And don't go around breaking young girls' hearts"
And mother always told me, "Be careful of who you love,
And be careful of what you do, 'cause the lie becomes the truth"
Continuing his collaboration with Quincy Jones, it went on to become the best-selling music album in history, selling over 34 million copies domestically and over 65 million copies worldwide; there's probably a copy of it nearby to your house. Seven of the nine tracks on the album were released as singles, with each one reaching the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Three of the singles — "Billie Jean", "Beat It" and "Thriller" — were accompanied by music videos that elevated the record to its iconic status and, by extension, defined the art of the music video medium itself.
Officially, this album is the only original album certified by the RIAA as triple-Diamond (more exactly, 34-times Platinum), with four singles listed as multi-Platinum. The album also went 13-times Platinum in the United Kingdom, earning Michael more worldwide certifications from one album and its singles than almost any other musician gets in their entire careers.
Although Jackson was already world-famous since the 1970s, and music videos already existed as a promotional tool, both he and the medium became a dominating force in the music industry. He broke down racial barriers via his MTV appearances, won eight Grammys including the 1984 Album of the Year, and even met then-US President Ronald Reagan at the White House. Since 2007, "Thriller" has been included in the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry of "historically, culturally and aesthetically significant recordings". In 2009, the iconic music video in which Jackson dances with zombies was included in the National Film Preservation Board's National Film Registry for the same reasons.
The album was re-issued in a 25th anniversary edition, Thriller 25, on February 11, 2008. It added five remixes and one new song, "For All Time". A deluxe edition included a second disc with a second additional song ("Someone in the Dark"), various interviews and an instrumental version of the Title Track, as well as a DVD with the music videos from the album. Another reissue for its 40th anniversary, Thriller 40 (released on November 18, 2022), features another bonus disc with a completely different tracklist, mostly consisting of unreleased songs and outtakes related to the album.
- "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" (6:02)
- "Baby Be Mine" (4:20)
- "The Girl Is Mine" (3:42)
- "Thriller" (5:57)
- "Beat It" (4:17)
- "Billie Jean" (4:57)
- "Human Nature" (4:05)
- "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" (3:58)
- "The Lady In My Life" (4:57)
Thriller 25 Outtakes:
- "For All Time" (4:03)
- "Someone in the Dark" (4:48)
Thriller 40 Outtakes:
- "Got the Hots" (4:25)
- "Who Do You Know?" (5:22)
- "Carousel" (3:39)note
- "Behind the Mask" (5:00)note
- "Can't Get Outta the Rain" (4:06)
- "The Toy" (3:04)
- "Sunset Driver" (4:02)
- "What a Lovely Way to Go" (3:55)
- "She's Trouble" (4:12)
I said, "you wanna be tropin' somethin':"
- Album Filler: Michael set out to avoid this, wanting to make an album where every song could potentially be a single. It paid off. That said, there has been some debate over the years as to whether the album has any "weak links", and if so, what they are:
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, in his review of the album for AllMusic, accuses none other than the title track of this, claiming that it "saps the momentum".
- Todd in the Shadows is among those who claim the follow-up Bad to be the superior album, specifically because it has less filler than Thriller does.
- And Starring: Horror movie icon Vincent Price during "Thriller" and Paul McCartney duets with Michael in "The Girl is Mine."
- Artistic License – History: "The funk of forty-thousand years" from "Thriller" is a wonderful lyric, but has a lot of fridge logic in that it pretty much exceeds human civilization – longer than any surviving tomb could stand.
- Continuity Nod: Billie Jean is name-dropped during "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'."
- Crossover: Paul McCartney duets with Michael during "The Girl is Mine". Both singers had belonged to groups that had their own animated series.
- Cute Kitten: As the gatefold cover◊ and the 2001 slipcase◊ show, Jackson was with a tiger cub while shooting the cover (it even matches the leopard handkerchief in his outfit).
- Darker and Edgier: Compared to Jackson's previous joyful dance output, the three Top 10 hit singles of Thriller are paranoid songs about escaping from stuff in the dark ("Thriller"), street gangs ("Beat It") and a woman claiming that Jackson fathered her child ("Billie Jean"), respectively.
- Electronic Speech Impediment: Squeaky voices near the end of "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)."
- Epic Instrumental Opener: The 12" release of "Billie Jean" features a lengthy 42-second instrumental intro before the song proper begins. Jackson intended for this to be the version on the album, but producer Quincy Jones chose to cut the intro down to just 27 seconds (to Jackson's protest), both to increase the song's accessibility and because a test acetate of the album with the full song came back sounding horrible due to technical constraints.
- Epic Rocking: "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" is just over six minutes long.note The Title Track is three seconds off the six minute mark.
- Evil Laugh: The title track ends with Vincent Price doing one of the most iconic ones in modern music history.
- Face on the Cover: Michael, in close-up, sitting up on the floor.
