The Foulest Stench Is In The Air, The Funk Of Forty Thousand Years
October 30, 2012 9:22 PM   Subscribe

It has been 30 years since it was first recorded, and almost that long since it was released as a single and a extra-long music video (alt. link: YT), but Thriller has remained at the top of lists for best Halloween songs (2, 3, 4, 5) and best Halloween videos (2, 3, 4, 5). You know the dance, and you've read Vanity Fair's extensive Thriller Diaries (previously), or at least Los Angeles Times' 25 Thriller facts, but have you seen the almost hour long making of the video? Have you heard the voice-over session with Michael and Vincent Price, with the bonus unreleased "rap" vocals by Price? You remember that Vincent did Thriller just to make fun of himself, like he did when he worked with Jack Benny and Red Skelton, right? Or maybe you're in the mood for more of the comedic horror that Michael liked, such as his collaboration with Stephen King, Michale Jackson's Ghosts (HD, with Japanese subtitles and intro).

If the almost 14 minute long video is too long, here's a shorter fan edit, featuring a "full music version" with some bonus sound effects from the long video, plus the full zombie dance. If you want different takes on the song, the Covers Project currently lists a scant 9 covers, and Wikipedia has a few additions to the list, which also ignore the revisions included in Thriller 25, the special edition re-issue, featuring gobs of bonus bits spread across many different versions (scroll down to 2008). For your pleasure, here are some of those covers and re-versions:

Early alternate versions: Covers:
  • Ten Masked Men (2000, metal)
  • Ian Brown (2000, funky sort of indie rock, covered along with Billy Jean)
  • Joe Dolce (2001, folksy/bluesy, complete with harmonica)
  • Aerogramme (2003, Scottish orchestral indie rock, or something like that)
  • The Prodigy sampled the track in The Way It Is (2004)
  • Ben Gibbard (2007, live indie rock cover)
  • Wise Guys (2008, German a cappella version, re-titled "Schiller")
  • Gothminister (2008, industrial rock/hard goth cover)
  • Imogen Heap (2009, covered on piano for BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge, done in one take, then re-used for BBC's end montage to its UEFA Euro 2012 football tournament coverage)
  • Mutilators (2010, psychobilly)
  • The London Symphony Orchestra (year unknown)
    • posted by filthy light thief (19 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
      Lots of previous tributes, parodies and covers of Thriller, including: Thriller, performed by Kaiju (previously), lipdubbing Thriller (one of many lipdubs featured), included in the videography of Michael Jackson, along side many "covers" of the song and dance, and a few more videos, plus zombies in the streets of Lexington (back when the image tag was in effect), and the original posting of the Lego re-creation of the long-form Thriller video, which has since found its way onto YouTube. And somewhere in that timeline, Thrill The World was mentioned previously, who have the nice step-by-step videos for the zombie dance.
      posted by filthy light thief at 9:22 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

      Thanks for the amazing post, flt.
      posted by Bwithh at 9:29 PM on October 30, 2012

      flt, for your extraordinary efforts, I'd give you as many favorites as candles on my birthday cake, but then it would be obvious (or obvious-er, thanks to this thread) that I am now officially in the demographic of radio stations that play songs from the XX's, YY's, and ZZ's.

      Perfecting the moonwalk was a top priority at every 1980s slumber party I attended. As far as I know, N.E. was the only one to actually get there (and even then, her moonwalk was very gringa). Her parents sent us all home before midnight, though (M.M. drew a magic-marker mustache on A.M., against A.M.'s will), so who knows what might have happened.
      posted by mudpuppie at 9:35 PM on October 30, 2012

      I work at an elementary school and I have found that a surefire remedy for a bad day is watching a bunch of small children doing the Thriller dance. In the weeks leading up to Halloween, I've probably seen this a dozen times and it has had the lovely effect of re-conditioning the song from one that scared me to death in 1983 to one that now reminds me of some truly wonderful children and teachers.

      Thanks for this.
      posted by corey flood at 10:26 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

      Thirty years and it's never lost its cool. Great fucking song.
      posted by good in a vacuum at 10:34 PM on October 30, 2012

      The movie 13 Going On 30 was a damn sight better than it should have been. And this scene from it inspired me to work on learning the Thriller dance for myself.

      (Seriously, watch the movie. It's startlingly good.)
      posted by hippybear at 10:49 PM on October 30, 2012

      Via Coverville, a few more covers that I think aren't, uh, covered above:
      Honeywagon, bluegrass
      François Macré, a cappella
      Petra Haden, a cappella

      Via a post on the blue, Igor Presnyakov does a classical guitar version.
      posted by knile at 12:33 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

      You remember that Vincent did Thriller just to make fun of himself

      But Jackson used the association with Price (and Eddie van Halen on Beat It) to appeal to a wider audience of people who were not nominally fans of Michael Jackson. It was a massively successful concept which I think contributed a lot to the commercial success of the album.
      posted by three blind mice at 1:42 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

      three blind mice, good point. The van Halen effect was noted in the LA Times 25 Thriller facts:
      "Thriller's" phenomenal success led to a breaking down of traditional racial barriers on FM radio at the time. New York's WPLJ, a "white" station, played Jackson's "Beat It" because of Eddie Van Halen's appearance on it. The song caused a wave of protests from some listeners who didn't want "black" music on their station. MTV also had a reputation for favoring white performers at the time, and its heavy rotation of Jackson videos helped alleviate the criticism.
      I honestly didn't realize that there were "white" stations, though it sounds like WPJL wasn't always so conservative, so the LA Times classification might be a bit off there. Anyway, I made the jump to Vincent Price's comedic roles because I didn't know that he played kookier roles until reading that interview. I really liked his dry wit in his appearance on "The Jack Benny Show", and was then rather surprised to see him play a wacky island chef on "The Red Skelton Hour".
      posted by filthy light thief at 1:56 AM on October 31, 2012

