Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The #1 Album of All-Time in the Rock Era--"Thriller" by Michael Jackson

To recap the Top 10 Albums*, #10 was Back in Black from AC/DC, Pink Floyd had #9--Dark Side of the Moon, the Beatles were at #8 with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Carole King was at 7 with Tapestry, Alanis Morissette had #6--Jagged Little Pill, Led Zeppelin came in fifth with Led Zeppelin IV, Stevie Wonder had the #4 album with Songs in the Key of Life, Boston was #3 with Boston and Fleetwood Mac came in at #2 with Rumours.

And so we're at #1.  The top two albums are considerably above the rest, so any ranking that does not have one or the other #1 is doing a tremendous disservice to the public.

Michael Jackson had become a big solo star after his Off the Wall album, but Thriller was the album that cemented his reputation as a full-blown superstar.  It was a landmark albums in many ways, most notably as the first album to contain seven hit songs.  Worldwide, the sales of Thriller have been estimated between 65 and 100 million.

In 1980, Michael Jackson asked Rolling Stone magazine if they would be interested in doing a cover story.  The magazine with so much foresight (not) declined.  "I've been told over and over by people in the music business that people don't want to see a black person on the cover of a magazine," Jackson said.

Jackson got producer Quincy Jones, who produced Off the Wall, for this album as well, and Jones did a masterful job.  Jackson also brought in members of Toto for their outstanding musicianship to play on the album.  Jackson wrote four songs on the album, singing them into a recorder, then recording the songs from memory in the studio.  Michael dealt with themes of paranoia and obsession, gangs, gossip and the media.

Thriller reached the Top 10 in its third week, then slowly climbed up until it took over at #1 on February 26, 1983.  The album spent 17 consecutive weeks as the top album in the land.  Three weeks later, it regained the top spot  for two weeks until the Police's red-hot album Synchronicity took over.  Remarkably after seven more weeks, Thriller was again at the top, now in its 38th week on the chart.  But it was a brief stay of just one week as the two albums battled it out.  Synchronicity chalked up another 10 weeks at #1, then gave way to two other #1 albums, including Can't Slow Down by Lionel Richie, which we've seen in The Top 10 Albums of All-Time*.  In most other cases, Thriller would be long gone and would just go down in history as a great album.

But rather it was hanging around in the Top 3 all this time and on December 24, 1983, it made its fourth run at #1.  The album was now in its 53rd week and most people should have realized at this time that the album was one for the ages.  This time, it couldn't be topped.  The album still sold extremely well after a year of release.  On March 17, 1984, Thriller broke the all-time record for weeks at #1 held by Fleetwood Mac's Rumours of 31 weeks.  The amazing album went on to record 37 weeks at #1.  

Even more impressive than that was 17 weeks at #2 and nine weeks at #3--an incredible 63 weeks just in the Top 3.  All told, Thriller remained in the Top 10 for 77 weeks and 122 on the chart.  It has sold 29 million units in the United States alone and has an outstanding Track Rating* of 9.11.

Thriller sold over a million copies per week at its peak.  "The Girl Is Mine", a duet with Paul McCartney, was the first single, followed by the #1 "Billie Jean", which took the album to #1.  "Beat It", which featured the guitars of Eddie Van Halen and Steve Lukather, also reached #1.  "Wanna' Be Startin' Somethin'" was the third single, followed by the ballad "Human Nature", "PYT (Pretty Young Thing)" and the title cut "Thriller".  These seven singles rang up unprecedented airplay for the album.

Thriller also reached #1 in Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden and the U.K.; in other words thorough world domination.  Thriller is one of only three albums to remain in the Top 10 for an entire year.  It is the only album in history to be the #1 seller in two different years (1984 and 1985).  

So we now know that Thriller is the #1 album based on sales, weeks at #1, weeks at #3.  It is second only to Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. (82 weeks) for weeks in the Top 10.  And it is the #1 album based on airplay.  When one is doing rankings, rarely is one item #1 at so many things, especially when we are considering 56 years worth of material.  But it is also a dominant #1 in one other category--awards.

Thriller won a record eight Grammys (tied by Santana in 2000) including Album of the Year, Record of the Year ("Beat It"), Producer of the Year, Best Male Rock Vocal Performance ("Beat It"), Best Male R&B Song and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance (both for "Billie Jean").  It also captured eight American Music Awards, the Special Award of Merit (which was unheard of on the basis of a current album) and three MTV Video Music Awards (Best Overall Video, Best Choreography and Viewer's Choice Award--all for "Thriller").  Jackson won American Music Awards for Favorite Male Vocalist, Favorite Album, Favorite Single ("Billie Jean", Favorite R&B Album, Favorite R&B Male Vocalist, Favorite Video and Favorite Soul Video (both for "Beat It").

