"THRILLER" At the Big Three-O

Mini-film "MICHAEL JACKSON'S THRILLER" serves as a visual representation of the musical opus that JACKSON created with his culture-defining musical album of the same name.
Mini-film "MICHAEL JACKSON'S THRILLER" serves as a visual representation of the musical opus that JACKSON created with his culture-defining musical album of the same name.
Choreography by satin-footed dance masters Michael Jackson and Michael Peters.
Choreography by satin-footed dance masters Michael Jackson and Michael Peters.
Stunning one-time Playboy Magazine centerfold and supermodel Ola Ray was almost unrecognizable as MICHAEL’s girlfriend.
Stunning one-time Playboy Magazine centerfold and supermodel Ola Ray was almost unrecognizable as MICHAEL’s girlfriend.
MICHAEL JACKSON’S THRILLER came very close to not having been made at all.  According to famed director and co-writer John Landis, the 'mini movie' (oft erroneously thought to be a 'music video') was doomed, almost from its inception.
MICHAEL JACKSON’S THRILLER came very close to not having been made at all. According to famed director and co-writer John Landis, the 'mini movie' (oft erroneously thought to be a 'music video') was doomed, almost from its inception.
Costume, make-up and special effects by industry heavyweight Rick Baker.
Costume, make-up and special effects by industry heavyweight Rick Baker.
From inception, MTV was a marketing success of gargantuan proportions.  JACKSON and MTV would forge an intelligent and culturally relevant symbiotic alliance almost immediately.
From inception, MTV was a marketing success of gargantuan proportions. JACKSON and MTV would forge an intelligent and culturally relevant symbiotic alliance almost immediately.
Upon MTV’s initial, luster-lacking broadcast, it was with little fanfare that ‘80s flash-in–the-pan and one-hit-wonder new wave ensemble, The Buggles, ostentatiously proclaimed Video Killed The Radio Star.
Upon MTV’s initial, luster-lacking broadcast, it was with little fanfare that ‘80s flash-in–the-pan and one-hit-wonder new wave ensemble, The Buggles, ostentatiously proclaimed Video Killed The Radio Star.

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Joseph, and Katherine Jackson had a total of ten children. Nine lived to adulthood...

REBBIE... Father Joseph and mother Katherine Jackson's first daughter, born on 29 May 1950.

JACKIE... Dad and Mom's first son, born on 4 May 1951.

TITO... The second son, born on 15 October 1953.

JERMAINE... The third son, born on 11 December 1954.

LA TOYA... The second daughter, born on 29 May 1956.

MARLON... The fourth son, born on 12 March 1957.

MICHAEL... The sixth son, born on 29 August 1958.

RANDY... The seventh son, born on29 October 1961.

JANET... The third daughter, born on 16 May 1966.

REBBIE JACKSON..... Manager and father Joseph determined that Rebbie would sing in the Jackson Family, Inc.
REBBIE JACKSON..... Manager and father Joseph determined that Rebbie would sing in the Jackson Family, Inc.
JACKIE JACKSON… Jackie would dance and sing in the Jackson Family, Inc.
JACKIE JACKSON… Jackie would dance and sing in the Jackson Family, Inc.
TITO JACKSON…  Tito would play the guitar.
TITO JACKSON… Tito would play the guitar.
JERMAINE JACKSON… Jermaine would play the bass and was initially envisioned by father Joseph as becomming the ‘leader’ of Jackson Family, Inc.  Although a skilled bass guitar player, Father Joseph discovered Jermaine was simply “too nice a guy."
JERMAINE JACKSON… Jermaine would play the bass and was initially envisioned by father Joseph as becomming the ‘leader’ of Jackson Family, Inc. Although a skilled bass guitar player, Father Joseph discovered Jermaine was simply “too nice a guy."
LA TOYA JACKSON… La Toya would be a singer in Jackson Family, Inc. and ultimately came to believe in the late 1980's that she was clairvoyant, psychic and that she could communicate with plants and foliage.
LA TOYA JACKSON… La Toya would be a singer in Jackson Family, Inc. and ultimately came to believe in the late 1980's that she was clairvoyant, psychic and that she could communicate with plants and foliage.
MARLON JACKSON… Marlon would play drums.  In fact, Marlon would ultimately come to master almost all percussion instruments.  Sadly, Marlon’s twin brother, Brandon, died only hours after birth.
MARLON JACKSON… Marlon would play drums. In fact, Marlon would ultimately come to master almost all percussion instruments. Sadly, Marlon’s twin brother, Brandon, died only hours after birth.
MICHAEL JACKSON… Joseph predetermined that Michael would sing, and ultimately be one of the world’s biggest stars.  Father definitely knows best.
MICHAEL JACKSON… Joseph predetermined that Michael would sing, and ultimately be one of the world’s biggest stars. Father definitely knows best.
RANDY JACKSON… It was decided that Randy would also sing, or attempt to at least.  Randy’s attempts to musically develop like the rest of the artistically coveted Jackson Family, were squashed by an apparent lack of vocal talent.
RANDY JACKSON… It was decided that Randy would also sing, or attempt to at least. Randy’s attempts to musically develop like the rest of the artistically coveted Jackson Family, were squashed by an apparent lack of vocal talent.
JANET… She would play piano.  However, Janet never wanted stardom or fame.  Instead, she just wanted to be a horse trainer.
JANET… She would play piano. However, Janet never wanted stardom or fame. Instead, she just wanted to be a horse trainer.

