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Thriller
Thriller
by Michael Jackson
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Thriller Songwriting

Zero in on the lyrics for deeper meaning.

In addition to revolutionizing music videos, the lyrics to "Thriller" may have been a minor revolution in songwriting. The lyrics and music combine the traditional style of the scary story with the newer genre of the pop song, to an odd but catchy effect.

Gothic horror stories (like The Red Room or A Rose For Emily have been around for hundreds of years, dating back at least to the European Enlightenment (apparently the Age of Reason was a little scary for some). Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is probably the most famous monster of Gothic horror (did you know she wrote the book when she was 19 years old?), and Bram Stoker's 1897 book Dracula brought vampires out of folklore and into written literature. But aside from the cheesy (yet still creepy) theme songs for horror and suspense films, horror has not made much headway as a musical genre of its own. So when Rod Temperton penned the lyrics to "Thriller," it was a little bit of creative innovation to write in the style and tone of a horror story.

The minds behind "Thriller" went all out with the horror theme, hiring Vincent Price—a horror flick actor with a famously sinister voice—to "rap" on the track. Add a set of horror film sound effects (howling wolves, creaking doors, thunder, and footsteps on the floorboards) and you have all the materials for a soundtrack scary enough to give little kids nightmares.

The effect is a little goofy in retrospect, but the daring track somehow still succeeds as a pop song. What do you think? Does "Thriller" make fun of the horror genre, or just make good pop music out of it?

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