As promised, the cast of ‘Glee’ covered Michael’s ‘Thriller,’ in last night’s post-Super Bowl show. MTV News produced the following brief history of the song and short film.
“With a huge catalogue of Michael’s songs, the singing, dancing students of McKinley High paid homage to the late singer with one of his biggest staples (and, arguably, the greatest music video of all time) with their take on ‘Thriller.’ Madonna, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and now, finally, Michael. The cast of ‘Glee,’ has covered plenty of icons during their first two seasons, but it’s taken thirty-three episodes to get around to the ‘King of Pop.’
Bound to become a smash all over again (though with its nonstop rotation at Halloween parties and wedding receptions until the end of time, it’s never truly gone away), here’s a brief history of the dance/pop classic:
Released on January 23, 1984, ‘Thriller’ was the seventh, and final, single to be released from Michael’s smash record. According to the RIAA, the album (released by Epic Records) has gone gold twenty-nine times, narrowly edging out the Eagles’ ‘Greatest Hits 1971-1975,’ for the title of best-selling album of all time.
In 2009, MTV News estimated that the ‘Thriller,’ album was poised to go triple diamond, meaning thirty million records sold in the U.S. alone. After ‘Thriller’s,’ other singles (including ‘Billie Jean,’ ‘Beat It’ and ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Something,’) dominated the charts, it was time for the spooky, undeniably original track to take over. The song ‘Thriller,’ also appeared on many of Michael’s other albums, including the compilations ‘HIStory,’ and ‘Number Ones.’
Clocking in at a little under six minutes (though the radio edit was closer to four-and-a-half), the song features pop-music mainstays like synthesizers but shakes things up with its spooky sound effects, including creaking floors, howling and thunder. The song was produced by Quincy Jones and written and composed by Rod Temperton and spent fourteen weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at Number four.
But it’s the music video for ‘Thriller,’ that truly made it the phenomenon it was in the eighties and continues to be today. Less a music video than a mini-motion picture, the video (over thirteen minutes long and directed by John Landis,) won three MTV Video Music Awards and has been named the best music video of all time by many outlets, including VH1 for the special ‘VH1: 100 Greatest Videos.’
The chiller, features Michael in that iconic red, leather jacket on a date with his girlfriend (played by Ola Ray,) before things go terribly awry. After all, as Michael (whose disclaimer at the start of the video reads, “This film in no way endorses a belief in the occult,”) sings in the opening line,
“It’s close to midnight and something evil’s lurking in the dark.”
Cue werewolves, zombies, Vincent Price’s soliloquy and one of the most memorable dance sequences ever. The video was (no pun intended,) a monster hit. As the Los Angeles Times notes,
“At the height of the song’s popularity, MTV would run the fourteen minute ‘Thriller’ video twice an hour.”
Choreographed by Michael and Michael Peters (who, as the LA Times also reported, appears in the video as one of the zombies,) and with makeup by Oscar-winner Rick Baker (also an un-dead ‘Thriller’ extra,) was made with a huge budget of an estimated half a million dollars. Still, the efforts paid off. Landis (who told the ‘Today,’ show back in 2009 that no one wanted to give them the funds to make the risky video,) made the accompanying forty-five minute documentary about the venture, called ‘The Making of Thriller.’ Featuring the behind-the-scenes wizardry, as well as the music video in full, it would go on to move more than ten million copies.
Since then, the signature song and video have seen their share fair of tributes in movies (notably in the 2004 comedy ‘13 Going on 30,’) and TV (‘South Park,’ ‘Family Guy,’ ‘30 Rock,’ among others), not to mention the countless flash mobs that have gone viral. (Remember the prisoners in the Philippines who became overnight phenomenons on YouTube?) Even with the ‘Glee’ number, this likely won’t be the last incarnation of ‘Thriller.’ Billboard reported in October that a ‘Thriller,’ film is in the works. With a plot allegedly revolving around Price’s narration, Kenny Ortega, who directed Michael’s last effort, ‘This Is It,’ will reportedly helm the project.
Since Michael’s untimely passing on June 25, 2009, the song and video’s legacy continue to live on. In the week following his death, ’Thriller’ was the best-selling track in the U.S., with sales of one hundred and sixty-seven thousand copies on the Billboard Hot Digital Singles chart.
Then, in December 2009, ‘Thriller,’ was the first music video to ever be inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
“No mere mortal can resist … the ‘thriller’ after all.”