It was late 1982, and things were not going well for pop culture. The music industry was flailing with the fall of disco. MTV still rarely played a music video by a black artist, but shoulder pads and leotards were considered cool. Enter 24-year-old Michael Jackson, a sinister horror-flick voiceover, a former Playboy Bunny, a werewolf, and a pack of zombies: the ingredients for "Thriller," often called the greatest music video ever made. The world of pop would literally never be the same.
About the Song
Michael Jackson (solo and background vocals), Vincent Price (rap), Rod Temperton (synthesizers, arrangements) Greg Phillinganes (synthesizers), Brian Banks (synthesizers), Anthony Marinelli (synthesizer programming), David Williams (guitar), Jerry Hey, Gary Grant (trumpets, flugelhorns), Larry Williams (saxophone, flute), Bill Reichenbach (trombone), Jerry Hey (horn arrangement), Bruce Cannon and Bruce Swedien (effects)
Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
Thriller is still the biggest-selling studio album in music history. But the early 1980s weren't just a time for great pop albums: MJ was on the rise during a period of deep economic recession and rapid social change. His great music videos (including "Thriller," "Billie Jean" and "Beat It") went out to an audience that was in some ways only just getting comfortable with racial integration in music.
What made zombies and creepy-crawly things such a hit with MJ's blockbusting, newly multi-racial audience? People have often theorized that popular horror characters actually represent the deepest fears and troubles of the culture. Beyond the fading Cold War, the death of playwright Tennessee Williams, and an inappropriate cultural interest in stirrup pants, what was troubling Thriller-era Americans? Read on to find out more.
On the Charts
"Thriller" was one of seven top-ten hits on Michael Jackson's huge hit albumof the same name.
Thriller is the best-selling album in history. It has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide and it is certified 28x platinum in the United States.
"Thriller" was awarded Grammys in 1983 for Best Engineered Recording and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, along with a win for Thriller as the Album of the Year.
"Thriller" peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart after its release as a single in 1984.
The song peaked at #1 on the Dance Music/Club Play Singles chart and #3 on the Hot R&B/Hip-hop songs chart.
"Thriller" topped the charts in France and Belgium in early 1984.
The music video for "Thriller" was nominated for six MTV Video Music Awards in 1985, and won three: Best Overall Performance, Best Choreography, and Viewer's Choice. The film would go on to become iconic in the world of music videos, but lost the Video of the Year award that year to Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer."
To make up for missing the boat in 1985, MTV named "Thriller" "The Greatest Music Video Ever Made" in 1999.
VH1 named the "Thriller" video the #1 greatest video on a 2001 viewer's choice list.