Wednesday, October 1, 2008
The Halloween Countdown Begins: Thriller 25
We begin our 2008 edition of the Halloween countdown taking a look back at the making and impact of one of the most groundbreaking pieces of pop culture entertainment ever created: Michael Jackson's Thriller.
The album Thriller, was released on November 30, 1982 reaching the number one spot both in the U.S. and the U.K. and selling one million copies world wide per week.
Not just your typical album, song, or music video Thriller is a unique work of creativity which can not be categorized as easily. Thriller became a bonafide multimedia event, way before anyone had coined the term "multimedia". Certainly the music video was much more than your everyday promotional clip cheaply put together to sell records.
In fact by the time the music video came along the album had sold so many copies worldwide that the executives at Columbia felt it unnecessary to make a video, the sales where that high. Why spend any money to promote something that literally sells itself. When John Landis approached Columbia executive Walter Yetnikoff on behalf of Michael Jackson and informed him of their idea for the video and how it would cost around 500 thousand dollars to make, at a time when the most expensive music video would cost less than 50,000 dollars, Yetnikoff proceeded to scream obscenities to Landis over the phone. He also told Landis to call Michael and tell him to go F***K himself.
Landis brought his producer George Folsey on board, and together they began shopping the project around to various television networks in order to raise the half a million dollar needed for this groundbreaking production which at this point was being referred to as a theatrical short and not a music video.
With little interest from the major networks Landis turned to the newly created Showtime Network, which was in desperate need of significant programming. Landis quickly made a deal with them for a quarter of a million dollars, giving them the exclusive rights to air Thriller for a window of ten days before anyone else. Soon after an outraged MTV executive contacted Landis, telling him how MTV made Michael Jackson. They demanded to get Thriller. Landis gave them a two week exclusivity deal after Showtime for putting up the remaining quarter of a million dollars needed to complete their production budget.
With Rick Baker onboard to design and produce all the creature effects production on Thriller began in May of 1983 and the face of pop music marketing would change forever.
In order to produce a 12 minute short film out of a five minute song the filmmakers needed someone to compose additional music for the scenes that did not involve the song . To fulfill that task Landis called his friend Elmer Bernstein, the great film composer responsible for such memorable scores as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Ten Commandments. Bernstein had also scored such previous Landis films as Trading Places and An American Warewolf in London.
Immediately after Thriller he would go on to write the score for Ghostbusters.
After getting Bernstein onboard Landis' next task was to get his hands on the original master tapes from the Thriller recording session in order to re-edit the tune so it would work for his video. He also asked Vincent Price back into the studio to record additional lines of narration for the video.
On November 0f 1983, days after Halloween - Thriller made its theatrical debut in Los Angeles as the opening short to Disney's re-issue of Fantasia.
During production of the video a documentary crew was appointed by Folsey to produce a film which would chronicle the making of Thriller. At 45 minutes in length the "making of" ended up being almost four times longer than the main event.
It also aired on TV and eventually made its way to VHS with the music video in order to fill out a one hour presentation which sold for $29.95.
Over the years the album has been reissued multiple times and in various different formats. One of the best editions is the expanded edition CD which includes interviews with producer Quincy Jones and songwriter Rod Temperton, as well as outtakes from the Vincent Price recording sessions. Another bonus feature was the inclusion of two unreleased songs: Carousel, and Someone in the dark - originally recorded for Steven Spielberg's E.T.
This is one of my favorite editions of the album and it contains some of the best added value features.
Earlier this year we got treated to a 25th anniversary edition of the album, but unfortunately the remixes featured in this album featuring such current pop performers as Kanye West and Fergie fall short of the original tunes.
Also this year Michael Jackson fans everywhere can get their hands on a series of collectible Vinyl figures from ECBIZZ Toys.
Later this year Hot Toys will be importing a series of Michael Jackson cosbaby figures, including two figures from Thriller.
There is no way you can throw a Halloween party without Thriller blasting from the speakers. It's just not right. The song and the video truly make it feel like Halloween for me. It's the perfect Halloween party song along with Monster Mash. So if you don't have a copy of Thriller in your collection now would be the perfect time to pick up any of the multiple versions available of this groundbreaking album.