This was the only album we needed when we were kids. It’s all anyone really cared about. And it’s the most important album I own.
Thriller is actually the second album I ever bought, right behind Paul McCartney’s Pipes of Peace. I loved Paul first because he was a Beatle, and I had been listening to The Beatles since I was five. Michael did a duet with him, “Say Say Say,” on that record, but that was before I really knew who MJ was. But once my friend Leslie turned me on to the wonders of Michael Jackson, I was transfixed.
“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” is arguably the best track to ever start an album. It immediately gets you jumpin’, and how can you resist singing along, even if you’re just singing “yeah, yeah”? Or maybe you’re more about the “ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa.” Errbody was singin’ Michael Jackson songs back then!
I was nine years old when Thriller was released, but I didn’t buy it until I was ten. I played it so much my record got warped and I had to buy another copy. I also bought the special 12” dance single of “Thriller” that had the instrumental version.
I later bought the Ray Parker, Jr. “Ghostbusters” 45 with the instrumental version on the back. I recorded my own versions of these songs; I planned to cover them once I started my own band, so I wanted to have the lyrics down pat. Luckily, MJ included lyrics on the Thriller record sleeve. As I read the lyrics I noticed a few words that were different from what was printed, and I was excited to be such an expert that I spotted them. I even corrected them in black magic marker.
It’s impossible to discuss MJ and Thriller without talking just as much without his videos. He was the first real video star. He was the first black superstar of the MTV generation. Every single person who made videos after MJ had to live in his shadow. He was the first artist to really see videos as art, as little movies, instead of just ways to promote a song. I remember watching The Making of Thriller with my family and being so fascinated by how much went into it, all the hours of makeup and choreography, and how Michael really wanted to pay homage to the old scary movies he loved. He really loved film, and everything he created had something he pulled from various films, but the way he did it made it seem so original and special. He was just that good.
And his impact on fashion is just as important—is, not was, because he still influences the way people dress, regular folks and performers. I had a sparkly white glove I got at Gold Circle when I was in 5th grade that I just wanted to wear all the time! I desperately wanted his red zipper coat from “Beat It,” but it was not to be. A girl in my Sunday school had the “Thriller” jacket. I was terribly jealous of her. I am pretty sure I started wearing loafers because of him.
I ate, slept, and breathed Michael Jackson. I had been obsessed with Chuck Berry, The Beatles, Elvis, The Rolling Stones, and the Everly Brothers since I was five, but they were not on magazine covers anymore, so it was not as easy to get all whipped up in a frenzy over them—not that I was any less interested in them than I was in Michael Jackson, of course, because they all led me to MJ, but since he was everywhere thanks to Thriller I could fully engage my passion for him in a way that I couldn’t with the others.
Thriller was the album that taught me how to be a fan. It showed me how genius one man could be. It made me realize how much I could love an artist and plan my future around them (everyone I knew planned on marrying him, but I knew I would be the only one he could fall for). Thriller is one specific thing I can use to describe my childhood; it really is that serious for me. When Michael died in 2009, I hadn’t listened to Thriller for a while. But once I started playing it all the lyrics flooded back to me right away, as did all the memories I associate with Michael and the music. It’s interesting to me that MJ occupies such a gigantic space in my childhood when he was sort of stuck in childhood himself, never really having had one thanks to Papa Joe.
I say this about a lot of artists, but my life truly would have been completely different had Michael Jackson not existed. Thriller impacted millions of people, and it is still creating waves in our society and the arts. All that kids like my sisters and friends and I knew was that Michael Jackson was a totally awesome singer and dancer who made cool videos. That’s all we needed to know. He was a phenomenon, but he was also a man. To us, he was the ultimate everything. And thanks to Thriller, we can relive those days forever.