      Let's not forget that this song actually started out as "Starlight."
      posted by XhaustedProphet at 2:14 AM on October 31, 2012

      Bollywood Thriller!!!
      posted by XhaustedProphet at 2:20 AM on October 31, 2012

      A wrong turn onto Greenmount off North Ave usually means observing a decaying neighbourhood with boarded up housing, seedy-looking shops and restaurants, and several police cars. I haven't been in Baltimore long, and naively, I never knew such widespread urban rot existed in major American cities until I started exploring B'more. (No, I haven't watched "The Wire".)

      Maybe I like rooting for the underdog, or maybe it's charmed me, but I've already developed a soft spot for this slice of Gotham.

      The other day, same wrong turn, same dark hour, I see the same decay, meanderings, and window grills. I idly wonder what the cop count would be on a Saturday, if any different from the usual. The buildings blend into a weary hue of battledress and I chat about my experiences in other cities. Suddenly, a flicker of red up ahead catches my eye. Police?

      Edging closer, a few restaurants roll by. There's that fried chicken and fish shack in the middle of an empty lot again.

      But in the foreground, a kid, at most 13 years old, wearing a red jacket, slick pants, shiny black shoes, and perfectly coiffed hair is shifting sharply, left and right, dancing up a storm, "Thriller" blasting from his boombox. In that empty lot, he had an audience of only his buddy and the cars passing by, but he had those moves down. Wearing his enormous grin, defiantly embodying the hopeful intersection of the troubled scene behind him and pure joy, he warms my heart.
      posted by mayurasana at 2:42 AM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

      Self-link: I wrote this essay on liminal and uncanny themes in "Thriller" for Bewildering Stories. I hope you folks like it.
      posted by Faint of Butt at 2:55 AM on October 31, 2012

      Everyone has their own Michael Jackson stories. This one is mine.

      I was six years old when this came out. My mom worked for the cable company, which meant we got free cable. My younger brother and I were only allowed to watch Nickelodeon (the button for which Mom had helpfully painted with red nail polish on the cable box), and MTV was expressly forbidden. She saw this as such common sense that she didn't mention it to the babysitter who had come to supervise us when she went out on a date one evening. I mean, you'd have the good sense not to watch cable in front of the kids, lest they get a peep of Emmanuelle or "Girls on Film", right?

      The first thing my babysitter did when she got in was flip the cable box to MTV, in spite of my weak protestations. I watched a few minutes of this, hoping to get a taste of the New Romantic, lipstick-colored forbidden fruit. Unfortunately, one of the first sights I got when she first flipped over wasn't the iced nipples or gender-bending my mom feared.

      It was Michael Jackson with yellow eyes.

      I felt my pants grow warm before I realized I'd lost control of my bladder with fear, and as those opening chords sounded out as though to taunt me, I left the room screaming and crying. My sitter shut off the TV in a huff, made me take off my pants, and started a wash so that my mom wouldn't know.

      To the best of my knowledge, my mom didn't find out right away. Unfortunately, in the hours between my mother's return and school the next morning, my sitter informed her sister -- who was in my grade -- and the entire school bus knew of my Jacko-fearing micturation.

      For a good two years at school, I was known as "pee pants". My mom let me stay home on Halloween that year, but opted not to play any Michael Jackson at school parties, lest I be further taunted. This backfired in a big way, since I became known not only as someone who could use remedial toilet training skills. The boys on my schoolbus would do gross things, like flip their eyelids inside out, and taunt me with the song, and no one did anything to stop it.

      Eventually the kids moved on to something else, and my loss of control over my bladder was lost to time. Or so I thought.

      My family moved away from our hometown in the middle of third grade, only to return when I was a high school freshman. I hadn't even thought of this incident for years, but the kid sister of my ill-fated sitter came up to me at my locker one day and invited me over her house to listen to the new Michael Jackson album, Dangerous. At the time, Jackson was becoming as well known for his offstage activities, and I looked her in the eye and said coolly to her, "I'm surprised your mom would let you listen to a child molester like Jackson." And that was that.

      Many years later, one of my roommates would hip me to the greatness of Off the Wall, but this story doesn't have a happy ending. I still feel a knot in my stomach whenever I hear that three-note riff, and I can't hear past all the playground taunts to hear this as the great song everyone tells me it is.
      posted by pxe2000 at 4:20 AM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

      pxe2000, let the healing begin with Enhanced Thriller Cat
      posted by Trivia Newton John at 4:56 AM on October 31, 2012

      Thriller TERRIFIED me as a kid when it came out, but I grew to appreciate it in subsequent years, especially as a high watermark in pre-cgi special effects and makeup.
      posted by Theta States at 8:36 AM on October 31, 2012

      My wife, as a child, was both scared and entranced by Thriller. Her older sister would call her in the room when it was on but not tell her what it was, and Mrs. flt would run in, then cover her eyes, but not leave the room. She is currently a huge fan of zombies, and it might be due to Thriller, all those years ago.
      posted by filthy light thief at 1:28 PM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

      On the Rockets radio broadcast tonight right after halftime Craig Ackerman said the Palace halftime show which was a staging of Thriller was the best halftime show he has ever seen in 15 (?) years of doing basketball play by play. Can't find the sucker on youtube yet.
      posted by bukvich at 7:54 PM on October 31, 2012

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