THRILLER: A Historical Study

Directed by enigmatic film noir notable John Landis (‘An American Werewolf In London', ‘The Blues Brothers', ‘National Lampoon's Animal House'), the 14-minute horror film spoof, MICHAEL JACKSON'S THRILLER, was released in December 1983 and is easily one of the most culturally significant films to influence the whole of the entertainment industry. This ‘mini-film' served as a visual representation of the musical opus that Jackson had created with his culture-defining musical album of the same name.

Oft erroneously, (though understandably), assumed to be a ‘music video', MICHAEL JACKSON'S THRILLER, when analyzed, is actually less ‘music video' and more ‘traditional movie musical' containing almost all of the elements associated with conventional cinema. As such, these elements include: An open casting call; arduous and competitive auditions; the production performance involvement of screen acting legend Vincent Price; the co-staring of a Playboy Magazine centerfold (stunning supermodel Ola Ray, who is almost unrecognizable in her 1950's costume portraying Jackson 's girlfriend); a world class cinematic director (Landis), a fully realized linear plot, heavily-revised scripting, engaging character development, extensive choreography by satin-footed dance master Michael Peters, costume, make-up and special effects by industry heavyweight Rick Baker, out-takes, deleted scenes, and even notable ‘bloopers', all to cite but a few examples.

At the time of its release, MICHAEL JACKSON'S THRILLER was the most expensive ‘mini-film' ever with a budget of over $500,000, or roughly $35,714 per production minute. Additionally, because it debuted at a special theatrical screening alongside ‘Fantasia', Disney's innovative animation masterpiece, MICHAEL JACKSON'S THRILLER qualified for an Academy Award nomination in the Academy's ‘Short Film' category.

JACKSON and Landis, together joint-scripted JACKSON's long envisioned concept of a ‘monster movie musical.' It was a sort of personal vision quest which the singer had secretly decided as a teenager that he wanted to come to life as his "own" signature contribution to music history. Out of that teen desire, somewhere in the mid-1970's, MICHAEL JACKSON'S THRILLER, was born.

However, JACKSON, a devote Jehovah's Witness, would tell very few people of his clandestine "monster movie musical" concept due the Jackson Family's prominent religious beliefs. Additionally, a certain degree of fear existed keeping MICHAEL, as well as all of the Jackson Family children in place and compliant, as the result of father-turned-business manager Joseph Jackson's volatile capacity for shameless rage when he was disobeyed.

"Heresy" like the eventual superstar's ‘monster movie musical' he would come to share only sisters LaToya and Janet, and then later, as a young man at the ascent of truly coming into his own, with Motown Records icon and producing partner, Quincy Jones.

Decisively, the collective THRILLER experience came to define a worldwide generation and be one of the most recognizable social and historical marketing conceptualizations of the modern era.

But to fully understand the significance that the THRILLER album contribute to music, as well as, how that musical album was visually translated to cinema via MICHAEL JACKSON'S THRILLER, an in-depth exploration into the relevance that each had upon Planet Earth's global society must be undertaken. In doing so, a ‘big picture' journalistic assessment of the singer, the album and the collaborative visual movie production in question reveal that all three elements collided equally in a perfect storm of conditions thus producing one of World culture's defining achievements. Fashion, MTV, family influence, religious overtones, personal whims, social change, all to cite a few of the contributing factors in question, were each an important aspect, partly responsible for, and ultimately contributing to, a worldwide social and entertainment revolution centered around THRILLER the album, and later MICHAEL JACKSON'S THRILLER, the movie.

