Study Guide

Thriller

Thriller Introduction

In a Nutshell

It was late 1982, and things weren't 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

ArtistJackson, Michael
LabelEpic
Writer(s)Rod Temperton
Producer(s)Quincy Jones
Musician(s)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)
Learn to play
AlbumThriller

Music Video

Influences on Jackson, Michael

Fred Astaire
Sammy Davis Jr
Gene Kelly
Jackie Wilson
Frank Sinatra
The Bee Gees
Diana Ross
Chuck Berry
The Temptations
Ray Charles
Paul McCartney
Stevie Wonder
The Supremes
Tina Turner

Influenced by Jackson, Michael

Janet Jackson
Whitney Houston
Prince
Weird Al
Justin Timberlake
Black-Eyed Peas
R. Kelly
Ne-Yo
NSYNC

Thriller Resources

Books

Michael Jackson: The Making of "Thriller": 4 Days/1983, by Douglas Kirkland (2010)
A hot title by a photographer and journalist who was on the set back in the day.

Thriller 25th Anniversary Book (2008)
Behind-the-scenes stories and new photos celebrated 25 years of the Thriller album.

History is Dead: A Zombie Anthology, edited by Kim Paffenroth (2007)
Some of the latest in zombie cultural studies.

The United States Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934, by Hans R. Schmidt (1995)
Called "required reading" for those interested in Caribbean and Latin American politics and U.S. foreign policy. Plus, totally relevant to the current discussion of zombies!

Albums

Thriller
The original album has sold over 50 million copies.

The Essential Michael Jackson
Get it.

Halloween Monster Dance Party
Pretty much any good Halloween mix includes "Thriller."

Images

Scary MJ
Michael Jackson in the video.

Michael Jackson zombie
More zombie makeup.

Zombies
MJ with a crew of zombies.

MJ mid-dance
He's wearing his famous jacket.

Great dancing pic
MJ in zombie mode.

MJ with E.T.
A pop star and an alien – what's not to like?

The E.T. Album Cover
The album that MJ's record company was afraid would take too much focus off of Thriller. Hardly.

Movies & TV

"Thriller" Music Video
Download from iTunes to watch it over and over.

"Thriller" Teaching DVD
Order this DVD to teach yourself and others how to dance to "Thriller" just like MJ.

Websites

Thrill the World
A site—and large, international project—devoted entirely to getting people to learn and perform the "Thriller" dance.

Exclusive: How Michael Jackson's Thriller Changed the Music Business
An in-depth report from the BBC about the history and influence of Thriller.

Michael Jackson Official Site
Includes Halloween promotions on the official "Thriller" costume.

"We the Living Dead": The Convoluted Politics of Zombie Cinema
A brief, brainy breakdown of zombie cinema and anti-capitalist sentiment.

Bob Corbett's Haitian History Page
Includes links to great resources on Haitian culture and history.

Thriller Costume
A whole site dedicated to getting dressed up like Michael Jackson in "Thriller."

Video & Audio

"Thriller" Music Video
Brought to you by MTV, even though they didn't give it the Video of the Year award in 1984.

E.T. Storybook Album
Narrated by Michael Jackson with an original song, and produced by "Thriller" producer Quincy Jones, this album was released just weeks before the Thriller album came out, causing a minor drama between the albums' corporate production teams.

"Thriller" live
See MJ perform "Thriller" during a 1987 tour.

Prisoners in the Philippines dance to "Thriller"
This video of over 1500 prisoners doing the "Thriller" dance was a huge YouTube hit.

"Thriller" dance world record attempt
Wisconsin tries to beat out Mexico City, perhaps unsuccessfully, with a big-group version of the dance.