Music-versary: Michael Jackson released the ‘Thriller’ album on November 30, 1982

Michael Jackson ThrillerCredits: Michael Jackson; Quincy Jones (producer)

Backstory: When Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner declined Michael Jackson’s request for a cover story in November 1979, the future King of Pop was pissed. Off the Wall was a hit, on its way to selling five million copies domestically and winning a Grammy. It was his first true solo album, breaking away from his family’s legacy and, together with Quincey Jones, creating a set of songs that was reminiscent of disco era and yet something new, entirely ’80s.

But after all this, the magazine had only offered him a “major piece,” not the iconic cover he wanted. Jackson recognized that there was something between him and the level of stardom he wanted to achieve. “I’ve been told over and over again that black people on the cover of magazines don’t sell copies,” he said, according to biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli. “Just wait, someday those magazines are going to be begging me for an interview. Maybe I’ll give them one. And maybe I won’t.”

Rolling Stone, apparently, didn’t have to beg too hard. They got their interview, and Michael Jackson got his cover. But only after releasing the biggest record of the modern music era. In 1982, Thriller changed the way the music industry approached records. Seven out of the album’s nine tracks made the top 10, and it scored him eight Grammys. The album’s videos were the first by a black artist to be aired on the fledgling MTV, and his epic dramas—from Billie Jean, to Beat It, to the ground-breaking 14 minute film for the title track, which was released a full year after the album hit shelves.

Thriller was a peak for Michael Jackson, who would spend the rest of his life trying to repeat that success. But even for the king of pop, the phenomenon was impossible to recreate. The album remains one of the best of all time, a greatest hits of the birth of modern pop music and a standard for every pop star—male or female, black or white—who has come since.

Famous Friends: Paul McCartney was coming off Ebony and Ivory, a number one hit with Stevie Wonder, when Michael Jackson asked him to record the upbeat The Girl Is Mine. Jackson had written the song, he later said, while watching cartoons with the former Beatles bassist. Despite being the lead single off the album, the song didn’t do as well as they’d hoped, coming off as “middle of the road.” But Jackson’s collaboration with Eddie Van Halen—the searing Beat It,—stayed on the chart for 25 weeks, peaking at number one.

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