As with Elvis Presley in the 1950's, The Beatles in the 1960's and Disco in the 1970's, the fledgling 1980's needed an archetype and a leader; particularly since John Lennon had just recently been murdered, and with his death collectively the 1960's and the 1970's each imploded upon the other and died immediately, leaving a huge vacuum in the entertainment, social and political consciousness of the early 1980's.

In December of 1980, John Lennon's shooting would be the ‘shots heard around the World' heralding in the conclusion of an era.

Less than two years later, in November of 1982, after an apparent worldwide period of shock, mourning and readjustment, the message that it was society's time to move on would be delivered through the entertainment's newest weapons of change: a walking bass-line, stop-frame multi-panel video imagery, a cute tiger cub, a glittery white glove and one intoxicating nymphet named "Billie Jean."

Yes, MICHAEL JACKSON would be that leader, his message would be sung and the worldwide entertainment revolution would be broadcast across a new music format called MTV. The movie, MICHAEL JACKSON'S THRILLER, would soon come to serve as a sort of guide-on, cinematically infusing all elements of the revolution together.


SETTING THE STAGE FOR AN ENTERTAINMENT REVOLUTION...

On August 1st 1981, at 12:01a.m., with co-founder John Lack's flippant "Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll," MTV debuted onto the still newly-contrived, fledgling entertainment platform known as "cable television."

With those words, (generally regarded as the opening salvo of Modern America's entertainment obsession), another incantation of the ever-evolving music and popular culture revolution was under way.

As expressed previously, whereas the 1950's ushered in musical revolution with poodle skirts, doo-wop and ‘Rock-a-Billy', the 1960's with mop-top Britons and Black Power résistance, the 1970's with Disco, hair bands, stadium rock and cocaine, the weapon of choice this time around, in the early 1980's, would be a redefinition of music through an exploitation of the visual senses.

After almost thirty years, the traditional Rock and Roll music medium was peaking. Additionally, audio-only entertainment, (ala transistor radios and traditional ‘record albums' - remember those?!), seemed passé and no longer in keeping with technology's changing landscape. ‘Video games' (regarded initially as unusual kid toys) had recently been commercially introduced, as had been the curious gizmo called a ‘personal computer' (1981's IBM 5150 Personal Computer, which generated a robust technology ‘buzz' just prior to Apple Computer's now infamous mass-media Apple Macintosh assault upon society shortly thereafter.)

Ushering audio-only entertainment out of yesterday and into the 1980's, would come through media executive Robert W. Pittman's logical and rather simple new vision of a new type of wholly inclusive entertainment format: musical ‘visuals', commercially available via 24-hour-a-day television broadcast dedicated solely to infusing both the audio AND the visual music mediums.

Such audio and video ‘venue performances' were, as Pittman and Lack envisioned, the "future direction" of music, and as executives and entertainment stewards, developing a concept such as what became MTV, was not only an example of their savvy business acumen, but also a representation of their social responsibility.

Thus was born MTV.

Live music performances such as those on The Ed Sullivan Show, Dick Clark's American Bandstand, Soul Train Featuring Don Cornelius, and others throughout the years, preceded Pittman's 1981 MTV launch. More dramatic musical visuals, such as Evan Hunter's Blackboard Jungle (1955) which literally launched Bill Haley & The Comets (and subsequently Rock & Roll in general), or George Sidney's 1964 Elvis Presley opus Viva Las Vegas, likewise created venue performances as sorts of early "music videos" intended to be diced-up as stand-alone musical marketing segments for television, or specifically, television venues like American Bandstand.

But, as late as 1981, using filmed ‘Venue Performances' (MTV's initial terminology which, almost immediately, would come to be known globally by the more common vernacular "Music Videos,") to motivate and inspire music sales amongst the general public was not a ‘new' concept. Pittman and Lack did not ‘invent' music videos or the concept of visual musical representation, obviously, but they were the founding fathers responsible for tiding up visual music and mass-marketing these curious Venue Performances to the collective unwashed masses of global entertainment.


AN ENTERTAINMENT REVOLUTION LAUNCHED BY... THE BUGGLES???

From inception, MTV was a marketing success of gargantuan proportions.

