Wanna be startin' somethin'....
Released November 1982
Recorded in Los Angeles
1. Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'
2. Baby Be Mine
3. The Girl Is Mine
5. Beat It
6. Billie Jean
7. Human Nature
8. P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)
9. The Lady In My Life
1979's "Off The Wall" had been relatively successful, but it still remained only averagely so compared with this monstrous seller. Nobody could have really expected the incredible success of it, not the producers or Jackson himself. It launched him into the pop stratosphere and he became the "king of pop" from this moment on. While "Off The Wall" had a myriad of styles to keep all sorts happy, "Thriller" had even more - there was rock guitar riffage, a harder, more "street" funk, more schmaltzy ballads and an even more polished smooth soul sound. Blending all those together proved to be guaranteed to result in massive global sales. Together with the advent of MTV, which endlessly played the many videos this album generated, Jackson conquered the world.
I clearly remember the night in early December 1982 when Channel 4 showed the "Thriller" video for the first time, at about midnight I recall. The nation stood still. Everyone seemed to watch it, even people like myself who weren't particularly Michael Jackson fans. The next day it was all "did you see it?" from everyone you spoke to. To a certain extent, the album lost its focus as an actual album by the hype surrounding the video and, also because there were seven singles taken from the album it just seemed almost like a "greatest hits" package, and had no real "album" identity. Personally, I always preferred "Off The Wall", finding it had a more authentic appeal. That is not to say this is without its obvious good points, of course. Maybe we all just know the songs so well.
As with "Off The Wall", the music is immaculate, "proper" music i.e. no synthesised drums such as blighted later albums like "Invincible", played by a proper band, not by a computer. My favourite track was always the Manu Dibango-inspired, "Wanna Be Startin' Something" with its infectious AfroFunk-influenced rhythms. "Billie Jean" has that killer bass line intro and unforgettable hook. "Beat It" had rock guitar legend Eddie Van Halen supplying its iconic riff. The track is probably the rockiest thing Jackson ever did. "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" was an appealing slice of commercial funk. Rod Temperton's "Baby Me Mine" continued the slick, disco, funk lite sound of "Off The Wall", full of the hiccupy vocals that had now become Jackson's odd, quirky trademark.
"Human Nature" is a sweet soul number, very silky smooth, typical of what would be now thought of as prototype "r 'n' b" soul. It is pleasant and very listenable but a little too saccharine for my taste. Immaculately played, however. "The Lady In My Life" falls into the same category.
The two remain tracks are the over-the-top title track, which I always felt to be a bit silly, although
it has some classic moments, and the dreadfully cheesy duet with Paul McCartney, "The Girl Is Mine", with its awful spoken parts in the outro. It wouldn't worry me if I never heard it again, being brutally honest.
You can't argue with the album's impact, though, but it suffers, like "Sgt. Pepper", "Born In The USA" and "Brothers In Arms" from being just too well known. If I listen to any Michael Jackson these days, there are other albums I choose before this - definitely "Off The Wall", for sure.