I was about 7 years old when this album came out back in the 80s, and I remember the videos being played constantly on MTV.  And I didn’t like them much.  This was back when MTV was still fairly new and interesting, and Michael Jackson was one of their first major breakthroughs.  But yeah, I didn’t really like it much back then.  Having led a fairly sheltered life, I didn’t get why two people would want to hand-cuff themselves together and have a knife fight in the “Beat It” video, and actually I much preferred Weird Al Yankovic’s parody “Eat It”.  I wasn’t much into werewolves or zombies either, so the “Thriller” video never did much for me either.  And well, I was just simply too young to understand “Billie Jean”.

As I got older, Michael Jackson just got weirder.  I remember the hype surrounding the premier of the “Black or White” video, and then just thinking afterwards that the video was bizarre.  Then of course there was the strange skin color change, the eight million plastic surgeries, and of course the scandals involving underage boys…all of that was rather off putting to say the least.  So it wasn’t until my adult professional life that I had a good experience with Michael Jackson.  Shortly after his death (I was at Comfest, a local festival, when I heard the announcement that he was dead), several of my show choir students started texting me messages that they wanted to do a Michael Jackson song.  So I found a choral arrangement of “Thriller” and our choreographer lifted the dance straight out of the video, and voila…we had a hit.  The kids loved it (well, most of them) and it wound up being the centerpiece of our competition show that year.  We took the show to competition in Virginia Beach that spring and we won a gold medal, a moment which has truly been the highlight of my professional career.  So I guess that MJ did something good for me and my kids, and I will try to be objective about the music, despite my aversion to his personal life.

So I picked up this album for $7.97 on Amazon.  It’s an older edition, which is just fine by me, as I had no desire to shell out the money for the more recent anniversary edition with the bonus tracks and such.  So this is the album as it was released in the 80s, and it still sounds like the embodiment of the 80s.  Actually, I was slightly disappointed in some of Quincy Jones’ rhythm tracks on this record, as some of them sound like bad 80s synth-pop.  But those tracks are mostly on the songs that Michael Jackson didn’t write (“Baby Be Mine” and “Human Nature” come to mind).  The songs that MJ wrote, such as “Billie Jean” and “Beat It”, have very vibrant and dynamic rhythm tracks, combining elements of good funk, soul, R&B, and rock into an undeniably catchy dance groove.  But as important as the rhythm tracks are on a dance record like this, it is Michael Jackson’s singing that makes this album memorable.  Light and flexible, MJ could transition from his famous falsetto to his guttural grunts and interjections almost instantly.  And, despite his effeminate speaking voice and mannerisms, MJ’s full-voiced tenor had a very masculine intensity to it.  And even though the big 3 songs (“Thriller”, “Beat It”, and “Billie Jean”) have been elevated to legendary status, there are some other decent songs on this record too, like “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”.  And Paulie even makes an appearance on “The Girl is Mine”.

Other lists: “Billie Jean” is #58 and “Beat It” is #344 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Michael Jackson is #25 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and #35 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.  “Thriller” is listed at #7 on the list of the 100 Best Albums of the 80s.

My favorite track: “Billie Jean”

Honorable mention: “Beat It” (and btw, by playing the solo in this song, Eddie Van Halen gets himself on the chart at a much higher spot than anything he did with his own band!)

Quote: “And mother always told me be careful of who you love.  And be careful of what you do, ’cause the lie becomes the truth” (ironic, eh?)