Yes, there were many bad starts and awkward false entrances, but the viewing public was forgiving particularly since nothing like MTV before had ventured into such virgin territory, thus capturing and defining perfectly the new and fresh vision of early 1980's America.

From viewers, to investors, to the show's very creators themselves, few knew how to categorize or exactly what to expect out of MTV. MTV, even amidst all its initial success, was still brand new territory, with Pittman and Lack accepting their roles as the two sorts of ‘explorers' brave enough to enter an unknown wilderness. It was an entertainment frontier which, until then, had been previously viewed only from afar and across a vast, expansive horizon, yet into which few possessed the courage to enter.

Upon MTV's initial, luster-lacking broadcast, it was with little fanfare that ‘80s flash-in-the-pan and one-hit-wonder new wave ensemble, The Buggles,ostentatiously proclaimed Video Killed The Radio Star. With its 125 beats-per-minute bubble gum chorus and addictively disco-infused backbeat, this curious snippet of Hare Krishna musical paranoia unwittingly earned The Buggles' the forever-coveted place in music history as MTV's ‘first music video ever broadcast'.

At the time, The Buggles' impressive yet unbeknownst milestone was regarded lightly with its bad lighting, awkward camera angles, ridiculous eye-glasses, and horrifying hair do's. For MTV's broadcast debut, they chose to launch their revolutionary ‘new music platform' with a music video that looked more as though it'd been haphazardly stitched together by freshmen-year film students.

And just like that, as The Buggles flailed about like pixies and chanted like druids that some nameless ‘radio star' had been killed off by some newfangled contraption called ‘video', both music and television congealed into one and thus forever changed the entertainment landscape.

The Buggles... Oh, the humanity of it all.


JOSEPH WALTER JACKSON; MUSIC BUSINESS MOGUL FIRST, FATHER LAST

But Pittman and Lack were not the only strategic and savvy entertainment industry businessmen of the day upon MTV's debut. Entertainment (movies, theater and particularly music) has always been a multi-billion dollar industry; even back in the days when a billion dollars was a lot of money (!).

Clearly, greed and financial win fall are the moving targets that represent Planet Earth's commercial entertainment industry.

Remember R. Martin Basso's the first rule of Greed: "Where there's money, there are no fools." This said, where there is money (particularly big money like what the entertainment industry has traditionally generated, and will always generate) there are assuredly business mavericks and industry tycoons creating and safeguarding their investments.

From Colonel Tom Parker, who pimped-out the cash cow that was Elvis Aron Presley, to Quincy Jones who quite literally legitimized the music of Black America with Motown, Inc. the entertainment industry is not run to mechanized perfection by fools or foolish intent.

But whatever this new curious and unique vehicle was, and whatever it was that they were pushing commercially to its national, (and then shortly thereafter international) ‘viewership,' MTV was indeed addicting and very worthy of serious revenue generating contention.

As MTV debuted, amongst those taking note of cable television's new foray into a world of brave new mass-media entertainment platforms was a 23-year-old music industry ‘working businessman' by the name of MICHAEL JACKSON.

Throughout the 1970's, the bright-eyed and fully believable JACKSON came to be known, essentially, as a sort of Central Operating Officer in the family's multi-million dollar corporation, Jackson 5. With a voice velvety, spunky, and apparently on loan from the angels above, little MICHAEL JACKSON both effortlessly and confidently commanded center stage amidst Jackson 5 father and CEO, Joseph Walter Jackson's iron-fisted rage.

As youngest Jackson Family sister sibling Janet would later recant in documentarian Jane Cornwell's video biography entitled "JANET JACKSON" in 2002: "... No one ever asked me if I wanted to go into show business, it was just expected. I had no desire to be another family entertainer. I love horses. I just wanted to be a race horse jockey."

Additionally, through her candid, exploratory interview Jane Cornwell ultimately uncovered a startling truth about the mechanized business mogul Joseph Jackson; that generally, the Jackson children, by "about the age of eight or so," were to no longer refer to their father as anything other than ‘Joseph,' since by that point he was their manager, and "no longer their father."

Jackson parents Joseph, and Katherine had a total of ten children. Nine lived to adulthood (Marlon's twin brother "Brandon" died hours after birth on 12 March 1957) to become skilled musicians, singers or dancers to some degree or another.

By the time sixth son MICHAEL was born in 1958, father Joseph, a skilled music producer and industry businessman, had already asserted himself with the rather prominent reputation of someone not to be regarded lightly or crossed. His temper was matched only by his ruthless thirst for success and power.

