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Thriller (song)

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"Thriller"
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"
ReleasedNovember 2, 1983 (1983-11-02)[1]
Format
Recorded1982
StudioWestlake Recording Studios (Los Angeles, California)
Genre
Length5:57 (album version)
4:37 (single version)
LabelEpic · CBS
Songwriter(s)Rod Temperton
Producer(s)Quincy Jones
Michael Jackson singles chronology
"Say Say Say"
(1983)
"Thriller"
(1983)
"Farewell My Summer Love"
(1984)
Music video
"Thriller" on YouTube

"Thriller" is a song recorded by American singer Michael Jackson and produced by Quincy Jones, first released on Jackson's album Thriller on November 30, 1982. It was rereleased as the album's seventh and final single on November 2, 1983.[1] "Thriller" is a mix of disco and funk. Songwriter Rod Temperton wanted to write a theatrical song to suit Jackson's love of film. The music and lyrics evoke horror films, with sound effects such as thunder, footsteps and wind. It ends with a spoken-word sequence performed by horror actor Vincent Price.

"Thriller" received positive reviews and became the album's seventh top-ten single on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number four. It reached the top of the charts in Belgium, France and Spain as well as the top 10 in many other countries. "Thriller" is certified 7x Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). It is one of the best-selling singles of all time having sold over 9 million copies worldwide. Following Jackson's death, his music experienced a surge in popularity.[2] In the week of Jackson's death, it was Jackson's best-selling track in the US, with sales of 167,000 copies on the Billboard Hot Digital Tracks chart.[2] It charted on the Billboard Hot Digital Singles Chart at number two, and remained in the charts' top ten for three consecutive weeks.[3]

"Thriller" won a Grammy Award.[4] It is often cited as a pop culture phenomenon and a Halloween anthem.[5] It appears on several of Jackson's greatest hits album and has been covered my numerous artists. Michael Jackson's Thriller, the "Thriller" music video, was directed by John Landis and premiered on MTV on December 2, 1983.[6] In the video, Jackson becomes a zombie and performs a dance routine with a horde of the undead. Many elements of the video have had a lasting impact on popular culture, such as the zombie dance and Jackson's red jacket, and it was the first music video inducted into the National Film Registry. It has been named the greatest video of all time by various publications and readers' polls.[7]

Writing[edit]

"Thriller" was written by British songwriter Rod Temperton, who had previously written for Jackson's 1979 album Off The Wall.[8] Temperton said he wanted to write something "really theatrical" to suit Jackson's love of film.[8] 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.[8] He recalled: "I wanted it to build and build – a bit like stretching an elastic band throughout the tune to heighten suspense."[8]

Temperton's first version was titled "Starlight", with the chorus lyric: "Give me some starlight / Starlight sun".[9] 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".[8] 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."[8]

With the title settled, Temperton wrote lyrics within "a couple of hours".[8] He envisioned a spoken-word sequence for 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.[10] Temperton composed the words for Price's part in a taxi on the way to the studio on the day of recording.[10]

Composition[edit]

"Thriller" is a disco/funk song.[11] Set in the key of C# minor,[12] the song has a moderate tempo of 120 beats per minute.[13] The lyrics and sound effects on "Thriller" pertain to frightful elements and themes.[14] 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.[10] The instrumentation consists of a Minimoog synthesizer,[15] a Linn LM-1 drum machine, a Rhodes piano, a Roland Jupiter-8 synthesizer, an electric guitar, a pipe organ, and a horn section consisting of trumpet, trombone, flugelhorn, saxophone, and flute.[citation needed]

Recording[edit]

Quincy Jones produced "Thriller".

"Thriller", along with the rest of the album, was recorded over eight weeks in 1982.[16] It was recorded at Westlake Recording Studios on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, California.[10]

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.[10] The bassline was recorded with two modified Minimoog synthesizers playing in unison.[15]

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.[17] For the creaking doors, Swedien rented doors from the Universal Studios film lot, specially designed for sound effects, and recorded the hinges closely.[17] 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".[10]

Critical reception[edit]

Ashley Lasimone, of AOL's Spinner.com, 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."[18] 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."[19] 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'".[20] [21]

Chart performance[edit]

"Thriller" was the seventh and final Billboard Hot 100 top-ten single from the Thriller album. In Billboard issue date February 11, 1984, the single entered the charts at number 20 on the Hot 100.[22] It reached number seven the following week,[23] number five the next, and peaked the next week at number four, where it stayed for two weeks.[24][25] 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).[26][27][27] It has sold a further 6 million copies in digital downloads as of August 2018 in the U.S.[28][29] As of August 2018, the song has sold 7.024 million copies in the US.[30]

For the issue date February 25, 1984, "Thriller" charted at number 19 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart.[31] The following week, the song placed at number five.[31] On March 10, 1984, it charted at number 3, where it peaked.[32] "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.[33] Beginning on February 5, 1984, "Thriller" peaked on the French Singles Chart at number one and topped the chart for four consecutive weeks.[34] "Thriller" also topped the Belgian VRT Top 30 Chart for two weeks in January 1984.[35]

