The executives of CBS Records went about the business of preparing for the November 30 release of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" in the fall of 1982, they knew they had on their hands a terrific album by one of the biggest fantastic superstars in the music industry. But they were also a bit concerned, since the timing of Jackson's follow-up to his mega-selling 1979 album "Off The Wall" could not have seemed worse.
For starters, at the time the record industry as a whole was in a very bad slump, with shipments industry-wide down by 50 million units between 1980 and 1982. CBS Records' own profits were down 50% and sales were down over 15% for the year. As a result, major company-wide layoffs occurred in mid-August, on a day the company would remember as "Black Friday." CBS desperately needed Jackson's album to be a hit, but market conditions appeared very daunting.
The video cost half-a-million dollars; at the time, it was the most expensive video ever made. But CBS Records wouldn't pay for a third video from Thriller, and MTV had a policy of never paying for clips. Jackson and Landis funded their budget by getting MTV and Showtime to pay $250,000 each for the rights to show the 45-minuteThe Making of "Thriller." (MTV reasoned that if they were paying for a movie, they were circumventing their own policy.) Landis nicknamed the stretched-out documentary The Making of Filler.
Before the songwriter Rod Temperton came up with "Thriller," Michael Jackson's working title for the album was Starlight.
Temperton, a British born native formerly of the funk band Heatwave, also wrote "Baby Be Mine" and "The Lady in My Life" for Thriller (and earlier, had penned "Rock with You" and "Off the Wall" for Jackson).
Michael Jackson's faith seeped in.
The opening title card ("Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult") was inserted due to Jackson's Jehovah's Witness faith. Another manifestation of his piety, according to producer Quincy Jones: During the recording of Thriller, in a studio in the Westlake district of Los Angeles, "a healthy California girl walked by the front window of the studio, which was a one-way mirror facing the street, and pulled her dress up over her head. She was wearing absolutely nothing underneath." Jones stared, as did Temperton — but Jackson hid behind the mixing console so he couldn't catch a peek.
Thriller" is a coming-of-age story.
"In adolescence, youngsters begin to grow hair in unexpected places and parts of their anatomy swell and grow," director John Landis explained, regading the role of the werewolf metaphor in cinematic history. "Everyone experiences these physical transformations in their bodies and new, unfamiliar, sexual thoughts in their minds. No wonder we readily accept the concept of a literal metamorphosis." In other words, undergoing a lycanthropic transformation was a safe way for Michael Jackson to experiment with puberty.
Thriller" had a Playmate.
Jackson's "Thriller" costar, former Playboy Playmate Ola Ray, also appeared on Cheers and in Beverly Hills Cop II, but her only other notable music video was "Give Me the Night" by George Benson (a single also written by Rod Temperton and produced by Quincy Jones!), on a date with Benson that involves hot dogs and champagne. That video's biggest special effect: Benson playing guitar on rollerskates.