Initially, it was third son Jermaine who found favor in his father's eyes, and who was selected to steward Joseph's musical menagerie into the promised land of what was to ultimately become Motown Records. However, although a highly-skilled bass guitar player (by father Joseph's design), Jermaine fell from his father's good graces when his singing voice failed to meet approval.

Additionally, Joseph saw in Jermaine, a genuinely ‘good' person; one who truly loved people because they loved him right back. Simply put, Jermaine was genuine and good. Father Joseph wouldn't stand for that in his business' leader and ultimately determined that Jermaine was too "soft" to take care of business. Joseph quickly began preening the younger and eager-to-please MICHAEL for the leadership role.

Upon receiving Joseph's proverbial ‘godfather blessing', MICHAEL quickly emerged from the not-so-obscure shadows of his other highly-talented Jackson siblings in the early 1970's as the ‘front man' of managing agent father Joseph's family musical review, The Jackson 5.

Father Joseph, who managed the revenue generating talents of his assorted circus troupe of children, began training heir-to-the-throne, MICHAEL, at the age of just eight years, in business management as well as assorted lessons and the observations on America's most powerful and influential families; amongst his favorite subjects of discussion were the ROCKEFELLER'S and the KENNEDY'S.

By age eleven, young MICHAEL would be a leader amongst men.With skilled and well-honed business acumen, father Joseph's mantra was blunt:

"Be proud and never be afraid to lead others into thinking that you are weak, particularly when you are not. That's business. Use their lowered guard against them, and strike hard... That's business... It's always just business."


ENTER MICHAEL JACKSON...

As MICHAEL would later admit, he "studied" MTV obsessively in its debut days, confiding to onetime Jackson 5 manager, and ‘onetime father' Joseph, that MTV was going to be his "chariot to the Gods." Further, JACKSON concluded early on that he would build his own music empire, separate of the collective Jackson Family, upon the future worldwide mega-marketing potential that he envisioned MTV would surely command.

MTV came, JACKSON saw, and together JACKSON and MTV ultimately conquered the 1980's which, yes, would come quickly in its due time. Because of this, JACKSON would ultimately grow into arguably the music industry's savviest, most controversial and undeniably largest talent of both the 20thand the 21st Centuries.

In the end, only Elvis Presley comes closest to this music industry marvel. Some might say that The Beatles come closest, or possibly even eclipse this claim or that they themselves are the modern era's "largest industry talent." However, might one simple fact remains: MICHAEL JACKSON bought, and now owns, all of The Beatles musical rights.

That's how big MICHAEL JACKSON has become today; and, that's remarkable.

Albeit the hindsight success now obvious, the symbiotic relationship between MTV and MICHAEL JACKSON would be one of the most incestuous examples of hand-in-‘Glove' (pun intentional) cooperative business marketing in history: Each ultimately would ‘build' the other in achieving their respective worldwide iconic cultural status.

In 1981, JACKSON was still riding the relatively enormous wave of pop culture acceptance from his debut solo musical effort; 1979's "Off The Wall." Wall, produced by Motown Records founder and esteemed producer, QUINCY JONES, ultimately went on to sell over 25 million copies since its 1979 release, and was the first album in history to generate four ‘Top 10' singles.

However, just as horses and equestrian events captured sister Janet's heart from an early age, MICHAEL himself would later admit that his own personal interests were equally divided between both music, as well as another, decidedly less-popular topic: The supernatural.

JACKSON, throughout childhood and adolescence, and even up until after Off The Wall's release, remained a devote Jehovah's Witness, the Jackson Family's de facto religion of choice. However, even from an early age, MICHAEL found himself conflicted between the traditional spiritual beliefs on which he was raised and his own genuine intrigue (some might call it a ‘morbid curiosity') with topics and various pop culture themes traditionally associated with fantasy, the supernatural and even occasional ‘occult-oriented' themes.

To be specific, from an early age, JACKSON was enraptured with practically all things ‘make believe', or at least, of questionable legendary ‘legitimacy': UFO's, vampires, zombies, aliens, monsters, and the like. The morose to the macabre of both reality and folklore alike captured increasingly more of young MICHAEL's attention throughout adolescence and into adult maturity.

