Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' Video Turns 30

Stacy M. Brown | 12/19/2013, 10:51 a.m.
Thirty years ago, Michael Jackson forever changed the way people viewed music videos.

"It's close to midnight and something's evil lurking in the dark;

Under the moonlight, you see a sight that almost stops your heart;

You try to scream, but terror takes the sound before you make it;

You start to freeze, as horror looks you right between the eyes;

You're paralyzed…" — Michael Jackson, Thriller 1983

Thirty years ago, Michael Jackson forever changed the way people viewed music videos.

The late King of Pop turned the world of music and television upside down on Dec. 2, 1983, with the release of the groundbreaking "Thriller" video.

"I remember everyone was already Michael Jackson crazy because of the records that he had done previously," said Jeannette Wright, a physical therapist who lives in Southeast.

"But, when we saw 'Thriller,' it was on. It was indescribable because no one had ever done that in a music video," said Wright, 49.

Jackson, 26 years old at the time, hired famed director John Landis to direct the short film after the former Jackson Five lead singer watched the 1981 horror picture "An American Werewolf in London," which Landis directed.

"The album was already the most successful of all time when we made the short film," said Landis during an interview in October at a film festival in Melbourne, Australia.

"The video was $29.95, and they sold 8 million copies of them," said Landis, 63, who also directed the 1983 Eddie Murphy hit movie "Trading Places."

"That amazed me. And, I think what still delights me, because it's so nuts, is where they do the Thriller dance and, if you go online, they are doing the Thriller dance at weddings and bar mitzvahs… I guess, it's the power of Michael Jackson."

With a boost from the video, Jackson's "Thriller" album became the biggest selling record in music history, with sales now reportedly topping more than 110 million.

It cemented Jackson's legacy as the "King of Pop."

The widely popular album, produced by legendary musician Quincy Jones, and the accompanying video, however, almost failed to see the light of day.

Officials at Jackson's label, Epic Records, opined that the boundary-shattering album wasn't good enough when they first heard the tracks, that ultimately included such iconic hits as "Billie Jean," "Beat It" and "Wanna Be Startin' Something."

Epic officials also refused to finance the video, which cost a then mind-boggling $500,000 to make.

"It was a disaster and the album was too long," said sound engineer Bruce Swedien, 79. "I told the guys it was too long. We were listening to it and saw that the bosses weren't very happy. It was 28 minutes on one side which was just too long for a vinyl disc, which was the primary release medium. In the corner of my eye, I noticed Michael slip out of the control room and I thought, 'what's going on now? I followed him and he was in a corner sobbing and saying the sound wasn't right. He was devastated. I told him that we've got to make it shorter and all Michael cared about was results. Nothing else mattered."