Tuesday, March 24, 2009

March 24: Michael Jackson, "Thriller"

Artist: Michael Jackson
Album: Thriller
Year: 1982
Label: Epic

There are certain artists that are so massive in significance that it is truly difficult to separate the music from the individual. These artists have such widespread impact that their presence alone can induce riots, and their style and sound are mimicked across the globe. When it comes to the phrase "international superstar," there are few bigger than the "King Of Pop" himself, Michael Jackson. For nearly forty years, Jackson has been a force to be reckoned with in the world of music. While his solo debut, Off The Wall, was a telling sign of things to come, it is his legendary 1982 release, Thriller, that catapulted him permanently into the musical stratosphere.

It is hard to figure out where to start when talking about an album that had such wide-ranged impact as Thriller. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the record is, while most albums have two, MAYBE three singles, SEVEN of Thriller's nine songs became "Top Ten" hits worldwide. To call such a feat "astounding" is an understatement, especially considering that this triumph was also accomplished whilst passing Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon and The Eagles Greatest Hits to become the largest selling album in music history (it still holds the title). Thriller also won a record breaking eight Grammy awards, including "Album of the Year," "best male vocals" in the pop, r&b, AND rock categories, and a pair of Thriller's songs were nominated for "Song of the Year."

While Off The Wall had a bit more of a "disco" feel to it, Thriller is all about being outright funky. This may be due to the fact that music icon Quincy Jones played a major role in the albums' production. Sounds ranging from Afrobeat based chanting, to brilliantly arranged horn sections, to the trademark synth sounds that defined the 1980's, Thriller truly has everything one could want in a record. Nearly every song on the record is instantly recognizable from its opening chords, and there are few people on the planet who don't know the lyrics to every song (even though they may not realize it). Sisters Janet and LaToya Jackson both lend backing vocals to the record, and musicians from Paul McCartney to rising guitar virtuoso Eddie VanHalen make appearances throughout Thriller. Oh, and Vincent Price makes a famed cameo on the title track...VINCENT FREAKING PRICE!!!

While the musical arrangements throughout the record are absolutely wonderful, the truth remains that the driving force behind the entire record is the vocal work of Jackson. In the case of Michael Jackson, at times, it's not what he sings, but the manner in which he sings.While Jackson's limitless vocal range was already well known by this point, Thirller marks the point where it was clear that he was able to convey the emotion of the songs in ways never before heard. The attitude and soul behind his vocal performances are inspired, and it is obviously that Jackson enjoyed the entire process of recording the vocals. The grunts, "ohh's" and other vocal ad-libbing by Jackson that first appeared on Thriller have now become directly associated with Jackson to the point where the textures he creates with his vocals are often lampooned.

It is impossible to deny the fact that there was one force, beyond the music and vocals that helped to make Thriller as successful as it became; MTV. The albums' release coincided almost perfectly with the moment when MTV began to get a worldwide audience. Needing a superstar to help lift the network to the top, and give the idea behind the network some sense of "credibility," Jackson filled the role with a handful of now legendary music videos. Whether it is the lighted sidewalk of "Billie Jean," the poolhall of "Beat It," or the utterly legendary "Thriller," the videos that Jackson released for the record have become icons in their own right. Case in point, Michael's red leather jacket and the "zombie dance scene"...you can picture them, right? Icons.

With a visual medium now in place, one more aspect that makes Michael Jackson the "King of Pop" became evident to the world; the guy could dance! From the aforementioned "zombie dance" to the spins and pop and lock movements, Jackson is still regarded as one of the most talented dancers ever in music. This is not even mentioning the most envy-inducing dance move in the history of the universe: The Moonwalk. Even three decades later, any mortal who can perform the move is instantly vaulted to a higher status than anyone else in the area. It is also perhaps the most universally recognized dance move that people can "name." While a majority of the trends and fads of the 1980's disappeared long ago, The Moonwalk is truly timeless and will be attempted by generations to come.

Michael Jackson will forever remain one of the most important musicians in the history of recorded music. From his early hits with The Jackson 5 to his legendary videos, he defines the word "icon." Though he has only released two albums over the past two decades, the work he released before the 1990's will forever remain some of the most treasured music the world has ever heard. Boundless vocal range, all of the soul and attitude that one can handle, and some of the best dance moves ever make Michael Jackson the kind of talent that will never again be seen. His 1982 release, Thriller, remains the best selling record in history, and with good reason, it is one of the greatest recordings ever, and everyone should own and love a copy.

Standout tracks: "Thriller," "Billie Jean," and "Beat It."

No comments: