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Iconic Videos – Thriller

Nicola Sloan


Since Halloween is just around the corner, I thought I’d kick-start with a music video that is not only the most iconic horror-themed music video of all time but perhaps also the most iconic music video ever made. It is, of course, the video for Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ – that most archetypal of Halloween disco tunes.

Released 2nd December, 1983, ‘Thriller’ was a ploy to get Jackson back to the top of the charts. It was the seventh (yes – seventh) and last single taken from the album of the same name, released in November 1972. ‘Thriller’ was to be the third and final music video for the album. The album was phenomenally successful; however in June 1983 the album was knocked off the top spot by the Flashdance soundtrack. It briefly regained its position in July, but was then toppled by the Police. It was clear that something had to be done; MJ was always obsessed by his sales and wanted to be for the eighties what Elvis had been for the fifties and The Beatles for the sixties.

For the video for ‘Thriller’, Jackson enlisted the help of John Landis, director of An American Werewolf In London. MJ told the director that he had enjoyed the film and wanted to know whether he could help him shoot a scary video. Never before had a film director directed a music video, but Landis was intrigued by the proposition.

Shot as mini feature film just under fourteen minutes long, the video cost $800,000 to make – a colossal amount for a music video at that time, but it turned out to be worth the money, because the video’s reception would more than double album sales.

The video stars MJ and former Playboy centrefold Ola Ray as his girlfriend, and features iconic scenes of MJ dancing with the undead in a red jacket and trousers and his trademark white socks and black loafers combination– not only was MJ a big deal in the music world but he was also an icon in the fashion world. The video merged filmmaking and music for the very first time, raising the bar for music videos thereafter.

It was listed in the 2006 Guinness World Records as the ‘most successful music video’, selling over nine million units.  In 2009 after Jackson’s death it became the first ever music video to be added to the US National Film Archive, where it will be preserved for future generations for its cultural importance.