Michael Jackson’s Thriller Album Turns 35
On Nov. 30, 1982, Michael Jackson’s iconic album, Thriller, was released and immediately shook the world of entertainment, later becoming the best selling album in history with 47.3 million certified sales. The album, which shattered racial barriers, is currently the best selling album of all time and helped Jackson win a record 8 Grammy Awards in 1984.
According to one TIME report about a year after its release, Thriller was still selling 200,000 copies a week going into the 1983 holiday season. By the time Jackson appeared on the cover of TIME magazine in 1984, the headline was straightforward — “Why He’s a Thriller” — and the album had become the best-selling album ever.
The album was a game changer for Michael Jackson the person, the black man, and the artiste, as well as for the record industry and for the MTV generation that consumed music visually. Thriller was transcendental the way The Beatles or Elvis Presley were. Jackson graced the cover of the magazine in February 1983, for the first time as an adult, in an article appropriately titled Life as a Man.
Thriller’s other immensely successful song was ‘Beat It’, a number that saw Michael Jackson collaborate with Eddie Van Halen and Toto’s Steve Lukather. Reeling in the post-disco era, Jones and Jackson were inspired to create the ultimate rock song that would appeal to people of all musical palates. Eddie thought it was a prank call when Jones rang him up for a guitar solo on the song. Convinced that this was indeed the real deal, he borrowed an amplifier and recorded the solo free of charge. Lukather later reduced some of the distortion in Eddie’s playing to give it more mass appeal. ‘Beat It’’s success won it Record of the Year and Best Male Rock Vocal Performance at the 1984 Grammys.
“Not only did he become as big as the Beatles, he bought them too. A century after American whites owned blacks, a black performer owned the product of the most elite white group in the world.”
When Jackson died in 2009, Thriller was still remembered by many as a high point in his career — and one that proved that he would never again be overlooked by music critics. “For Generation X the magic is partly nostalgic; everyone between the ages of 35 and 45 remembers exactly where they were when they heard ‘Beat It’ for the first time,” wrote TIME’s Richard Corliss in his remembrance of the pop idol. “But as a piece of music, it remains the greatest pop album of all time.”