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‘When we finally listened to the tracks we were going to hand in, Thriller sounded so crappy to me that tears came to my eyes,’ confessed Michael Jackson in his 1988 autobiography Moonwalk.
Following the success of his previous solo album Off the Wall, the twenty-three-year-old was under enormous pressure from his management and record company to deliver a record that would have even more of an impact and out-sell all his previous releases.
Having teamed up with acclaimed producer Quincy Jones and featuring an array of guest artists ranging from former Beatles singer Paul McCartney to Van Halen‘s eponymous guitarist, expectations for Thriller had put a tremendous strain on the young star.
‘We took a couple of days off, drew a deep breath and stepped back,’ he continued. Then we came to it fresh, cleaned our ears out and began to mix two songs a week. When it was done – boom – it hit us hard.CBS could hear the differences too. Thriller was a tough project.’
Yet despite its troubled development, the album became a phenomenon, producing the hit singles Billie Jean and Beat It, introducing the world to his legendary ‘moonwalk’ dance routine and revolutionising the promo video with his zombie-themed short film for Thriller. Overnight, Jackson was transformed from a successful artist to a pop sensation.‘On 7 February, Michael was inducted into the Guinness Book of Records during a ceremony at the American Museum of History in New York City, in recognition of Thriller having broken all records for album sales at twenty-five million copies,’ explains author J. Randy Taraborrelli in his book Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness. Yet as impressive as these worldwide sales were, it would continue to break records over the following decades.
Thriller holds the distinction of being the best-selling album of all time, with approximately seventy million copies sold around the world, twenty million more than its closest competitor, AC/DC‘s 1980 classic Back in Black. Jackson’s second best-selling album, Thriller’s follow-up Bad, has achieved an impressive sale of approximately thirty-plus million, with 1991’s Dangerous close behind.
With Thriller having already sold over a hundred million copies worldwide, Jackson’s masterpiece has now broken another record…the first album ever to sell thirty million copies in the United States, as reported by the Recording Industry Association of America.