Music Review Monday – Michael Jackson’s Thriller album

I thought I’d kick off the music reviews with the very first album I ever bought, Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Music has always been a part of my life, from the scores in the movies I watched to the songs we sang in school to the music my family played at home. But the first record I ever bought (with my hard-earned chore allowance) was Thriller. Yes, I said record, and I meant it. Back in the dark ages, there was no such thing as digital media. Computers took up whole rooms, far too large to have a personal version. We used record players, cassette decks, and radio to get music. However, thanks to technology, I’ve linked each song to their Amazon.com page where you can listen to them, just in case you haven’t heard them or just want to listen along with me.

I listened to this particular album until the needle on our player went smooth…several times over. Play just about any song on it, and I can happily sing along. I have pulled out my own vinyl copy to check the track listing. We’ll start with side one.

Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin‘ is, perhaps inevitably, the first song. When I hear it, my shoulders automatically begin moving left and right to the beat and if I’m standing, so do my hips. So what if it’s one of the most repetitive songs on the planet? It’s too high to get over, too low to get under. It infects you with the beat, the Almighty Beat, until you just can’t be still. Go ahead, try it, I double-dog dare you! Even if you do nothing more than nod in time, you’ll see. Interesting side note? There’s mention of that naughty Billie Jean and how she’s always tellin’ lies. Who says foreshadowing is just for novels?

 Second, we come to Baby Be Mine. The beat’s still there, still strong, and yet it’s unmistakably a ballad. You’ll come to see that the beat is the underlying commonality throughout the album, in fact. At any rate, this song has everything a ballad should have – expressions of devotion, confessions of desire, promises of fidelity and eternity. Yet it doesn’t feel insincere or facile. To me, it sounds honest, sweet.

Third is The Girl Is Mine, a duet with Sir Paul McCartney. Their voices don’t just provide a beautiful counterpoint when they’re going back and forth. They harmonize. Near the end, there’s a “conversation” that feels natural rather than contrived. Two of my friends and I lip-synced a little skit for this song for our school’s talent show when I was ten. I played Michael’s part, Julie was Paul, and Whitney was the girl we “fought” over. Good times, man.

Fourth, finishing off side one, is the reason I bought the album in the first place, the reason I can watch zombie movies even though my “ick” tolerance is way low. Thriller, the title track of the album, is definitely one of my top ten songs/videos of all time. The alien keyboard starts us off, nice and spooky, escalating as the beat asserts itself. Maybe because the video is so deeply entrenched in my psyche, the tension builds as Michael starts to sing, infusing the song with a more concrete story-telling feel. I don’t just see the video behind my eyelids every time I hear the song, my body fills with the tension and excitement I felt when I first encountered it. Somewhere, deep inside, music was forever changed for me. There’s something about his voice, at times trembling, at others pleading, warning, even mocking, that draws me in, makes me feel like an audience of one. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. And then, Vincent Price, the master of creeptasticness, begins to speak. **shivers** This isn’t just a song, it’s an event. Lift the needle, carefully reposition it, listen again.

Thus ends side one. Flip the record to side two.

We open with Beat It. Bright, funky, and with mind-blowing (at least for me) guitar riffs all blended into an anthemic dance tune. “You have to show them that you’re really not scared. You’re playin’ with your life, this ain’t no Truth Or Dare. They’ll kick you then they’ll beat you then they’ll tell you it’s fair, so beat it. But you wanna be BAD.” And no, I haven’t stopped dancing around, why do you ask?

Now we come to Billie Jean, that girl doing all the lying from earlier. Only, this story seems to be leading us to believe that maybe she isn’t lying, at least not wholly. “She’s just a girl who claims that I am the one” falls flat next to “the lie becomes the truth” and “so take my strong advice: remember to always think twice.” Of course I didn’t think any of this when I first got the album as a very sheltered nine-year-old. I didn’t even know what a “lover” was.

Ah, Human Nature, the most ethereal cut on the album. Breathy and almost haunting, I fall in love each time I hear it. Even for all that, the beat is very present, an undercurrent that pulls you along so that you sway to the rhythm.

I always wanted to be someone’s P.Y.T., their tenderoni, in need of T.L.C. Now was the perfect time. It just sounded like so much fun! Sometimes though, I couldn’t wait for it to finish to get to the next and final song.

The Lady In My Life, the culmination of it all, the soothing balm after all the dancing, monsters, being bad, lying girls, and did I mention dancing?  I don’t know what I’d do if a man sang this to me. It makes all my cynicism and bitterness just melt away. Adult me knows he’s singing about sex… slow songs get you laid, after all. But kid me just wanted to snuggle in his (and later, others’) arms and make with the smoochies… go nowhere and stay with him, whatever that meant.

Each piece of this album has something to pull you in, keep you listening. Puzzle pieces that interlock, complementing each other and completing the whole. I’ll admit, I have NO objectivity where this album is concerned. Who does in regards to their first love, really? I’ll also confess that it took several hours to write this review. I had to stop after each song and take a break to keep from all-out weeping. The world is a poorer place without Michael Jackson in it making music.

So, what was your first love, musically speaking, and why? Let me know in the comments what record, album, CD, whatever, spins you right ’round.

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3 Comments »

  1. Alia said

    Fantastically thorough and insightful. This review really took me right back!! Two thumbs up 🙂

    • Alia said

      Oh p.s. The first love of my own was of course NKOTB The Right Stuff. The love of my adult life……One Republic. I seem to like anything those peeps put out. It used to be Aerosmith but alas my palette has moved on.

      • Gigi Salem said

        Gosh! I forgot that you and Lailah hooked me on that and not the other way around! 😀

        Now, One Republic…tell me more!

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