You may know Michael Jackson as the, weird guy with masks who may or may not have sex with little boys. Or maybe you know him as the dude who sang in the “Scream” video (which, if you did not already know, was the most expensive video in MTV history). But did you know he used to be a pop star? There was a reason he was calling himself “King of Pop.”
I discovered this pop star in the bargain bins of a hip, off-the beaten track record store in Wicker Park in Chicago and lo and behold he was still a little black. And he was a star. You might even say he was a “Thriller.”
MJ’s “Thriller” is an oft-overlooked gem. It’s songs are uniformly strong and daringly fuse Americana, indie, hip-hop, and emo’s prototypes into a simmering stew of “shut the hell up and get on the damn dance floor.”
The first song is “Wanna be startin’ somethin’.” It made me want to do just that, start something. And I did. I started listening to that first track, again and again, on my vintage 1981 turntable I bought off Ebay from Joe Strummer’s second cousin. If it doesn’t make you start something, you are a parapalegic or something. I don’t mean to make fun of you if you are parapalegic, dude; the limp can get down too.
Once I got past the obscure and brilliant cultural moment that begins “Thriller” I made my way to a song called “Beat It” featuring a perfect hook by a little-known session guitarist who once fronted his own band. Check them out too, the scene’s alive.
Like Eminem? His rhymes are straight-up plagiarism. Talk Em up all you want, he’s not doing anything Vincent Price didn’t do better twenty years ago. Sorry, guys, I just have to say it. Em is not hot shit.
Price speaks over the title track, a rave that, I’m sorry, if you don’t like, you are beyond parapalegic. You are just ill-informed. Go listen to your White Stripes, I’ll be telling off a freeloading bitch who says I fathered her child with the confessional breakthrough “Billie Jean.”
Hearing this the first time made me recall the first time I went to a real 50’s drive in. It’s like I had seen it done badly and unoriginally so much but now I saw the real deal. I came, I saw, I almost peed my pants.
Jackson was actually a child star (you can thank him for Rockin’ Robin, yeah, thanks young Michael, you’re just as dumb as old Michael, I’ll take Thriller Michael any day) but what makes him kick some serious music butt is his secret weapon, Quincy Jones, producer.
Jones used to produce for a lounge singer named Frank something back in the 60’s but was looking for a comeback. He got it, if the public never acknowledged really how off the hook his ass-shaking music was. I am not sure how many copies Thriller sold but it’s a crime if it’s less than Outkast. Anyone can write “Hey Ya” but you need a real subtle touch to sell a love song like “the girl is mine.” He’s joined by a British songwriter whose catalog he now owns, or maybe he’s Irish-his name is McCartney so it makes me wonder.
The only album as good as this one is an early demo of The Postal Service’s I stole from a soundman outside of The Stroke’s New York debut. The only worthwhile thing I got from that whole damn show.