From an early age, MICHAEL's unusualfascinations routinely lead him to exploring "the facts" surrounding everything bizarre, from "real life" oddities such as Joseph "John" Carey Merrick (aka ‘The Elephant Man') to legendary "big screen" boogiemen like Béla Lugosi or the iconic, yet perfectly creepy, Vincent Price.

Forced into an odd ‘conscripted servitude' working business operator role just after his Kindergarten years, MICHAEL JACKSON became essentially The Jackson 5's Central Operating Officer, at the tender age of just eleven years old (but later changed for PR purposes to ‘eight' to have MICHAEL appear ‘cuter'), thereby missing his entire childhood. His original title of ‘LITTLE' MICHAEL JACKSON, as initially billed, was almost immediately squashed by agent and father Joseph as MICHAEL'S star-potential was realized.

As Joseph Jackson saw it, pigeon-holing the Jackson 5 Inc.'s central revenue-generating icon as a ‘child' was decidedly bad business management, just like referring to the Jackson 5's business manager as "dad."

But like all children, MICHAEL JACKSON needed a father, as well as a legitimate childhood. Chasing his lost childhood would become MICHAEL JACKSON's adult Achilles' Heel of sorts in later years.

Upon reaching adulthood, MICHAEL's own mega-stardom status certainly provided him the needed financial soundness permitted for him to seriously explore many of his childhood hobbies and Supernatural fascinations (i.e. most notably, his once-erroneously reported ‘purchasing' of Merrick's skeletal remains, which began in rumor as the result of MICHAEL's own excessive fascination with Merrick, a British traveling circus freak-show performer of the 1800's.) What once-upon-a-time was believed globally, that MICHAEL JACKSON had supposedly ‘bought' The Elephant Man's bones, simply put, never actually happened; it was all a grand lie.

Due to the elaborate nature and worldwide buy-in of this heavyweight-status rumor, even to this day there are diehard JACKSON critics who claim that the entire "controversy" was orchestrated by those in the JACKSON camp as a ruse to boost ‘THRILLER' sales and, therefore MICHAEL's God-like popularity.


BUILDING A THRILLER OUT OF A WALL...

As previously mentioned, MICHAEL clearly recognized, and freely bought into, the value that MTV added to the entertainment landscape fromearly on.

Almost immediately after MTV's broadcast debut, MICHAEL willingly embraced the network's star-launching potential and, whether a marketing visionary or a soul-selling clairvoyant, decided to use his immense Off The Wall success strategically to begin engineering the ‘chariot to the gods' that MICHAEL envisioned.

MICHAEL's musical chariot would ultimately come to be known as a globally-acclaimed, tour de force musical masterpiece entitled ‘THRILLER'. THRILLER, released on 30 November 1982, would be JACKSON's sixth (of ten) solo albums released throughout his remarkable career.

As both Humanity, as well as, world history would apparently have it no other way, the album THRILLER, would subsequently eclipse all other preceding music industry sales records.

Even today, in 2008, some twenty-six years after its debut release, THRILLER still stands alone, with the milestones of its meteoric success remaining unchallenged and steadfast over a quarter century later...

  • THRILLER remained in Billboard Magazine's Top 10 for a staggering 80 consecutive weeks (of those 80 weeks, the album sat solidly at the coveted #1 position for an unparalleled 37 weeks);
  • THRILLER was the first album in music history to produce seven Top 10 hits;
  • At its peak, THRILLER was selling one million copies per week;
  • To date, THRILLER has sold, worldwide, a remarkable 108 million actual units (i.e. albums, cd's and even ‘cassettes' once-upon-a-time) earning an RIAA's extremely rare ‘Double Diamond' designation.
  • The advent of our modern era's mp3 downloads has since literally caused THRILLER's numbers to be forever lost. Industry speculations, since the advent of mp3 digital downloading, places THRILLER (the album) downloads at somewhere between 75 and 110 Million independent downloads, depending upon sources.)

‘LITTLE' MICHAEL JACKSON didn't create a monster (pun intentional, again), as much as he literally defined living history through a musical vision. In that capacity, then yes, The Beatles do equal JACKSON's musical importance in history.

But JACKSON's road to building THRILLER would end up returning to some rather curious themes with which he'd played just a few years previously during his forging of Off The Wall. While in THRILLER's preproduction and rehearsal, JACKSON began secretly developing a curious musical concept, the origins of which were born out of Off The Wall's title song of the same name: a musical monster movie.

