On the first day that star producer Quincy Jones got together with Michael Jackson and the group of musicians who made the Thriller album, these were his words to the crew: "OK guys, we're here to save the recording industry." The record business was on the outs, and they wanted to make an album that would be full of hits, changing the whole music scene and revitalizing the industry.
Incredibly enough, the album they came out with was in the Billboard Top Ten for over a year, and stayed at the number one spot for much of that year. Epic records released seven singles for radio play from the album, a record for singles released off of one pop album. As the album's success hovered at an astonishing high, Epic and CBS also finally managed to pressure MTV into taking work by a black musician seriously for the first time. They worked to convince both MTV and Showtime that a 15-minute music video with a complex plot would be a hit with fans.
It's hard to overstate just how popular the video went on to become. The budget for "Thriller," at $500,000, was the largest budget for any music video to date. The producers also chose to have a theatrical premiere (rarely done for a music video). At the end of the premiere, when the star-studded audience demanded an encore, Eddie Murphy actually jumped up and suggested that they just "show the goddamn thing again"—so they did. At the height of the popularity of the "Thriller" video, the 14-minute piece story appeared on MTV twice an hour. The video, according to director John Landis, "changed everything."
We would be hard-pressed to come up with an example of a music video in the nearly thirty years since that has had such a defining effect on the industry. Even recent run-away video hits like Lady Gaga's "Telephone" or Eminem and Rihanna's "Love the Way You Lie" owe something to "Thriller": before "Thriller," complex plots and acting were just not a big part of music videos. And, of course, the "Thriller" dance lives on, inspiring literally tens of thousands of people around the world each year to dance like zombies. Michael Jackson has died, but his un-dead influence lives on.