On February 26, 1983, Michael Jackson‘s sixth album Thriller made it to the number one spot on the Billboard 200 chart. Including well-known songs “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” and of course, “Thriller,” the album changed this history of rock and roll and is still the best-selling album of all time.
Thriller was recorded from April 14 to November 8, 1982 at Westlake Recording Studios in Hollywood. The album was given a $750,000 budget and producer Quincy Jones began working on the album with Jackson, going through over 700 demos looking for material to record. Of the songs that were picked, four of them were songs Jackson wrote himself – “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “The Girl is Mine,” “Billie Jean” and “Beat It.” All these songs were based on personal or social issues Jackson had dealt with over the years. “Billie Jean” was about a fan who claimed Jackson was the father of her baby while “Beat It” was an anti-gang violence anthem.
For an entire year Thriller remained in the top 10 on the Billboard charts, and spent 37 of those weeks at number one – more than any other album had. To date, the album has sold over 65 million copies worldwide, and in 1984, it won eight Grammy awards, eight American Music Awards, and three MTV Music Video Awards.
The iconic video for the title track of the album was thought up in 1983 after sales of the album were beginning a downfall. Frank DiLeo, Jackson’s manager, came up with the idea as a way to boost sales saying, “It’s simple – all you’ve got to do is dance, sing and make it scary.” Famed ’80s director, John Landis, who directed popular films Animal House and The Blues Brothers, helped Jackson write the screenplay for the 14-minute video. It centered around a date that goes wrong when Jackson turns into a zombie. The video and “Thriller” dance became one of the most influential pieces of music history, with people all over the world still recreating the dance. Even a group of over 1,500 inmates in a Philippine prison learned the moves in what is one of the most well-known viral videos on the internet.
The amount of airplay Jackson’s videos got on MTV led to an increase in videos by African-American artists in general, breaking down former racial barriers. The album has stood the test of time with Rolling Stone naming it #20 on the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003, and a reissue of the album called Thriller 25 was released in 2008 featuring re-mixes of songs. The album has also been put in the Library of Congress‘ National Recording Registry and the video for “Thriller” was included in the National Film Preservation Board‘s National Film Registry for their cultural significance. Though it has been over 20 years since its release, Thriller remains one of the most significant album releases of all time.