Set aside everything you know about Michael Jackson. Listen to Thriller or even Bad and Off the Wall on their own terms, divorced of all cultural context. Both albums, plus a lot more of the material released by Jackson throughout his long career, hold up spectacularly, standing among the greatest pop songs ever conceived and put to record. It’s no wonder his almost unparalleled run of hits in the ’80s made him easily one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Before his death at the age of 50, Jackson had spent more than 40 of his years on earth creating such unforgettable tunes that his impact on popular music was already well-established. But who cares about the impact — we’re here to talk about the songs. And boy, are these 10 great.
This song has Vincent Price in it, and he isn’t even the best thing about it. That’s saying something. “Thriller” is just about as great as the album named after it, a funky song based around one of Jackson’s best bass lines and vocal performances that’s even more fun than the silly horror B-movies that serve as the lyrical inspiration. Haunted house sound effects and a killer horns section create a riveting wall of sound that makes every second of the unusually long pop song about as, well, thrilling as one might imagine given the title.