- Face-Revealing Turn: The music video for "Thriller" ends with Jackson turning towards the camera, revealing yellow cat eyes and revealing that he was the same werecat from the Show Within a Show.
- Franchise Codifier: Although Jackson's solo career saw success early on, much of his early output was very much rooted in standard 70's pop, with brief forays into Philly soul and disco. It wasn't until this album when Jackson solidified his iconic blend of R&B and post-disco, creating the template that he'd build off of for the remainder of his career.
- Genre Roulette: Pop, soul, funk, and R&B. "Beat It" has an electric guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen, which brought in countless rock fans. In retrospect, the album also has shades of EDM and Hip-Hop (see Unbuilt Trope).
- Grow Old with Me: "The Lady in My Life."And even when we're old and greyYou'll always be the lady in my life
- Hair-Trigger Temper: "Beat It."The fire's in their eyes and their words are really clear
- Let's Duet: "The Girl is Mine," between Michael and Paul McCartney. Jackson would return the favor by appearing on McCartney's own single "Say Say Say" the following year.
- Longest Song Goes First: The 6:02 "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'", the only track on the album to surpass six minutes, serves as the opener.
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Billie Jean," an upbeat dance tune about a girl claiming that Jackson is the father of her child.
- Lyrical Tic:A-hi-hi-hiiii
- Michael Jackson's Thriller Parody: Trope Namer.
- One-Word Title: "Thriller."
- Pep-Talk Song: "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'":So keep your head up high and scream out to the world
I know I am someone
And let the truth unfurl
No-one can hurt me now
Because you know what's true
Yes, I believe in me
So you believe in you
- Properly Paranoid: "Thriller," "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" marked a change in Jackson's lyrics. While his earlier albums where all cheery dance songs or sad break-up songs he started to move into more paranoid songs.
- Quarreling Song: "The Girl is Mine," where Michael and Paul quarrel over the same girl.
- Running Gag: The same "ooh..." voice sample shows up on three songs in a row: "Billie Jean," "Human Nature," and "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)."
- Self-Backing Vocalist: On most of the songs Michael is backed by his own vocals.
- Sharp-Dressed Man: Michael's white suit in the cover. Which amusingly, was the photographer's own!
- Silly Love Songs: "Baby Be Mine," "The Girl is Mine," "Human Nature," "P.Y.T.," and "The Lady in My Life."
- Singer Name Drop: "The Girl is Mine."Paul: Michael, we're not going to fight about this.
Michael: Paul, I think I told you. I'm a lover, not a fighter.
- Special Guest:
- Paul McCartney duets with Jackson on "The Girl is Mine."
- Eddie van Halen provides the guitar solo in "Beat It".
- Vincent Price performs the rap bridge on "Thriller."
- Prior Quincy Jones collaborator James Ingram performs backing vocals on "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" and "P.Y.T." (which he also co-wrote), also providing keyboards, handclaps, and musical arrangements on the latter song.
- Spoken Word in Music: Vincent Price's lines in "Thriller" are spoken.
- Struggling Single Mother: Alluded to in "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'":If you can't feed your baby
Then don't have a baby
And don't think maybe
If you can't feed your baby
You'll be always tryin'
To stop that child from cryin'
Hustlin', stealin', lyin'
Now baby's slowly dyin'
- Supergroup: The performers on "Beat It," arguably: among them are Jackson on vocals, three members of Toto on guitar, synthesizer and drums (Steve Lukather, Steve Porcaro and Jeff Porcaro, respectively), and Eddie van Halen performing the guitar solo.
- Updated Re-release: As it happened to several of his other records, this album got several re-releases during Jackson's lifetime and after his passing:
- In 2001, to promote what would be Jackson's last studio album Invincible. This "Special Edition" contained several audio interviews with Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton, the 1981 home demo of "Billie Jean," "Someone in the Dark" (taken from the E.T. soundtrack) and an unreleased demo excerpt recorded during the album's sessions, "Carousel."
- In 2008 for its 25th anniversary. This version titled "Thriller 25" contained the original tracks plus an excerpt from the voice-over by Vincent Price from "Thriller," remixes with guest appearances by will.i.am, Fergie, Akon and Kanye West and an outtake from the album's sessions, "For All Time." (The Japanese edition also contained yet another outtake titled "Got the Hots.")
- In 2009, for the box set titled "The Collection."
- In 2013, in the iTunes-exclusive collection "The Indispensable Collection."
- In preparation for the album's 40th anniversary, a new edition including both the original record plus a second disc with several unreleased demos was released on November 18, 2022.
- Unbuilt Trope: To several flavors of Electronic Music and Hip-Hop, especially Synth-Pop. While not a pure example of the genres itself, Thriller's pioneering use of synthetic audio, vocal manipulation, and sampling heavily influenced their origin and/or evolution.
- A Wild Rapper Appears!: Vincent Price technically counts showing up for the "Thriller Rap" that appears at the end of the song.