The Funk of Forty Thousand Years

Aside from its ultramegahugeness, there are some aspects of Thriller that wouldn’t be the same today.

A. If it was released now, it wouldn’t be sequenced the same way. Here’s your all-star lineup: (side one) 1. “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” 2. “Baby Be Mine” 3. “The Girl Is Mine” 4. “Thriller” (side two) 5. “Beat It” 6. “Billie Jean” 7. “Human Nature” 8. “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” 9. “The Lady in My Life.” The conventional industry wisdom now is to front-load your strongest material as much as possible, because many listeners will never make it past the first three songs, but after the kickoff of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” side one seriously drags. Michael knew people would stick around for side two. (That same confidence is why he released a trifle like “The Girl Is Mine” as the album’s first single.)

B. Only a few years later, every song on the album would have had a video. Everyone remembers the Thriller videos; at the time, it didn’t seem odd that there were only three of them.

C. A year into its chart run, Michael started competing with himself! “Say Say Say,” his second duet with Paul McCartney, was on the charts at the same time as “P.Y.T.”–and did much better, lodging at #1 for six weeks, while “P.Y.T.” just made it to #10. At least it was the same record company in that case, so they could mark it all up to the bottom line. But a few months later, Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me,” with hugely prominent backing vocals by Jackson, was on the charts at the same time as “Thriller.” I think CBS Records just said “screw it, this thing’s unstoppable.”

posted 2 July 2009 in Tasty Bits and tagged . 1 comment

One Comment Thus Far on The Funk of Forty Thousand Years

  1. Chris M. Says:

    Actually — not disagreeing but amplifying your point — in the early ’80s it was Standard Operating Procedure to put your first single, or your anticipated big single, at the start of Side B. Thriller, Synchronicity, Seven and the Ragged Tiger, Colour by Numbers, Heartbeat City — the second side of each was led by the first single, or the biggest single (“Billie Jean” got Thriller‘s pimp spot even though “The Girl Is Mine” was the leadoff, auguring its status as the legendary single of that album).

    What changed this pattern was the CD era, and it’s appropriate that we’re discussing 1982–83 albums here, because that’s the very moment the CD was introduced. By the mid-’80s, it seemed weird for the big hit of an album to be track 6 or 7 on disc, and so leadoff singles pretty universally became track 1 thereafter.

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