Larry Martino

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SANTA MARIA, CA - APRIL 30: Three-year-old Bridget Yruegas of Santa Maria, California holds a copy of singer Michael Jackson's 'Thriller" album outside the courthouse during his arraignment on April 30, 2004 in Santa Maria, California. Jackson plead not guilty to the grand jury indictment of numerous child molestation charges. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Michael Jackson released five solo albums through the 70s.  Not one of them reached #1 on the Billboard Album chart.  Michael left Motown Records in 1979 to release his first solo album on the Epic label.  “Off The Wall” produced the #1 hits “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough” and “Rock With You,” which helped the album peak at #3.

M.J. was a bit frustrated after that experience, even though “Off The Wall” sold more than twenty million copies.  He got back together with producer Quincy Jones to try and create an album where “every song was a killer.”  The result was “Thriller,” the best-selling album in history.  The album was released on November 30, 1982.  It reached the top of the Billboard Album chart the week of February 26th, 1983.  It ended up spending a record 37 weeks at #1.  It set many other records along the way, including:

  • Winning 8 Grammy Awards
  • Winning 8 American Music Awards
  • First album to be “Best-Selling” in the USA two consecutive years (1983 & 1984)
  • Most Top 10 singles from one album (7)

Let’s remember all seven of those Top 10 singles as we commemorate the week Michael Jackson finally reached his life-long goal.

The lead single from “Thriller” was a duet with the first recording artist to ever be featured on a Michael Jackson solo album.  None other than Paul McCartney.  “The Girl Is Mine” peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, kept out of the top spot by “Maneater” from Hall & Oates, and then behind “Down Under” by Men at Work.

He followed that up with what would become his best-selling single of all time, “Billie Jean,” the first music video by an African American recording artist to be placed in heavy rotation on MTV.

Sales of the single were bolstered by Michael’s performance on the TV special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever.  He introduced his famous “Moonwalk” dance during his Emmy-nominated performance.

While “Billie Jean” was spending 7 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, “Beat It” was released as the next single and it shot up into the Top 5 just as quickly.  In fact, both “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” remained in the Top 5 together while the latter spent three weeks at #1.

“Wanna Be Startin’ Something” became Jackson’s fourth consecutive Top 10 single from Thriller, peaking at #5.

The soulful mid-temp ballad “Human Nature” was originally written and composed by keyboardist Steve Porcaro of Toto.  Quincy Jones had the lyrics rewritten, MJ provides the vocals, for a single which peaked at #2 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, and #7 on the Hot 100.

The sixth single released was “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing),” a song which Michael never performed in concert.  It was not released with an official music video either, but it did peak at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

That was supposed to be it for single releases from Thriller.  But, with album sales finally started to dip a bit, the record label searched for another single to release.  Executives thought the title track, “Thriller,” was too much of a novelty song.  However, MJ got together with horror film director John Landis and conceived a 13-minute short film to go along with the song.  The music video premiered on MTV on December 2, 1983, and immediately went into heavy rotation on the music video channel.  The video helped DOUBLE the sales of the album, and sold over a million copies on VHS, becoming the best-selling video tape at the time.  The Library of Congress described it as “the most famous music video of all time.”  In 2009, Thriller became the first music video ever inducted into the National Film Registry.

So there you have it.  The songs that helped Thriller become the best-selling album in the world.  Michael Jackson’s first #1 solo album, which spent it’s first of 37 weeks at the top of the Billboard Album chart this week in 1983.


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