Michael Jackson has come a long way since the days when he was performing with his four brothers under the thumb of his father. In 1979, he just got rid of his father’s influence. Free to make his own choices, he began to rework his look and prepare his next album. Once again, he got closer to Quincy Jones, the legendary producer with whom he had already collaborated on Off the Wall. Very ambitious, Michael Jackson wants his new album to contain only hits. The volume of songs that Quincy Jones and his foal were working from when the sessions began was mind-boggling. More than three hundred titles are on the table. The artist also insists on imposing his own compositions, namely The Girl is Mine, which he recorded with Paul McCartney, Beat It, Billie Jean and Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’. For Beat It, always in a concern to surround himself only with the best, Michael Jackson calls upon Eddie Van Halen to interpret the guitar solo and to give to the song a more rock and rough patina. The last track, Thriller, is a composition by Rod Temperton. First called Starlight, it becomes Midnight Man before finding its final title.
To enhance Thriller and give it a more disturbing atmosphere, Rod Temperton decided to call on the actor Vincent Price. An emblematic figure of horror cinema, he is known for having played in such classics as The Man in the Wax Mask
and The Fall of the House of Usher. When his friend Peggy Lipton, Quincy Jones’ wife, talks to him about the project, Vincent Price accepts willingly and asks only for a small fee. When offered a percentage of the profits, he refused. A decision he would later bitterly regret. Two studio takes are enough to record his parts. Meanwhile, the video for Thriller is getting a lot of attention. Once again, Michael Jackson has a very clear idea of what he wants. Positively traumatized by a movie he just saw, The Werewolf of London, the singer is keen to hire the director, John Landis. After all, he knows how to film horror but also knows a lot about music, as his classic The Blues Brothers brilliantly proved. While the production is being organized, the musician is working out the choreography of the zombies with Michael Peters, a specialist already working on Beat It. Deborah Nadoolman, the costume designer of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and wife of John Landis, designed the mythical red jacket of Michael Jackson and the casting began. To play the girlfriend of the main character, Jennifer Beals, the star of the movie Flashdance, is approached. His refusal forces John Landis to consider a plan B. He then turns to Ola Ray, a former model of Playboy. By chance, the current passes immediately between the young woman, an absolute fan of Michael Jackson, and the latter. To realize the monstrous transformation of the character of the singer in the video, the production calls upon Rick Baker, the great specialist of special effects. This one precisely conceived the astonishing mutations of the werewolf of London.
Very quickly, the cost of production explodes. No video clip had ever justified such a budget before. We are talking about $900,000 to $1 million. To face the numerous additional expenses, inherent to the involvement of big names but also to the duration of the video, Michael Jackson and John Landis decide to sell to the highest bidder the broadcasting rights of the clip while it is not yet finished. MTV pays $250,000 for the exclusive making of. Showtime writes a check for $300,000 for the pay cable broadcast. Vestron, a VHS and Betamax distribution chain, also paid $500,000 to obtain the rights and sell the tape. In a very short time, Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller became the best-selling music video of its time. When filming began, the crew took up residence at the Palace Theatre, a beautiful movie theater located on Broadway in Los Angeles. The dance scene with the zombies is shot at the intersection of Union Pacific Avenue and South Calzona Street in the east end of the city. For the conclusion, when the girl retreats to a house to escape the undead, John Landis sets his cameras at 1345 Carroll Avenue in Angelino Heights and exploits the eerie look of an incredible Victorian building that needs absolutely no makeup to fit the spirit of the video.
The premiere took place on November 14, 1983 at the Crest Theatre in Los Angeles. Several celebrities and friends of Michael Jackson are present, such as Diana Ross, Warren Beatty, Eddie Murphy and Prince. When the broadcast ends, the audience is ecstatic. Eddie Murphy harangues the crowd and demands an encore. The same year, on December 2, Thriller was broadcast on MTV. Audiences are exploding. From that moment on, for pop music, nothing will ever be the same again.
At an auction in 2011, one of the two jackets worn by Michael Jackson in the Thriller video sold for $1.8 million.
1345 Carroll Ave
Unbelievable but true, the dilapidated house situated at 1345 Carroll Ave in which the young woman takes refuge to try to escape the horde of zombies led by Michael Jackson in the video for Thriller is still standing.
Located in the heart of the beautiful historic district of Angelino Heights, the Sanders House does not go unnoticed. Featured in several shows, it is of course famous for its appearance at the end of the Thriller video. Built in 1887 by a warehouse operator named Michael Sanders, this four-bedroom, four-bathroom house now houses duplexes. Listed by the city of Los Angeles, like all the buildings in the neighborhood, it also became a music landmark in 1983.
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Cult! music: 100 mythical music places [French Edition]
Embark immediately on an exhilarating world tour with some of music’s most iconic bands and artists!
Head to Melbourne, Australia for a stroll along AC/DC Lane before crossing the iconic Abbey Road pedestrian crossing in the company of The Beatles. Visit Janis Joplin‘s home in San Francisco and find out how Johnny Cash ended up playing his greatest hits to a crowd of prisoners in San Quentin. Travel the winding roads of Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and stop in Japan to catch up with Deep Purple, Phil Collins and Daft Punk. Drive down the Tina Turner Highway before entering some of the most legendary studios in music history. Go back to the troubled origins of Billie Holiday and make a pact with Robert Johnson at the famous crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Embark immediately on an exhilarating world tour with some of music’s most iconic bands and artists! Relive the Jimi Hendrix concert on the Isle of Wight before paying tribute to Bob Marley in Jamaica.
Produced by a team of pop-culture specialists and enhanced by numerous anecdotes, Cult! musictells the secrets of the places that made the history of music.
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Discover all the places Thriller on our map
By Gilles Rolland
Passionné de cinéma, de rock and roll, de séries TV et de littérature. Rédacteur de presse et auteur des livres Le Heavy Metal au cinéma, Paroles de fans Guns N' Roses, Paroles de fans Rammstein et Welcome to my Jungle : 100 albums rock et autres anecdotes dépareillées. Adore également voyager à la recherche des lieux les plus emblématiques de la pop culture.