Following Jackson's death, his music experienced a surge in popularity.[2] 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.[2] 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.[3] In the United Kingdom, the song charted at number 23 the week of Jackson's death.[36] The following week, the song reached its peak at number 12 on the UK Single Chart.[33] On July 12, 2009, "Thriller" peaked at number two on the Italian Singles Chart[37] and was later certified gold by the Federation of the Italian Music Industry.[38] "Thriller" reached at number three on the Australian ARIA Chart and Swiss Singles Chart and topped the Spanish Singles Charts for one week.[39] 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.[39] "Thriller" also landed at number 25 on the Danish Singles Chart.[40] In the third week of July "Thriller" peaked at number 11 in Finland.[41] The song finished at #78 for the year on Billboard Hot 100 of 1984.

In 2013, "Thriller" re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number 42.[42] Also, in November 2018, it re-entered at number 31.[43]

Music video[edit]

The music video for "Thriller" premiered on MTV on December 2, 1983.[6] 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.[44]

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.[45]

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.[46] 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.[47]

Many elements have had a lasting impact on popular culture, such as the zombie dance and Jackson's red jacket, designed by Landis' wife Deborah Nadoolman.[47] 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.[48]

Cover versions[edit]

1980s
2000s
2010s

Personnel[edit]

Charts[edit]

Chart (1983–84) Peak
position
Australia (Kent Music Report)[59] 4
Belgian VRT Top 30[35] 1
Canadian RPM Top Singles[60] 3
France (SNEP)[34] 1
Ireland (IRMA)[61] 4
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[62] 3
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[63] 6
Poland (LP3)[64] 7
South Africa (Springbok)[65] 26
Spain (AFYVE)[66] 1
UK (Official Charts Company)[33] 10
US Billboard Hot 100[67][24] 4
US Billboard Hot Black Singles[67][32] 3
US Billboard Adult Contemporary[68] 24
US Billboard Album Rock Tracks[67][32] 42
West Germany (Official German Charts)[69] 9
Chart (2006) Peak
position
France (SNEP)[70] 35
Germany (Media Control Charts)[39] 9
Ireland (IRMA)[61] 8
Italy (FIMI)[71] 5
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[72] 34
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[39] 1
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[39] 3
Chart (2007) Peak
position
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[73] 20
UK (Official Charts Company)[33] 57
Chart (2008) Peak
position
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[74] 55
Norway (VG-lista)[75] 13
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[76] 53
UK (Official Charts Company)[33] 35
Chart (2009) Peak
position
Australia (ARIA)[77] 3
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[74] 5
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Back Catalogue Singles Flanders)[78] 3
Belgium (Ultratop 30 Back Catalogue Singles Wallonia)[79] 2
Denmark (Tracklisten)[40] 25
Europe (European Hot 100 Singles)[80] 16
Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)[81] 11
France (SNEP)[82] 3
Ireland (IRMA)[39] 8
Italy (FIMI)[71] 2
Japan Singles Top 100 (Oricon)[39] 41
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[72] 9
New Zealand (RIANZ)[39] 12
Norway (VG-lista)[75] 7
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[73] 1
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[83] 10
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[76] 3
UK (Official Charts Company)[33] 12
US Digital Song Sales (Billboard)[84] 2
Chart (2010) Peak
position
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[73] 12
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[76] 68
UK (Official Charts Company)[33] 68
Chart (2012) Peak
position
France (SNEP)[70] 143
Ireland (IRMA)[61] 30
UK (Official Charts Company)[33] 49
Chart (2013) Peak
position
France (SNEP)[70] 159
UK (Official Charts Company)[33] 48
US Billboard Hot 100[85] 42
Chart (2014) Peak
position
France (SNEP)[70] 152
UK (Official Charts Company)[33] 57
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[73] 38
US Billboard Hot 100[86] 35
Chart (2015) Peak
position
France (SNEP)[70] 145
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[73] 48
UK (Official Charts Company)[33] 61
US Billboard Hot 100[87] 45
Chart (2016) Peak
position
France (SNEP)[70] 164
UK (Official Charts Company)[33] 62
Chart (2017) Peak
position
France (SNEP)[70] 46
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[73] 32
UK (Official Charts Company) 34
Chart (2018) Peak
position
Canada (Canadian Hot 100)[88] 25
UK (Official Charts Company) 63
US Billboard Hot 100[89] 31

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[90] 3× Platinum 210,000^
Denmark (IFPI Denmark)[91] Gold 45,000^
France (SNEP)[93] Platinum 975,000[92]
Italy (FIMI)[94] Platinum 50,000*
Mexico (AMPROFON)[96] Platinum 60,000[95]
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[97] 2× Platinum 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[98] Platinum 600,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[99] 6× Platinum (digital) 6,000,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[100] Gold (MT) 500,000^
United States (RIAA)[101] Platinum (physical) 1,000,000^

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

Track listing[edit]

Film adaptation[edit]

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.[104][105] As of February 2016, there has been no further news.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Bibliography

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