One listen to the first 20 seconds of his 1979 song "Off The Wall" and the musical overtones to his song THRILLER are obvious. In fact, the two songs are practically identical, musically, right down to a chorus of howling ghouls opposite demonic cathedral pipe organ chords, ushering in each of the two songs respective introductions.

Plainly, Off The Wall, was the ‘original' THRILLER, but JACKSON hadn't the ‘star power' in 1979, particularly during those ‘Dying Days of Disco', to deliver a ‘monster-themed' musical concept upon the social music landscape of the day; society was not ready and Disco, although dying, was still in heavy demand.

No, MICHAEL's original THRILLER vision, as alluded to in the opening chords and strains of Off The Wall, would have to be sidelined, possibly indefinitely, JACKSON feared, depending upon where the musical future would guide his career.

JACKSON shared his ghoulish movie musical concept with friend and producer Quincy Jones, after watching, and, (as MICHAEL is now ‘known' for recanting,) "falling in love with" John Landis' 1981 horror fest, An American Werewolf In London.

But album producer Quincy Jones, focused upon THRILLER's ‘big picture' development; Simply put, Quincy knew that he and MICHAEL were, literally, making history. The creative marketing of MICHAEL's quaint, albeit juvenile "monster hobbies" Quincy would leave alone, opting instead to place squarely in MICHAEL's hands for development, but only after THRILLER was perfected.

Begrudgingly, MICHAEL Agreed. As with Quincy Jones, MICHAEL knew that his THRILLER album was history in the making, and that it demanded 24/7 focus.

Instead, heeding to his father's business savvy, MICHAEL, focused upon the monumental task of delivering his album into the muse of history, setting aside his personal desire to, literally, build a monster in his music.

His flights of fancy and curious hobbies would take a brief backseat to the business of his album THRILLER, not rehashing "...silly teenage monster obsessions (reportedly Quincy's exact words) hatched in our ‘Off The Wall' sound checks..."

It was business, just like Father Joseph had said all along. It was always business and his personal hobby would have to wait its turn in MICHAEL's creative production mill.


THE THRILLER THAT WAS ALMOST NOT TO BE...

Yet, all historical parallels and theory garb aside, who amongst us can imagine a world without MICHAEL JACKSON'S THRILLER, or some of its now iconic visual imagery? The parodies and homage's paid to the mini-film over the past quarter Century since its special screening debut opposite Disney's FANTASIA, or its subsequent television airing, is evident in a simple internet search. Just poke around on any internet search engine and the infinite number of facts citing the album as well as the mini-movie's significance and impact upon worldwide culture speak for themselves.

Yet, as unbelievable, almost surreal, as it is to try to imagine a world in which The Gloved One's magnificent and important contributions to society and culture ended with his musical mastery, the interesting fact remains that MICHAEL JACKSON'S THRILLER, the most parodied and referenced musical monster mini movie (‘video') of all time, came very close to not having been made. According to director and co-writer John Landis, the mini movie was doomed, almost from its inception.

Problems cursing MICHAEL JACKSON'S THRILLER seemed to mount by the day, with the largest industry concern, in both the music and movie industry ‘decision-makers' circles and think thanks, was that it simply cost too much, additionally, none of the industry heavy weights, in either industry, could figure out what, exactly, MICHAEL JACKSON thinking, or sought to prove. JACKSON, by all accounts was clearly making history with his musical opus THRILLER. Further, his innovative societal contributions like "Billie Jean," as well as "The Girl Is Mine," a duet with former-Beatle Paul McCartney, was literally redefining African American and Caucasian race relations.

And then there were the awards, some already having happened, but also others that were solidly "in the bag."

Clearly, by the time JACKSON and Landis seriously sought to move forward with bringing JACKSON'S ‘musical monster movie' fantasy to the big screen, albeit in the format of what would appear as a ‘music video,' industry leaders concluded that an entertainment revolution was firmly and squarely already underway. Decidedly, any further development of THRILLER just seemed redundant, particularly at that phase of the album's popularity in which one million copies weekly of the THRILLER album were being gobbled-up globally by hungry worldwide MICHAEL JACKSON addicts.

Industry chiefs initially shot the concept down: redundant and excessive expenses being cited as why not to pursue the concept.

However, literally overnight, Landis, in a brilliant stroke of marketing genius, turned the resistance to his favor by pitching a revolutionary concept: Together, he and JACKSON would created a retail video available commercially to consumers that included the mini movie as well as a special "making of" documentary, all for the relatively modest price of $24.95.