Thriller won an unprecedented 12 Billboard Music Awards, including Album of the Year, Artist of the Year, Black Artist of the Year, Album Artist, Singles Artist, Male Album Artist, Male Singles Artist, Black Album, Black Album Artist, Black Singles Artist and Dance/Disco Artist.  It also won five Billboard Video Awards and two People's Choice Awards (for Best All-Around Entertainer of the Year and Favorite Video of the Year ("Thriller"). 

The album was named Album of the Year in Australia and Holland.  It won International Artist of the Year in Brazil and Italy for Jackson, Artist and Album of the Year in both Japan and the U.K., Most Important Foreign Album in Spain and Record of the Year in Greece.  Further, the Library of Congress has preserved the video to "Thriller" as "culturally significant" in the National Recording Registry. 

Thriller took its place as the #1 album in history when Guinness Book of World Records inducted the album as the world's top-seller on February 7, 1984.  Since that time, it has not only held on to that spot but actually increased its lead, continuing to sell over 130,000 copies per year.  In fact, in 2009, Thriller was the 14th best-selling album of the year, selling over 1.2 million copies--that's 26 years after its release.  Biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli said, "At some point Thriller stopped selling like a leisure item (a movie ticket, a toy, etc.) and started selling like a household staple.  

It is that huge sales lead that is largely responsible for placing at #1 for the Rock Era*.  Other albums, most notably Rumours, Boston, Led Zeppelin IV and Hysteria, are catching up to it in airplay because airplays for Thriller have begun to tail off.  Since airplay and sales are so closely related, the gap in sales could start getting smaller.  In the formula that determined The Top 100 Albums*, Rumours doesn't have to be the top seller to be #1, but it has to get closer than it is right now. 

Thriller changed culture too, at least at the time.  Back when MTV was a music channel, they refused to play Jackson's videos because he was black, but were finally persuaded by CBS Records.  After the huge success of the videos "Billie Jean", "Beat It" and of course the icon "Thriller" video, other black artists began getting airplay on the then-music channel as well.  MTV of course denies racism.  Jackson changed music videos into an art form.  Time magazine noted, "Jackson is the biggest thing since the Beatles.  He is the hottest single phenomenon since Elvis Presley.  He just may be the most popular black singer ever."

25 Years after its release, Thriller was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and was one of 25 albums preserved by the Library of Congress for its historical significance.

(All songs written by Michael Jackson unless otherwise noted.)

1.  "Wanna' Be Startin' Somethin'" --6:02
2.  "Baby Be Mine" (Rod Temperton) --4:20
3.  "The Girl Is Mine" (with Paul McCartney)  --3:42
4.  "Thriller" (voice by Vincent Price) (Temperton) --5:57
5.  "Beat It" (guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen) --4:19
6.  "Billie Jean" --4:54
7.  "Human Nature" (Steve Porcaro, John Bettis) --4:05
8.  "P.Y. T. (Pretty Young Thing)" (James Ingram, Quincy Jones) --3:58
9.  "The Lady in My Life" (Temperton) --4:59

Eddie Van Halen contributed the outstanding guitar solo on "Beat It", Vincent Price did the unforgettable voice-over on "Thriller" and Sir Paul McCartney shared vocals with Jackson on "The Girl Is Mine".  Michael's sisters Janet and LaToya sang background vocals on "PYT".   Jeff Porcaro of Toto played drums and organized horn and string arrangements on the album.  Steve Lukather of Toto played guitar and bass guitar.  Dean Parks, Paul Jackson and David Williams played guitar and Louis Johnson played bass.  Michael Boddicker and Brian Banks, David Foster, Greg Phillinganes, Rod Temperton, Bill Wolfer and Steve Porcaro and David Paich of Toto played keyboards and synthesizers.   N'dugu Chancler played drums and Paulinho da Costa played percussion.  Gary Grant and Jerry Hey played trumpet and flugelhorn on the album, Bill Reichenbach played trombone and Larry Williams played saxophone and flute.   

Thriller was recorded from April 14 to November 8 of 1982 at Westlake Recording Studios in Los Angeles.  Quincy Jones was the executive producer and Michael Jackson co-produced the album.  Bruce Swedien was the recording engineer and mixed the album, which was released November 30, 1982 on Epic Records.

It is the pinnacle, the summit of what an album can be.  Michael Jackson stretched the boundaries and in a surge of creative genius, gave us what will likely be the #1 Album of All-Time* for quite a while.  It has been 99 days since Tusk came in at #100.  Michael Jackson's Thriller continues to place at #1.

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