Michael Jackson was pushing the boundaries of pop music with his 1979 album Off the Wall. However, what was to come next was a worldwide phenomenon, with Thriller still being the highest-selling album in history. The 1982 album’s title track came with a famous music video – but how was the song written?
Thriller came from the mind of songwriter Rod Temperton, who had been working with Michael a great deal.
Rod wrote three songs for the 1979 album, including its title track, as well as Rock with You, which was its second single, and Burn This Disco Out.
These were very successful and he was asked to write three other songs on Thriller, the other two being The Lady in My Life and Baby Be Mine.
He also wrote other songs which did not make it on the original album, such as Someone in the Dark.
However, the biggest hit he wrote for Michael was Thriller, which became a Halloween anthem.
The music video to the song was screened on MTV and gained millions of viewers – but how was the original song written?
Speaking to M magazine, Rod said: “I got to know Michael He loves movies, so I came up with the idea that I should write something really theatrical.
“I’d been really impressed with Michael’s participation in the rhythm section when recording Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough, so I wanted to write something with the same power, but a really dramatic melody structure.”
Michael was a multi-instrumentalist and had a great deal to do with all his songs, even those he had not written himself.
Rod spoke of how he “kept building” on bass lines and the rhythm section to build suspense, but it wasn’t until a night alone in a hotel room when the name came about.
Rod, who lived in Germany at the time, layered idea upon idea to come up with different songs to take to Michael, but once he had the name of the song nailed down, the rest came easy.
He continued: “In my writing, I hear all the musical parts before I ever get to the lyrics.
“This was clearly such a production number that it had to be the title track – but there were no lyrics and Starlight [the original name of the song] just wasn’t good enough.
“It had to be mysterious to match Michael’s evolving persona, so I’d go back to my hotel every night and start writing titles.
“One night I came up with Midnight Man. Quincy said I was going in the right direction, but it still wasn’t right.
“The next morning it came to me – but it was a really crap word to sing: Thriller. It sounded terrible!
“However, we got Michael to spit it into the microphone a few times and it worked.
“Once I had the title, the lyrics were written within a couple of hours.”
While Michael had enlisted Rod, and later actor Vincent Price to work on the song, he got the director John Landis involved to direct the music video.
According to Vanity Fair, he was contacted by Michael, who had reportedly seen the comedy-horror movie, and asked to do the music video.
However, John refused to make a music video, stating he would only do it if it was made into a short film, which would be narrative and could be released in cinemas.
To this, Michael agreed, and it started a long working relationship between them, with John also directing the Black or White music video.