March 7th, 2008
Title: Thriller 25
Artist: Michael Jackson
Catalog No.: 88697 22096 2
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Thriller, “the world’s biggest selling album of all time” (the official subtitle), Legacy has released a deluxe casebook limited edition CD and DVD tucked into either end of a hardcover booklet featuring 48 pages of color stills from the music videos along with historic photos and song texts. One of the hottest 2008 releases thus far, the compilation has been hitting the top of the charts worldwide, no doubt introducing a whole new generation to the iconic album.
In addition to the digitally remastered original tracks, Thriller 25 includes six previously unreleased tracks, primarily remixes by contemporary artists in collaboration with Jackson. The best of these are will.i.am’s versions of “The Girl is Mine” and “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing),” plus Akon‘s remix of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something.” These three songs were the most pop oriented tracks on the original album and benefit greatly from the contemporary edge brought to the project by a couple of today’s hottest artist/producers. I was less enthusiastic about the remixes of “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” by Fergie and Kanye West, respectively. It’s a tall order to be sure, and though Fergie and West approach these classics with great respect and the remixes have a couple of inspired moments, overall they just seem unnecessary (though I expect the younger generation may disagree). The CD closes with “For All Time,” which was recorded by Jackson during the original Thriller sessions but didn’t make the final cut, for reasons that are readily apparent.
What makes this deluxe edition especially worthwhile is the inclusion of a DVD featuring the digitally remastered music videos (or short films, to be more accurate) for “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” and “Thriller.” Also included is Jackson’s “Billie Jean” performance from the now legendary television special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, and Forever, where he introduced the moonwalk and created an immediate sensation. Back in the day, these Thriller videos literally “blew up” MTV and were significant on several different levels: by elevating music videos to an art form, by introducing intricate group dance numbers, by revitalizing R&B, and most importantly, by breaking the color barrier.
For those not old enough to remember, MTV originated on cable TV in the early ’80s as a venue for rock videos and initially featured only white musicians. Jackson and his record company lobbied hard to get on MTV (CBS Records president Walter Yetnikoff allegedly threatened to pull all of their product off the air and tell the public that MTV refused to play music by a black artist if they didn’t relent). Jackson not only got the “Billie Jean” and “Thriller” videos on the air, but they were such huge hits that MTV’s ratings shot into the stratosphere. As a result, Jackson was instrumental in paving the way for other black artists, such as Run DMC and Prince, who were also regularly featured on MTV in the ’80s. This has all been well-documented elsewhere, but it is worth mentioning again for those who weren’t around 25 years ago, especially since it goes a long way towards explaining how the pressures to crossover may have affected Jackson’s self-image and led to some of his eccentricities.
The Legacy staff has gone into overdrive to promote the album, including lots of “new media” features on the official website. The most noteworthy is the launch of Thrillercast, an all-star podcast series that features “legends of music, film and culture taking you behind the scenes to their own experiences with Michael and hearing the album for the first time.” The first four episodes have now been mounted and include discussions by Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, will.i.am, Nick Cannon, and Shane Sparks. Each podcast runs about 10 minutes and offers up lots of fascinating details regarding the impact of the album and videos.
In closing, I think it is worth noting the various editions of Thriller 25 that are currently available. In addition to the deluxe casebook edition reviewed here, Legacy is also offering a standard two-disc package. If you choose to download the album from iTunes or Amazon MP3, you apparently have the option of getting the “Super Deluxe Edition,” featuring bonus material from Thriller Special Edition (the 2001 reissue that included interviews with Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton) plus a “Billie Jean” underground mix, an instrumental “Thriller” mix, an extended “Billie Jean” and a digital booklet. Albums sold through the big box stores (Target, Best Buy, and Circuit City) all have slightly different track configurations and bonus mixes.
Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss