“Thriller”, album of a pop revolution launched 40 years ago
MISE À DAY
A duet with Paul McCartney, Eddie Van Halen's hard rock guitar…: Michael Jackson's album 'Thriller', best-selling record of all time, sculpted ago 40 years a hybrid pop that has since become the norm.
Sold “more than 100 million” copies according to the Sony record company and the legatees of the artist who died in 2009 , “Thriller” was released on November 30, 1982.
And consecrated Michael Jackson as the “King of pop”. The image of the megastar is no longer the same forty years later, except for his fans.
A recent documentary, contested by his heirs, revived the accusations of child crime, denied during his lifetime by the singer, who has never been convicted of such facts.
“Thriller” does not nonetheless remains a marker of musical history. “Dawn FM”, an album by hit machine The Weeknd, released in early 2022, is clearly inspired by it. “Michael is someone I look up to. He's not a real person, you know? When I started music, that's what I aspired to, “says the Canadian to the magazine GQ.
The sound layered side of “Thriller” owes a lot to the association between Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones, legendary producer recruited on his previous album (“Off The Wall”, 1979).
Speakers on fire
The singer initially calls Quincy Jones for his address book to find a producer. But “Q,” as Frank Sinatra nicknames him, offers himself.
“Quincy, whose record company did not want for “Off The Wall”, which takes a dim view of this producer from jazz, this music “which does not sell a peanut” as they say at the time in the 'music industry”, tells AFP the French Olivier Cachin, author of the books “Michael Jackson, Pop Life” and “Michael Jackson, musical metamorphoses”.
The collaboration between Jones and Jackson, both co-producers of “Thriller”, will however spark. Literally and figuratively.
For the title “Beat It”, “we worked five days and nights in a row without sleeping. So much so that at one point the studio speakers overheated and caught fire,” Jones recalled in Rolling Stone magazine.
On this track, there is the guitarist of Toto, Steve Lukather, crushed by Eddie Van Halen's solo. We therefore find a pinch of hard rock on “Thriller”, but also Paul McCartney in a duet for the bluette “The Girl Is Mine”.
We also hear a rap rhythm on “Wanna Be Startin' Somethin''. Not to mention the sample – without authorization – on this same piece of “Soul Makossa”. Its creator, the saxophonist Manu Dibango, a figure of Afro-jazz, will file a series of lawsuits for plagiarism, resulting in a financial settlement.
The disc – 9 titles originally, the anniversary album “Thriller 40” which comes out this Friday is enriched with new ones – is extended by clips in 1983.
But the new channel musical MTV, which programs rock played by white artists, refuses to broadcast that of “Billie Jean”.
Jackson's record label boss Walter Yetnikoff “then threatens MTV to report them publicly as big racists and to block their access to the clips of rock artists in its catalog, ”recalls Olivier Cachin. The battle is won.
Yetnikoff then braces himself when Jackson offers for the end of 1983 a clip of nearly 14 minutes for the song “Thriller”, directed by John Landis, the director of the “Blues Brothers”, whose film “The Werewolf of London” he likes. .
“Yetnikoff doesn't see why spending almost a million dollars – unheard of for a clip – while the album is already No. 1 (on the charts), but Michael has a vision, is stubborn”, rewinds journalist Olivier Cachin.
The mini -film is presented in preview in a cinema of Los Angeles in front of an audience of stars. We see Jackson transforming into a werewolf in a 4-minute prologue before the song begins. Then the living dead come out of their graves, on a voice-over by Vincent Price, a cult actor in horror cinema from the 1950s and 60s. “Thriller” has just given birth to another revolution between pop music and horror film.