Amidst an entertainment revolution or not, if the world was busy gobbling-up the THRILLER album, they could "own the complete THRILLER experience for only $24.95".

Although MTV, music videos and the changing entertainment landscape was in its incipiency, never before had a marketing maneuver such as this been done, and in what Landis recants as "one fell swoop," industry executives dramatically and immediately shifted from "absolutely not", to resounding "yes, please!"

It was a prudent business maneuver, inspiring 10 million additional THRILLER-oriented sales. JACKSON and Landis' initially scoffed at by music and movie industry decision-makers as being "redundant" and "self-glorifying" translated an initial $500,000 production investment into a $249 Million additional Return On Investment (ROI) windfall for a product that sold itself and, for a period of several years throughout the 1980's and beyond, as apparently as vital to planet Earth's cultural society, as oxygen.

"The critics just dammed me for this." Landis admits lightheartedly, albeit shamelessly, in TODAYShow.com contributing journalist Mike Celizic's April 2008 article. Although, yes, it was rather like pouring salt onto an open wound in creating and then devising a new way to generate even more THRILLER-based capitol, the question still remains....

Who amongst us can imagine a world in which MICHAEL JACKSON's THRILLER would have never been translated in to cinema?

It is an impossibility.

* * * * *

(Initial) © 2008. R. Martin Basso & (Revision) © 2013. Three Doves Media, LLC & Reid Martin Basso


LEGAL NOTIFICATIONS:

DISCLAIMER: Images, artworks and photographs associated with Michael Jackson's Thriller, as well as MTV any/all Jackson family members and/or photographers associated with such imagery, cited in this article are used with the implicit intent of promoting the images, products, individuals and circumstances surrounding all topical subject matter in this article with absolutely no financial gain whatsoever by this article's author. Any copyright breech, actual, implied, suggested, or otherwise is unintentional.

(Initial) © 2008. R. Martin Basso &
(Revision) © 2013 & 2015. Three Doves Media, LLC & Reid Martin Basso


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Comments 8 comments

R. Martin Basso profile image

R. Martin Basso 8 years ago from California Author

well ok then!


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

LOL....funny boy!

Just read it....I'm not that optional. :)


R. Martin Basso profile image

R. Martin Basso 8 years ago from California Author

Oh my! And yes, 'maniac' and 'your world' most certainly go hand in hand... Beatle freak! (though I'm no better.)

Go read your email, photo queen. lol.


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

I knew you knew that!  :)

What? I agree with you both, Thriller and Michael Jackson were both awesome.

But you dis'd my boys by putting them second. In my retro-Beatlemaniac world, that's just unthinkable.


R. Martin Basso profile image

R. Martin Basso 8 years ago from California Author

Hi Constant... Well a least SOMEONE agrees with me... Shirley, see? CW agrees!.. lol. Anyway, j/k. Thanks for the vote of approval, CW. And, yes, I miss the 'original' non-transformed freaky MJ too.


R. Martin Basso profile image

R. Martin Basso 8 years ago from California Author

Hi Shirley... Thanks for the kind words and insight... Yeah, I hear what you are saying about The Beatles, but you are a Beatles 'cultist' so I'd expect that outta you...lol...j/k... seriously, thanks.


Constant Walker profile image

Constant Walker 8 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

I have to agree. "Thriller," the video and the album, is an incredible piece of work... for its time and even now.

I miss Michael Jackson... the way he was then.


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Some might say that The Beatles come closest, or possibly even eclipse this claim or that they themselves are the modern era's "largest industry talent." -  YES!  Despite the obvious and enormous talent of Michael Jackson, my opinion is not swayed on this.

The Beatles do equal JACKSON's musical importance in history. - Yes, but in different ways, IMO.  I will admit that it may be because they approached the industry from different decades.  The Beatles' music appeals across a few generations and is adaptable to instrumental and orchestral versions.  In short, it's acceptable to a wider audience than M.J.'s.  It is also taught in University level music courses.

I do think Michael Jackson was something of a genius - to his detriment, unfortunately.  I've always thought that the combination of abuse, highly creative mind and non-existent childhood stunted his emotional maturity.  While the world would've missed out on his music and Thriller otherwise, I think it's sad.

Thriller was brilliant!  It was Night of the Living Dead meets West Side Story, with every other horror movie mixed in.

As an aside, I laughed through Reefer Madness.  :)

Terrific hub, Reid!

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