Good news everyone: Kanye West has made the best album, not of all time - of all life. While we wait for that masterpiece to be dropped, let’s look back on someone who was almost as good as Kanye, in his day. One of the most famous people possibly ever, this week’s album to listen to before you die comes from none other than Michael Jackson, with his sixth studio album Thriller.
This album came off the back of the multi-platinum-selling Off The Wall (which gave us Don’t Stop ‘Till You Get Enough) and was to cement Jackson’s position as the King of Pop. The album itself is almost unique in that it’s made almost completely of singles, with seven out of the nine tracks being released, the exceptions being Baby Be Mine and That Lady In My Life. With seven singles comes a certain amount of exposure, which is what happened to epic proportions with this record. According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, Thriller sold between 50-70 million copies, with Jackson himself amassing over one billion total sales throughout his career. It also caused a cultural storm with the release of three videos, which were more like short films, for Beat It, Thriller, and Billie Jean. I think I am yet to meet someone who hasn’t seen the Thriller video. In fact, pretty much everyone knew about it; Jackson was one of the only black artists that MTV played back when it generally refused to play music by people of colour. Shockingly, MTV funded the Thriller video when Jackson’s own label refused to back it. Needless to say, it got its money’s worth.
The majority of the tracks on this album are pure funk, but in a way that’s marketable to lovers of R&B, Pop, and Soul. With the risk of sounding like a 50-year-old woman trying to get down with the kids, my one word summary of Thriller would be “groovy”. Only three of the nine tracks aren’t suitable for a 80s dancefloor (unless you fancy a slow dance) and it’s on these tracks that, for me, the album falters. Human Nature, for example, has a little too much sincerity for me. I imagine someone singing it while pointing out at the sea with narrowed eyes, reminding us all that at the end of the day we’re all just people, you know? My favourite, The Lady Is Mine, is a classic example of what I like to call Scooby Doo music: a little hi-hat, a little synth, a man in a fedora telling us, “This one’s for all the lovers out there.” However, these weaker moments are made up for and then some by the stronger tracks. These songs are the Titans of pop music - so much so that there’s little point in me writing about Beat It, Thriller, and Billie Jean, because really, everybody knows how genius those songs are.
With so many singles, as well as the superstar status that this album has, most people have heard the majority of these tracks, and I’m no exception. There were, however, a few I didn’t know, such as The Girl Is Mine. This seems more of a throwback to the slow jams of The Jackson 5, and I was almost convinced into liking it until it broke down into a strange conversation between Jackson and Paul McCartney over who this girl belongs to. It is cringe-worthy and, in my opinion, miscalculated but Hey Ho, what do I know? Without it (and ignoring the objectification of the woman in question throughout) this song is actually quite sweet, while remaining relatively funky. Baby Be Mine (I’m sensing a theme here) is the personification of funk, with a beat that had me embarrassingly bopping along as I type. Admittedly, I think this track in particular isn’t as timeless as the other classics (will we ever tire of hearing Billie Jean?) in that it is very 80s - not that that’s an insult.
In a way, it’s difficult to judge this as an album rather than a collection of greatest hits, because all of these tracks were meant to stand alone. All that’s really left to say is that while Michael Jackson struggled with a huge number of issues personally, he was able to keep his music almost perfect, especially at this time in his career. Countless subsequent singers have named him as their inspiration, and undoubtedly countless more will. If nothing else, that’s a good enough reason to make this one of the albums to listen to before you die.