It’s still an argument today: who made the first music video? The Beatles made movies back in the 1960’s. Still, they aren’t considered music videos. Any video made in the 1960’s and 1970’s are what music junkies call promo videos, short for promotional video. That’s what music videos do: promote an album or song. However these videos are different because few of them had a real concept connected to it. In 1983, MTV started playing nothing but music videos. No one knows for sure who created the first music video but in 1983, Michael Jackson perfected the music video format with “Thriller.”
Michael Jackson and four of his brothers had been household names as the Jackson 5. The group had hit singles and appeared on TV frequently. Michael was the youngest and the clear star of the group. Michael became so big that in 1972 at the age of fourteen, he made his first solo album. Motown Records released Michael’s first four albums. On all the albums, Michael rarely got the chance to write his own music. By 1976, the Jackson 5 (now known as the Jacksons) switched to Epic Records, the label that let Michael create his own music. In 1978 while filming a movie adaptation of The Wiz, Michael met up with the movie’s musical producer Quincy Jones. Michael knew that Jones could help him make a good solo album. A year later, that album Off the Wall became an instant hit. While the album was a hit, Michael knew that his next album had to be better. In 1982, he released Thriller. A year later Michael had the biggest selling album of all time (and still does worldwide, selling 110 million copies) and had hits with the “white guy” rocker “Beat It” and the stalking fan letter confessional “Billie Jean” Jackson wrote both songs by himself. His next single, the album’s self-titled track, written by Rod Temperton, would be another hit. The highly anticipated 14 minute video premiered on MTV on December 2, 1983.
“Thriller” was directed by John Landis. Landis had directed the 1980 movie An American Werewolf in London. Jackson was impressed by the special effects in the movie. Both Jackson and Landis wrote the story for the music video as an old horror movie. The video starts off with a 1950’s-looking couple (Jackson and actress Ola Ray) going back home after a date. When the car breaks down, they start walking. Jackson asks Ray if she’d go steady with him. After she says yes, Jackson says that he’s not like other people. Ray doesn’t understand but when the moon is seen, Jackson turns into a werewolf and chases Ray. This whole scene is all done so well that you almost can’t laugh at how campy it is. Next, we see Jackson and Ray in a movie theater watching a horror movie themselves. When Ray wants to leave, the music starts. As Jackson and Ray walk together, Jackson breaks out into some “walking” dance moves. The listener can’t help but notice that the famous chorus is cut off but still watches the video. The video also got praised for using Vincent Price to read the spine-tingling narration. This was seen as something different and fresh but the truth is that Jackson wasn’t the only musician to use Price in a music project. Rock singer Alice Cooper had Vincent Price on his song “Devil’s Food” for the concept album Welcome to My Nighmare. The main highlight in the video is when Jackson dances with the zombies and sings the chorus right there. Jackson looks great throughout the entire video, wearing a red jacket which is now known as his “Thriller” jacket.
“Thriller” has frequently been cited as the greatest music video ever made. Critics point out that 1983 was when Michael Jackson was at his best. Jackson kept going on. In 1987 Jackson released Bad. It wasn’t like Thriller but managed to have six singles on the charts. Jackson got more creative with his music videos. Martin Scorecese directed the video for the album’s self-titled track, which was also formatted as a short-movie form like “Thriller.” When Jackson released Dangerous in 1991, he recruited John Landis to direct the video for the hit single, “Black Or White”. The video featured many of Jackson’s child-aged friends, one of them being child actor Macaully Culkin. In 1993, one of Jackson’s kid friends got him in trouble when he filed a lawsuit claiming that Jackson had sexually molested him. The case was settled out of court after Jackson paid the boy’s family well over a million dollars.
Jackson continued to make music and also got married twice (first to Lisa Marie Presely, daughter of Elvis Presely, and Debbie Rowe who became the mother of his first two children). Jackson’s last studio album was 2001’s Invincible, which was considered weak. A telvision documentary called Living With Michael Jackson aired in 2003. The director was British journalist Martin Bashir, who went deep into Jackson’s private life. Bashir went so deep that in 2005, Jackson was charged again with counts of child molestation. The jury found Jackson not guilty but it forever ruined his image. In March 2009 Jackson annouced that he would be performing 50 shows at London’s O2 Arena. The concerts were to be Jackson’s comeback. Sadly on June 25, 2009 Michael Jackson died suddenly after suffering from cardiac arrest.
In October, we celebrate Halloween. With Michael Jackson dead, is “Thriller” still in good taste? All I can say is that I’m sure Michael would want his fans and supporters to keep listening to his music and watching his videos. Michael Jackson didn’t create the music video. He perfected the way we make them today and that all began with “Thriller”.