500 Greatest Albums
Here’s our list of seminal international albums including The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones among others
20. Thriller – Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson towered over the 1980s the way Elvis Presley dominated the 1950s, and Thriller is the reason why. Still in his early twenties when Thriller was released, the R&B child star of the 1970s had ripened into a Technicolor soulman, a singer, dancer and songwriter with incomparable crossover instincts. He and producer Quincy Jones established the something-for-everyone template of Thriller on 1979’s Off the Wall, on which Jackson captures the rare mania of his life ”” the applause and paranoia; the need for love and the fear of commitment ”” in a crisp fusion of pop hooks and dance beats. On Thriller, the pair heighten the sheen (the jaunty gloss of “The Girl Is Mine,” with a guest vocal by Paul McCartney), pump up the theater (the horror-movie spectacular “Thriller”) and deepen the funk. With its locomotive cadence and acrobatic-metal guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen, “Beat It” was arguably the first industrial-disco Number One. (Jackson had such an impeccable nose for the down-and-dirty that Jones called him Smelly.) But the most thrilling thing about Thriller was the autobiography busting through the gloss: the angry hiss of denial in Jackson’s voice in the funk-rock noir of “Billie Jean”; the to-hell-with-haters cock strut of “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” Jackson was at the peak of his art and adulthood. It is hard now to separate the wonder of Thriller from its commercial stature (Number One for thirty-seven weeks, seven Top Ten singles, eight Grammys) and Jackson’s current nightmare of tabloid celebrity and self-destructive egomania. But there was a time when he was truly the King of Pop. This is it.