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Thriller Era

The Thriller years, 1982- 1984, would see Michael Jackson reach worldwide super stardom. Michael dominated the world of music, setting new standards and producing the biggest selling album of all time."

In June 1982, Michael Jackson started recording the ET Storybook. Quincy Jones would produce it; based on Steven Spielberg’s movie ET: The Extra Terrestrial. In addition to narrating, Michael would also record a single called “Someone in the Dark” to accompany the story. The book would be an instant hit when released in November 1982, and would also win Michael a Grammy Award in 1984 for “Best Album for Children”. Someone In The Dark
Michael with ET

Around the same time, Michael wrote and produced a song for Diana Ross called “Muscles”. It became a top ten hit for Diana and was nominated for a Grammy Award.

Prior to beginning work on the Thriller album, Michael Jackson teamed up with Paul McCartney to collaborate on 3 songs- “The Man”, “Say, Say, Say” and “The Girl Is Mine”. “Say, Say, Say” was included on Paul’s 1983 album Pipes of Peace and became a number one single in the U.S. “The Girl is Mine” was released as a single in August 1982 and was included on Michael’s Thriller album.

Michael started recording the Thriller album in April 1982. Originally to be called Starlight, the album included 4 original songs by Michael, (“Billie Jean”, “Beat It” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”, “The Girl Is Mine”), 3 songs by Rod Temperton (“Thriller”, “Baby Be Mine” and “The Lady In My Life”), a ballad by Toto (‘Human Nature”), and an infectious pop tune by James Ingram and Quincy Jones (“P.Y.T (Pretty Young Thing)”). Amongst the brilliant songwriters Michael collaborated with, he also teamed up with Eddie Van Halen for a guitar solo on “Beat it”, Vincent Price for a rap on “Thriller” and his sisters, LaToya and Janet Jackson for additional vocals on “P.Y.T”.

Pressure mounted as the deadline for the finish of the Thriller album approached and initially the mixes of the songs were rushed and not good enough to be released. The deadline was extended and the mixes perfected. The highly anticipated Thriller was finally released on November 30th 1982.

Michael’s original plan for the album was to include 3 music videos or “short films” for “Billie Jean”, “Beat It” and “Thriller”. “Billie Jean” was released as the album’s second single on January 22 1893. The music video was given a budget of $250,000 and was directed by Steve Baron. The concept came from both director and artist and proved to be very successful. After 3 weeks, “Billie Jean” hit the number one spot in the U.S.
At this time, MTV (or Music Television) rarely played black artists on their daily rotation. Michael Jackson was one of the first to get played on the station and the first to get played in “heavy rotation” (i.e. several times a day) with the video for ‘Billie Jean”. MTV started “heavy rotation” for the “Billie Jean” music video in March 1983. The video for ‘Beat It” would follow this trend. Many in the music industry have commented that it was Michael’s breakthrough with the channel that started other black artists’ music videos being played on MTV and also bolstered the station’s popularity.
Thriller’s sales soared and it was the first time an album would be at number one in the USA and the UK at the same time.
While “Billie Jean” was still at the top of the charts, the album’s third single was released; “Beat It”, on March 5, 1983. The short film for “Beat It” was paid for and conceptualised by Michael Jackson himself. It was directed by Bob Giraldi and co-choreographed by Michael Jackson and Michael Peters. The cast included 100 members of real street gangs and cost an estimated $150,000. “Beat It” became number one the week after its release and Michael Jackson became the first black artist to have the number one album and single simultaneously in the US and the UK.

On March 25th 1983, Michael performed on the television show: Motown 25: Yesterday, Today and Forever. The show would not air until May 16th 1983. Approximately 47 million viewers tuned into the show to watch the many Motown acts perform as well as a special performance by Michael Jackson and his brothers; the original cast of the Jackson Five plus Randy. After an emotional performance of a medley of Motown hits with his brothers, Michael stole the spotlight with his incredible solo performance of ‘Billie Jean”. During the electrifying performance, Michael debuted his now signature dance move: the moonwalk. The performance received an overwhelming response from the live audience and viewers all over the world. Some say that this was the performance of Michael Jackson’s career and it would launch him into super-stardom over night. Through the medium of television, Michael had confirmed his position as an incredible entertainer among his fans and also reached millions of people who had never experienced Michael Jackson’s talent as a singer and dancer. The performance sparked a new interest in the album Thriller and millions rushed to the store to purchase it. Michael’s Motown 25 performance was nominated for an Emmy award for “Best Individual Performance on a Variety or Music Program”.

As a result of the surge in sales of the album Thriller, millions also purchased albums by other artists. Cash box magazine dubbed Michael Jackson ‘the saviour of the record business” and Michael was credited for increasing interest in music, particularly black music. Revenues for record sales were at their highest since 1978 and Michael was also mentioned for increasing CBS record sales profits by a whopping 101% in 1983 alone.

In May 1983, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” was released and became Thriller’s forth number one single.

