]


Quincy Jones produced "Thriller".
Quincy Jones produced "Thriller".

"Thriller", along with the rest of the album, was recorded over eight weeks in 1982.[9] It was recorded at Westlake Recording Studios on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, California.[4]

Engineer Bruce Swedien had Jackson record his vocals in different approaches, doubling takes and recording at different distances from the microphone. Some background vocals were recorded in the Westlake shower stall.[4] The bassline was recorded with two modified Minimoog synthesizers playing in unison.[8]

To record the wolf howls, Swedien set up tape recorders up around his Great Dane in a barn overnight, but the dog never howled. Instead, Jackson recorded the howls himself.[10] For the creaking doors, Swedien rented doors from the Universal Studios film lot, specially designed for sound effects, and recorded the hinges closely.[10] Price recorded his part in two takes; Jones, acknowledging that doing a voice-over for a song is "difficult", praised Price and described his takes as "fabulous".[4]

The bassline "recalls"[11] the bassline of the 1981 number-one R&B hit "Give It to Me Baby" by Rick James.

Critical reception

"Thriller" is a contemporary critical favorite. Ashley Lasimone, of AOL's, noted that it "became a signature for Jackson" and described "the groove of its bassline, paired with Michael's killer vocals and sleek moves" as having "produced a frighteningly great single."[12] Jon Pareles of The New York Times noted that "'Billie Jean', 'Beat It', 'Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' ' and "the movie in the song 'Thriller'", were the songs, unlike the "fluff" "P.Y.T.", that were "the hits that made Thriller a world-beater; along with Mr. Jackson's stage and video presence, listeners must have identified with his willingness to admit terror."[13] Ann Powers of the Los Angeles Times described "Thriller" as "adequately groovy" with a "funked-out beat" and lyrics "seemingly lifted from some little kid's 'scary storybook'".[14]

50 Cent told NME that the song is the one he wished he had written: "I had his poster on my wall. He had me moonwalkin' around my bedroom. I'd love to have written any Michael Jackson song, so maybe start with one of the greatest."[15]

Chart performance

"Thriller" was the seventh and final Billboard Hot 100 top-ten single from the Thriller album. In Billboard issue date February 11, 1984, the song entered the charts at number 20 on the Hot 100.[16] The song entered the top ten the following week at number seven.[17] One week later, it reached number five, then the next week it rose to number four; its peak position which it held for a second week.[18][19] The song was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on December 4, 1989, for sales of over one million physical units in the U.S. (the requirement for gold and platinum singles was lowered after 1989).[20][21][21] It has sold a further 6 million copies in digital downloads as of August 2018 in the U.S.[22][23] As of August 2018, the song has sold 7.024 million copies in the US.[24]

For the issue date February 25, 1984, "Thriller" charted at number 19 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart.[25] The following week, the song placed at number five.[25] On March 10, 1984, it charted at number 3, where it peaked.[26] "Thriller" debuted on the UK Singles Chart on November 19, 1983, at number 24, and the following week charted at number ten, where it peaked; the song appeared on the chart for 52 weeks.[27] Beginning on February 5, 1984, "Thriller" peaked on the French Singles Chart at number one and topped the chart for four consecutive weeks.[28] "Thriller" also topped the Belgian VRT Top 30 Chart for two weeks in January 1984.[29]

Following Jackson's death, his music experienced a surge in popularity.[30] In the week of Jackson's death, "Thriller" was Jackson's best-selling track in the US, with sales of 167,000 copies on the Billboard Hot Digital Singles Chart.[30] On July 11, 2009, "Thriller" charted on the Billboard Hot Digital Singles Chart at number two (its peak), and the song remained in the charts' top ten for three consecutive weeks.[31] In the United Kingdom, the song charted at number 23 the week of Jackson's death.[32] The following week, the song reached its peak at number 12 on the UK Single Chart.[27] On July 12, 2009, "Thriller" peaked at number two on the Italian Singles Chart[33] and was later certified gold by the Federation of the Italian Music Industry.[34] "Thriller" reached at number three on the Australian ARIA Chart and Swiss Singles Chart and topped the Spanish Singles Charts for one week.[35] The song also placed within the top ten on the German Singles Chart, Norwegian Singles Chart and Irish Singles Chart, at number nine, number seven and number eight respectively.[35] "Thriller" also landed at number 25 on the Danish Singles Chart.[36] In the third week of July "Thriller" peaked at number 11 in Finland.[37] The song finished at #78 for the year on Billboard Hot 100 of 1984.

In 2013, the song re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number 42.[38] Also, in November 2018, it re-entered at number 31.[39]

Music video

On November 14, 1983, the 14-minute film was shown to a private audience at the Crest Theater in Los Angeles. In attendance were Diana Ross, Warren Beatty, Prince, Eddie Murphy and many more "A-list" stars. Jackson stayed in the projection booth so that others such as actress Ola Ray could bask in the attention. When the film ended, the theater erupted in applause, and Murphy shouted "Show the goddam thing again!", which is what happened.[40][41]

The music video for "Thriller" was released publicly on December 2, 1983. It was directed by John Landis and written by Landis and Jackson. In the video, Jackson and his girlfriend (played by Ola Ray) are confronted by zombies while walking home from a movie theater. Jackson becomes a zombie and performs a dance routine with a horde of the undead. The video references numerous horror films.[42]

Jackson contacted Landis after seeing his film An American Werewolf in London. The pair conceived a 13-minute short film with a budget much larger than previous music videos. Jackson's record company refused to finance it, believing Thriller had peaked, so a making-of documentary, Making Michael Jackson's Thriller, was produced to receive financing from television networks.[43]

Michael Jackson's Thriller was launched to great anticipation and played regularly on MTV. It doubled sales of Thriller, and sold over a million copies on VHS, becoming the bestselling videotape at the time.[44] It is credited for transforming music videos into a serious art form, breaking down racial barriers in popular entertainment, and popularizing the making-of documentary format.[45]

Many elements have had a lasting impact on popular culture, such as the zombie dance and Jackson's red jacket, designed by Landis's wife Deborah Nadoolman.[45] Fans worldwide re-enact its zombie dance and it remains popular on YouTube. The Library of Congress described it as "the most famous music video of all time". In 2009, it became the first music video inducted into the National Film Registry as "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant.[46]

Live performances

Jackson performed "Thriller" on all three of his solo world concert tours. From the Dangerous Tour onwards, half the song was always performed by a masked backup dancer as Jackson prepared for his next song as part of a stage illusion. Despite Jackson performing multiple songs from his Thriller album, "Thriller" was not included on the Jacksons set list during their Victory Tour in 1984, as Michael Jackson was not satisfied with the way the song sounded live.

Jackson performed "Thriller" during his first world tour as a solo artist, the Bad world tour, lasting sixteen months, from 1987 to 1989, for a total of 123 shows.[47] During the Bad tour, in both legs, the jacket had flashing lights in the middle of the song and at the end. An impersonator was only used for the introduction of the song; a masked dancer emerges from the costume tent at the side of the stage, and goes back in hiding while Jackson himself, also masked at first, swings down from a rope on the other side of the stage before taking off his mask.

"Thriller" was also performed during Jackson's second world tour, the Dangerous Tour, where stage illusions were used to transition between "Thriller" and "Billie Jean". In the middle of "Thriller", Jackson secretly switched places with a masked backup dancer who finishes the song appearing as Jackson prepares for Billie Jean. When the song ends, Jackson appears fully dressed on the upper floor as "Billie Jean" begins. In the third leg of the Dangerous Tour, there was no upper floor but the masked dancer still performed the latter half of the song.

Jackson performed "Thriller"[48] for all of his 82 shows during his third, and final, world tour, the HIStory World Tour. Once again, a masked dancer posing as Jackson was used as a stage illusion, this time to the transition between "Thriller" and "Beat It". As with the Dangerous tour, Jackson switches with the background dancer in the middle of the song. At the end of Thriller, the masked dancer is taken by the zombie dancers into a coffin where it appears he is impaled with spikes and burned. Jackson would appear at the side of the stage in a cherry-picker, starting off "Beat It".

Jackson had planned to perform "Thriller" during his 50-show concert series, which would have been his fourth concert tour, entitled This Is It from 2009 to 2010.[49][50] For Jackson's performance of the song, he had planned for the stage that he was to perform on to be set up with a background that looked like a "graveyard" (which was a brief setting in the music video) with 3-D effects. Jackson would emerge from a giant black widow spider.[50][51][52] According to a setlist that was released in March 2009, "Thriller" was to close out the 16-song show,[53] although the film Michael Jackson's This Is It, which documents the concert series, lists 18 songs and "Man in the Mirror" as the closing song for the planned shows.[54][55][56]

Live versions of the song are available on the DVDs Live at Wembley July 16, 1988 and Live in Bucharest: The Dangerous Tour.

Cover versions


Appearances in other media

Michael Jackson's Thriller music video, particularly the songs dance routine in the video, have been referenced in television series and films including Donga (1985), Coming to America (1988), The Super Mario Bros. Super Show (1989), The Malibu Beach Vampires (1991), South Park (1997), Dead & Breakfast (2004), 13 Going on 30 (2004), Bo! in the USA (2006), Jelly Jamm (2007), and Furby (2011).[66][better source needed]

The Chemical Brothers said in a January 2002 interview that if their song "My Elastic Eye" is played on large speakers, the bass would resemble "Thriller".[67]

In 2008, a remake of the "Thriller" music video was directed by Corey Grant as a tribute for the 25th anniversary of the original music video in 1983, featuring the Step Up stars Adam G. Sevani and Alyson Stoner.

In 2011, the cast of American musical TV series Glee (Naya Rivera, Kevin McHale and Cory Monteith with New Directions) performed "Thriller" as a mash up with "Heads Will Roll" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs in episode "The Sue Sylvester Shuffle".[68][69]

Pop singer Britney Spears made a reference to "Thriller" in her music video for "I Wanna Go" (2011). In the ending of her video actor Guillermo Díaz leads Spears out of the room. He then turns to the camera with glowing red eyes and his laugh is heard, similar to Vincent Price.[70]


Charts and certifications

Sales and certifications

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Australia (ARIA)[101] 3× Platinum 210,000^
Denmark (IFPI Denmark)[102] Gold 45,000^
France (SNEP)[103] Platinum 975,000[104]
Italy (FIMI)[105] Platinum 50,000*
Mexico (AMPROFON)[106] Platinum 60,000[107]
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[108] 2× Platinum 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[109] Platinum 600,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[110] Platinum (physical) 1,000,000
6x Platinum (digital) 6,000,000[23]
Gold (MT) 500,000

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

Track listing

Film adaptation

In October 2010, it was found that GK Films plans to produce a horror film inspired by the song, directed by Kenny Ortega and produced with Ivan Reitman.[113][114] As of February 2016, there has been no further news.

See also


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