The Story of… ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson

31 October 2023, 12:19

The Story of… ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson
The Story of… ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson. Picture: Alamy
Hannah Lovejoy

By Hannah Lovejoy

Michael Jackson’s hit song ‘Thriller’ was released in 1983, it was hugely successful and is still influencing the music world nearly 40 years later.

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‘Thriller’ was the seventh and last single that Michael Jackson released from his Thriller album. The song had huge success and that was heavily influenced by the vision Michael had for the ‘Thriller’ music video.

You may be wondering who wrote ‘Thriller’ and how it became an iconic dance move. Here’s everything you need to know about Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’.

  1. Who wrote ‘Thriller’?

    ‘Thriller’ was written by Rod Temperton, he had previously written songs for Michael including ‘Rock With You’ and ‘Off the Wall’.

    Rod also wrote the tracks ‘Baby Be Mine’ and ‘The Lady in My Life’ on Michael’s Thriller album.

    Michael Jackson's Halloween on CBS

    When Rod first started writing ‘Thriller’ it had a different name, the original track was titled ‘Starlight’. Rod found out that Michael had a love for horror movies and shifted the lyrics around to give it more character.

  2. Who produced ‘Thriller’?

    Quincy Jones produced the single ‘Thriller’ for Michael Jackson as well as the rest of the Thriller album.

    ‘Thriller’ was given a cinematic and upbeat arrangement that managed to catch attention and keep it. Quincy was also able to secure the Vincent Price voiceover.

    “I had always envisioned a talking section at the end but I didn’t really know what to do with it,” Rod mentioned in an interview on the Thriller album.

    Quincy’s wife at the time, Peggy Lipton, knew horror movie legend Vincent and they managed to bring him into the studio.

    Michael Jackson - Thriller (Official Video)

    Rod explained: “The idea was that he would just talk some horror talk like he would deliver in his famous roles.

    “The night before the session, Quincy called and said, ‘I’m a bit scared. Perhaps you better write something for him.’ ”

    Rod was able to write Vincent’s spooky rap that closes the iconic ‘Thriller’ track on his way into the recording session. He wrote one verse while waiting for a taxi and also penned two more verses during the car journey.

    “Rod wrote this brilliant, Edgar Allan Poe spiel. And Vincent really understood it. … Vincent did it in two takes,” Quincy said.

  3. Where did ‘Thriller’ land in the charts?

    When the Thriller album was first released in the UK in 1982, it peaked at number one on the albums chart. ‘Thriller’ was released as a single the following year and landed at number 10 on the official UK singles chart in 1983.

    ‘Thriller’ had global success and landed at number four on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the US. It also reached number one in 1984 in Spain, France and Belgium.

  4. How did Michael Jackson come up with the concept for the ‘Thriller’ music video?

    ‘Thriller’ is an iconic music video and one of the biggest moments of Michael Jackson’s career - the video choreography went on to become one of Michael’s signature dance moves.

    The 14-minute video was seen as a short film and Michael mentioned that he wanted to be a “pioneer” in the world of music video creation.

    The Story of… ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson
    The Story of… ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson. Picture: Alamy

    “I wanted something that would glue you to the set, something you’d want to watch over and over,” Michael wrote in his 1988 memoir Moonwalk.

    “I wanted to be a pioneer in this relatively new medium and make the best short music movies we could make.”

    The concept for ‘Thriller’ sees Michael on a date with a girl (played by Ola Ray) - the couple leave their movie date and are met by zombies on their way home. Michael also turns into a zombie and leads the troupe in the iconic choreography. The zombies surround Ola and she quickly wakes up, realising that it was all just a bad dream.

    Michael was inspired by horror-comedy An American Werewolf in London - the movie’s director John Landis worked with Michael to create a concept for the ‘Thriller’ video and worked as the director on the shoot to help execute the vision.

  5. Who created the iconic ‘Thriller’ choreography with Michael Jackson?

    Morrisons supermarket staff recreate 'Thriller'

    Michael Jackson worked with Michael Peters to create the iconic ‘Thriller’ choreography. The dance moves are still referenced in modern day popular culture.

    In 2006, an event took place in Toronto in Canada that saw 62 people come together to recreate the ‘Thriller’ dance. It broke a Guinness World Record and turned into an annual event titled Thrill the World.

    Since then, dancers come together every year, all over the world in October to recreate the dance. They attempt to break more world records and carry on the legacy of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’.