In June 1983 Michael fired his management. “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” still remained at the top of the charts and Michael took more care and more control in his business affairs. “Human Nature” and “P.Y.T” were released while Michael was planning the short film for “Thriller” and both became top 10 hits.
The short film and single “Thriller” was released on 2nd December 1983. For the 14 minute short film, John Landis was hired to direct and Rick Baker for special effects make up. The film cost an estimated $1 million of Michael’s own money. To re-coup some of the budget costs, John Landis negotiated a deal with Showtime, MTV and Vestron to fund a 60 minute documentary on the making of the short film. Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller was aired in 1984 and sold on video tape. It became the biggest selling music video of all time, with estimated sales of 9 million as of 2006.
Prior to the “Thriller” single release, the Thriller album sales had “slowed” to approx 200,000 copies a week The week after the single and short film was released, sales of the album soared and once again, Thriller was number one on the album charts. Estimated sales showed that the “Thriller” single and video resulted in an additional 14 million copies of the Thriller album being sold within a six month period.
At this time, Michael hired a new manager; Frank Dileo, who would remain with Michael for five years.

On January 16th, 1984, Michael Jackson attended the 11th Annual American Music Awards. He won 8 awards, including “Favourite Male Pop/Rock Artist”, “Favourite Pop/Rock Album” for Thriller, “Favourite Soul/R&B Album” for Thriller as well as the Award of Merit.

On January 27, 1984, Michael was burned on the back of his head while filming a commercial with his brothers for the Pepsi Corporation. The magnesium smoke bombs used for the commercial were to blame; being only two feet away from either side of Michael’s head. A spark from one of the bombs set Michael’s hair alight and resulted in second and third degree burns his scalp. As a result of the incident and news coverage, both Pepsi and Michael’s sales soared. Pepsi paid Michael Jackson $1.5 million, which he immediately donated to a burn centre created in his name and honour. Two subsequent Pepsi commercials were debuted at the Grammy awards ceremony in 1984.

On February 7th, 1984, Michael attended and collected a massive eight Grammy Awards from a staggering twelve nominations. Michael Jackson still holds the record for receiving the most Grammy Awards in a single year by an individual. He received seven awards for Thriller alone and one for The E.T. Storybook. Among the eight awards he received, he picked up “Record of the Year” for “Beat It”, “Album of the Year” for Thriller, “Best Pop Performance” for Thriller, and “Producer of the Year” for Thriller.

In May 1984, Michael was asked to donate the song “Beat It” for anti drink driving advertisements. For donating the song and for his many achievements in recoding and charity, Michael was given a special award at a presentation at the White House by President Ronald Reagan.

In July 1984, Michael embarked on the Victory Tour with The Jacksons. The Tour started on July 16th in Kansas City and the Victory album was released on the same day. The tour consisted of 55 shows over 5 months in the United States and Canada. The tour was the biggest and most successful of its time and Michael announced at the start of the tour that he would be donating all of his profits to charity. It would be Michael’s last tour with the brothers.

The Thriller campaign was officially shut down in 1984 and continued to sell a staggering amount of copies. By the end of 1984, Thriller had sold 33 million copies. Michael Jackson was inducted into the Guinness Book of World records as having the biggest-selling album of all time.
Today, Thriller is by far the biggest selling album of all time. It was re-certified in 2007 as having sold in excess of 104 million albums. It is estimated that Thriller sells approx 60,000 copies a year worldwide! Album sales aside, it still remains one of the most important and greatest albums of all time. It set many industry standards in recording and for the visual presentation of music.

In January 1985, Michael was asked to participate in an all-star recording to raise funds for charity United Support of Artists for Africa. U.S.A for Africa would raise funds to administer essential supplies and famine relief in Africa. Michael, who has always been sensitive to the plight of Africa, was so excited about the song that he offered to write it with Lionel Ritchie.

Michael and Lionel worked for a week at Michael’s Encino home and finally finished the music and lyrics for “We Are The World” the day prior to the scheduled recording of the song. The all-star cast to record the song included forty five chart topping artists. Quincy Jones was enlisted as producer and co-arranger with Tom Bahler.

The recording took place on 28th of January 1985. Michael told his fellow recording artists that night that “We Are The World” was a “love song to inspire concern about a faraway place close to home”. After the recording was finished, none of the artists were prepared for the impact the song would have. It was released on March 7th 1985 and sold approximately 800,000 copies in its first three days of release. The song stayed at number one in America for a month and enjoyed similar success in many other countries.

By 1986, the song had sold in excess of 7.5 million copies and raised $8 million dollars for famine relief. The song went on to win three Grammy Awards: “Song of the Year”, “Record of the Year” and “Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group”. It also won two American Music Awards: “Award of Appreciation” for Michael Jackson and “Song of the Year”.

In March 1985, Michael Jackson topped off an incredible era when he purchased ATV Music Publishing Company for $47.5 million. ATV’s music catalogue included the rights to more than 4000 songs, including 251 of The Beatles’ compositions. This purchase made Michael Jackson one of the top music publishers in the world and proved Michael to be a successful and savvy businessman at the age of 26.

Next read about the Bad Era, 1986 - 1989, when Michael continues to dominate the music world. Or read about the previous Off The Wall era.

Sources:

Moonwalk By Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson: the Magic and the Madness by J. Randy Tarraborelli
Michael! By Mark Bego
Michael Jackson The Man In The Mirror by Todd Gold
Michael Jackson The Golden Touch by Paul Honeyford
Michael Jackson by Gordon Matthews
Michael Jackson & The Jacksons Live on Tour in ’84 by Philip Kamin & Peter Goddard
www.imdb.com
www.wikipedia.com

(websites used for consultation and confirmation of official dates and official award titles only)

Article written solely for allmichaeljackson.com by Marni Carlsson.

 

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