Thriller Turns 29: Five Reasons It Rocked

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Yesterday marked the twenty-nine-year anniversary of the release of Thriller, which broke basically every record in the book. It remains the best selling album of all time with over 10 million in total sales. It not only solidified Michael Jackson as one of the biggest pop stars of all time, it delivered hit after hit after hit, something the very ambitious Jackson was after from day one. This was Jackson's most successful, critically and commercially, and stands as one of the great pop records of all time.

The album differed from Off the Wall in that it veered away from disco and leaned more on the edgier music of the time. Granted, it was and is still danceable as hell, but it sounded much different than the previous release. Here are five reasons why we think it totally rocked, literally and metaphorically.

5. Toto

Many people know that the members of rock group Toto were session musicians, very successful ones in fact. Despite the fact that they were in the heart of their greatest success following the release of Toto IV, guitarist Steve Lukather, keyboardists David Paich, Greg Philingaines and Steve Porcaro, and drummer Jeff Porcaro all performed on Thriller, which no doubt added to the rock sound.

4. Pushing Racial Boundaries

Those of us who grew up in the '80s remember how ubiquitous "Billie Jean," "Beat It" and the title track were on MTV. That wasn't the case initially. At first, MTV rarely played anything from the album and it wasn't until the then president of CBS Records Walter Yetnikoff threatened to pull all of their band's videos from the network and publicize the fact he (and many others) believed MTV didn't play music from black artists. It's hard to imagine now they didn't want to play what would be some of the most popular videos of all time.

3. The Long Form Video

To this day, people perform the dance from the music video for "Thriller," but the video was about more than the dance. Jackson and director John Landis set out to make a short film and the very network that had hesitated to put any of the King of Pop's videos on the air at first not only put the 14-minute ode to classic horror films in heavy rotation, it did the same for the 45-minute making of documentary.

2. Vincent Price

When putting together the title track, the thought of adding a creepy voice came up and, fortunately, Jones' wife happened to be acquainted with the legendary horror film star, Vincent Price. Who better to offer a really creepy spoken word outro for the song than Price?

1. Eddie Van Halen

In 1983, Van Halen was a fairly popular band, but nothing like what they would become after the release of 1984, so when Eddie Van Halen was chosen to play on "Beat It," it was a big deal to both the band but also to hard rock aficionados everywhere. His killer guitar riff and blazing solo, complete with requisite Eddie Van Halen-style finger tapping, provided a serious dose of intensity to a song about gang violence.

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Not to diminish Eddie Van Halen's contribution.  Bringing his name to the album really helped bridge musical and cultural gaps.  

However, the riff was no his only the solo.  In fact in many interviews Steve Lukather talks about how Eddie did the solo in the wrong time signature and he and Jeff Porcaro had to go back in and redo much of what they had originally laid on tracks (killer riff included).

Craig Malisow
Craig Malisow

I didn't know that about Toto! So now I can't help but think how awesome it would've been to hear Michael Jackson do the vocals on "Africa." "I hear the drums echoing tonight -- shamone, hee-hee-hee!" 


John Landis... not Michael.


Not all that surprising considering how big an alcoholic Eddie was.


Thanks! I think the original sentence had both names in it and I transposed them. Appreciate the heads up.

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