Music Video Review: Michael Jackson – “Thriller”

I can still remember the first time I saw Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video.  It was in the early 1980s, and I was about eight years old at the time.  I was over a friend’s house, and they had MTV going on the TV.  The “Thriller” video came on while I was there, and I have to admit it really scared me at the time.  Of course, now that it’s been over twenty five years since I first saw it, the video doesn’t frighten me anymore.  I have also come to realize just how much of a milestone the “Thriller” video was for both MTV and the music video industry.

When MTV was playing a marathon of Michael Jackson videos in his memory, I saw both versions of the “Thriller” video (the full-length and a shorter edit).  Being able to really see the video so many years later, I could really take it in.  By today’s standards, the effects seem really cheesy.  However, for the early 1980s, the effects looked rather impressive, especially for the then-fledgling music video industry.

The full-length video opens with what the audience believes to be Michael Jackson and his girlfriend out on a date; judging by the outfits, they look like they should be in the 1950s or the early 1960s.  After Michael turns into a werewolf, we discover what we’ve been watching is actually a movie.  In reality, Michael Jackson and his date, who looks an awful lot like the girlfriend in the movie, have an argument in the movie theater because his date isn’t enjoying the movie.  She leaves, and he follows.  Michael busts out into song, and soon, zombies start rising out of the graveyard.  Michael and his date are cornered by the zombies, and Michael himself turns into a zombie.  Then, Michael and the zombies launch into the famous zombie dance.  Michael’s date runs into an abandoned house, and just when all seems lost, Michael’s date wakes up, and she is in a nice-looking house.  But at the end of the video, Michael turns his head back to the camera, and he has yellow eyes.  The video ends up leaving the viewer with the question: was it really just a dream or not?

“Thriller” was a revolutionary video for its time, because most videos released in the early 1980s were simply a kind of “performance clip”.  There were very few music videos that had much of a storyline to them.  Of course, Michael didn’t simply release a music video with a storyline.  He made sure the video was a kind of “mini movie”; in the full-length version, there is an ending credits roll like you would see at the end of a movie.  In the wake of the “Thriller” video, you started to see music video directors being more willing to use the music video as a medium to tell a story, and incorporating storylines into music videos.  “Thriller” proved that the music video could be a storytelling medium, in addition to selling a song and an artist.  After the release of “Thriller,” music videos would never be the same again.

I am embedding the video for the full version of “Thriller” below, and I apologize in advance to any of my readers who are unable to view the video due to region blocking.

Album Review: Michael Jackson – “Thriller”

I first heard Michael Jackson’s Thriller album in its entirety back in 1983, when my older sister purchased a vinyl record copy of it.  The Thriller album was very big at the elementary school we were going to at the time, and it seemed like just about every kid I knew in the neighborhood liked the album and owned it.

Thriller opens with “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” which is a fun and upbeat number, and one I’ve enjoyed listening to since I was a kid.  However, I have to admit that I’ve never understood the “you’re a vegetable” bit that appears in the song.  Next on the album is the song “Baby Be Mine.”  Musically, you can definitely hear that the disco sound had an influence on the song.  Lyrically, it’s a love song that’s easy for the listener to understand and identify with.

The third song on Thriller is “The Girl Is Mine,” which is a duet between Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney from The Beatles and Wings.  The song tells the story of two men trying to win the affections of the same woman, and trying to convince the other that the girl is “theirs”; however, the song is done in a very light-hearted and fun manner.  I’ve liked this song ever since I first heard it back in the early 1980s.

The title song, “Thriller,” features a cameo by Vincent Price.  Even though the topic of the song is on the “dark” side, the song is a very light-hearted and fun piece.  Thanks to the accompanying music video, this song has become a classic.  This is followed by “Beat It,” the song that was my all-time favorite from the album when I was a kid; in fact, I had played it so much on my sister’s record back then that I managed to scratch the record at such a point that Michael kept singing the words “beat it” ad nauseum.  While it’s an upbeat song, it’s more “driving” than most of the material on Thriller; this is probably due in part to Eddie Van Halen’s guitar solo.

The next song on the album is “Billie Jean,” and it tells the story of a woman claiming the speaker of the song is the father of her son.  I’ve always loved how this song sounds musically.  Admittedly, I didn’t truly understand what the words meant when I was younger, but that didn’t cause me to like the song any less.  This is another song on the album that had a music video that became a classic.

“Human Nature” is the next song, and it’s one of the few ballads on the album.  It’s also become a song that has been sampled by others in their music over the years, such as SWV’s “Right Here/Human Nature” and Jason Nevins’ “I’m In Heaven,” and the song has also been covered several times.  While Michael may be known more for his upbeat material, this ballad has become one of Michael’s classics.  I’ve always liked this song since the first time I heard it.

“P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” is another song that sounds influenced by the disco sound of the later 1970s, and it returns the album to an upbeat sound.  It’s a song I really liked at the time, especially the section of the song where the vocals are sped up and sound like they’re sung by Alvin and the Chipmunks.  Vocoder effects are also used during the song.  While this is a song I still like listening to, I don’t like it quite as much as I did when I was a kid.

Thriller closes with the ballad “The Lady in My Life.”  Personally, I never cared for this song back in the day because I thought it was rather boring, especially after following “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing).”  I have to admit that I still think this song is rather boring.  When I listen to the Thriller album, I tend to listen to the first eight songs, and then shut off the CD at the end of “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing).”

Even with “The Lady in My Life” being on it, Thriller is still an example of a perfect pop album.  In fact, I also think that Thriller is one of the most classic albums to come out during the early 1980s.

I wrote this review after listening to a copy of Thriller that I purchased.