Michael Jackson. The most controversial entertainer of all time? It's a shame that the web of rumours and questionable behaviour that surrounds Michael has overshadowed his career because albums like Thriller give substantial weight to his claim to the title King of Pop. Thriller, on paper, sounds like the type of album the music snob would traditionally reject: insanely popular, overly commercial, inseparable from its accompanying music videos and dance moves. But oddly enough, Thriller is made much stronger by all of this. It's not just an album; it's a bona fide cultural phenomenon. Thriller is not all style (as many would lead you to believe), but is overwhelming good musically. Michael like few artists before him (the Beach Boys and the Beatles instantly come to mind) has crafted a canon of songs that, besides being as familiar in America as the national anthem, stand on their own as musical accomplishments. Okay. I'm starting to get a little too gushy now. Any of the tracks on Thriller should be instantly familiar to anyone, even people who don't own the album, and Michael's music is very good (not Beach Boys/Beatles good but still). Michael has become the most recognizable artist in popular music, and you don't get there solely on cold, clinical analysis and marketing strategies. It takes real emotion and artistry to rise above the rest, and Michael more than any other Pop entertainer has proven this.
The opening track "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" should shatter anyone's perception of Michael as a nice, happy-go-lucky pop crooner. The song is vicious, angry and almost menacing. It's unlike anything Michael had done before, and I'm not sure if he ever matched its pure rage and hard funk again. The next song "Baby Be Mine" is a standard love song pushed over the top by Jackson's pure joy. There’s quite the contrast between the first two tracks. "Baby Be Mine" had the potential to be a very sappy, pointless song, but Michael turned it to gold. Following "Baby Be Mine" is the Jackson/McCartney duet "The Girl Is Mine". Strangely, I don't like this track as much as the previous even though it's absolutely superb and McCartney was simply the icing on the cake. I think the perfection of the track kills it. While "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" sounds like it's about to go over the edge at any time and "Baby Be Mine" shines despite its saccharine theme, "The Girl Is Mine" is simply too perfect. It's a great track, but shows Michael's greatest flaw at this period - he was perfect to the point of being inhuman.
The only real dud on the album is the title track. Of course, it still makes for fabulous listening, but the Vincent Price voiceover combined with the overly long song length drags the song down. "Beat It" and "Billie Jean" need no long examination. Unless you live under a rock, the two songs should be as familiar as "California Girls" or "I Want To Hold Your Hand". "Beat It" still blows me away. Eddie Van Halen on a Michael Jackson album? Wow. Thriller may be the ultimate product of calculated studio perfection, but unexpected moves like putting a Heavy Metal guitarist on a Pop single are very adventurous and out of the box. By the way, "Billie Jean" the song is still way cooler than any damn light up sidewalk. Funny how even at this early stage Michael was showing signs of a deep paranoia.
Following the "Beat it"/"Billie Jean" blitzkrieg is the mellow ballad "Human Nature". Solid work. It's not as mind-blowing as other tracks, but is executed beautifully and remains an unforgettable part of the Jackson canon. But right after the calm of "Human Nature" Michael bursts into the second Funk track on the album: "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)". That might be my personal favorite track on the album. "Billie Jean" et al gets all the attention, but unbelievably funky tracks like "P.Y.T." barely warrant a mention. I really love the song, and think it's Michael's best Funk song. Finally the album closes to the gentle ballad "The Lady In My Life". The song may be too sweet for some, but Michael sings it with great feeling. It's a lovely closer to an album that began so fiercely. So there you go. You have at least 7 reasons to run out immediately and purchase the album. Thriller is a must own. What are you waiting for?