Epic
Epic

21 Thrilling Facts About Michael Jackson's Thriller

Epic
Epic

Michael Jackson's 1982 album Thriller needs no introduction, but here we are. It’s the all-time best-selling album worldwide. It was also critically acclaimed, bestowed with a record-breaking eight Grammy Awards. It launched Michael Jackson into superstardom, and the artist—and the music industry—were never the same again. Here are some facts about the album, in case you want to be startin' somethin'.

1. JACKSON WAS INSPIRED BY THE NUTCRACKER SUITE.

While he already had the popular solo album Off the Wall to his credit (also produced by Quincy Jones), Michael Jackson had a dream of making the biggest-selling album ever. He wanted Thriller to resemble Tchaikovsky’s suite, where “every song is a killer.”

2. HE TOLD HIS MUSICIANS TO THINK LIKE MICHELANGELO.

Keyboardist David Paich of Toto was one of the musicians hired for Thriller. He remembered Jackson telling the instrumentalists in the Westlake Recording studio in Los Angeles, California to think of “Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel—do whatever you need to do here. Sky's the limit."

3. THE ALBUM'S TITLE WAS ALMOST MIDNIGHT MAN.

Quincy Jones asked arranger/songwriter Rod Temperton to come up with an album title. He wrote down 200 to 300 possible titles in his hotel room before deciding on Midnight Man. The next morning he woke up and the word “Thriller” popped into his head. "Something in my head just said, this is the title," Temperton said. "You could visualize it on the top of the Billboard charts. You could see the merchandising for this one word, how it jumped off the page as 'Thriller.'"

4. THE SONG "THRILLER" WAS ORIGINALLY TITLED "STARLIGHT."

Temperton wrote the music and lyrics, with the chorus: “We got to make it while we can / You need the starlight / Some starlight sun / I need you by my side/ you give me starlight / Starlight / tonight.” Jones liked the melody, but asked Temperton to come back with something more like Edgar Allan Poe. The album title Thriller was already on the table, so matching it to the song was relatively easy.

5. VINCENT PRICE MADE LESS THAN $1000 FOR HIS WORK ON THE TITLE TRACK.

Jones’ then-wife Peggy Lipton knew Price. The horror movie legend managed to record his part in two takes. Once the album got big, Price expressed frustration over his meager paycheck and said that Jackson had stopped taking his calls.

6. JACKSON WAS SUED FOR "WANNA BE STARTIN’ SOMETHIN'."

Cameroon musician Manu Dibango recorded “Soul Makossa” in 1972. The song, sung in the Cameroonian language of Duala, elongated the phrase “mamako mamasa” as “ma ma ko/ma ma sa/ma ko ma ko sa.” Jackson changed it to “ma ma se/ma ma sa/ma ma ku sa,” but the similarity was obvious. A compensation arrangement was hammered out in an out-of-court settlement.

7. "BILLIE JEAN" WAS ABOUT ONE SPECIFIC GIRL.

Quincy Jones claimed that Jackson told him “Billie Jean” was based on a girl who climbed over his wall one morning and accused him of being the father of one of her twins. Jones wanted the singer to change the title to “Not My Lover” to avoid possible confusion with the song being about tennis player Billie Jean King.

8. "BILLIE JEAN" ALMOST KILLED MICHAEL.

In his autobiography, Jackson wrote about the time he was driving his Rolls-Royce down the Ventura Freeway during a recording session break. He was thinking about the song so much that he didn’t notice the bottom of his car was on fire. A kid on a motorcycle warned him in time.

9. JACKSON ADMITTED TO DARYL HALL THAT HE RIPPED OFF HALL & OATES.

As Hall remembers it, Jackson approached him during the “We Are the World” recording and admitted to cribbing the bass line from “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” for “Billie Jean.”

10. “BILLIE JEAN” WAS MIXED 91 TIMES.

Quincy Jones then requested, "'Let's go back and listen to mix number two,'" recording engineer Bruce Swedien said. "And we did, and it blew us all away! I had overmixed that song right into the pooper, so the mix that went onto the record was mix number two."

11. "THE GIRL IS MINE" CAME FROM A REQUEST FROM QUINCY JONES.

Jackson revealed during testimony that successfully fought a plagiarism allegation that the producer directed him to write a song about two men fighting over a girl. He later woke up in the middle of the night and sang the song into a tape recorder. Jones also later requested he add the rap verse.

12. "BEAT IT" WAS INSPIRED BY "MY SHARONA."

Jones told The Telegraph he wanted a “black version” of The Knack song.

13. EDDIE VAN HALEN PLAYED THE GUITAR SOLO ON "BEAT IT."

He did it while the rest of his band, Van Halen, was out of town, not thinking anybody in the group would ever know.

14. "HUMAN NATURE" WAS DISCOVERED BECAUSE TOTO DIDN’T GO CASSETTE SHOPPING.

David Paich worked on demos for Jones to potentially use for Thriller, sending him cassettes virtually every day with songs. One day, his then-roommate and Toto bandmate Steve Porcaro was tasked with recording Paich’s demos onto a cassette. Porcaro reused one of his own tapes because they were out of blank cassettes. Jones didn’t like the two songs of Paich’s when he heard them, but he loved the next song that came on—Porcaro’s early version of “Human Nature.”

15. THE TITLE "P.Y.T. (PRETTY YOUNG THING)" CAME FROM PEGGY LIPTON’S LINGERIE.

Jones noticed his wife’s lingerie said “pretty young things” on them, and tasked his songwriters to come up with lyrics for the title, “Pretty Young Thing: Tender Loving Care.” Singer/songwriter James Ingram came up with the winning version.

16. THERE WERE SOME STRANGE RECORDING TECHNIQUES.

Bruce Swedien recalled recording some background vocals in the Westlake shower stall. The “Don’t think twice!” lines in the second verse of “Billie Jean” was Jackson singing through a five-foot-long cardboard tube.

17. CBS RECORDS AND MTV CLASHED OVER THE "BILLIE JEAN" VIDEO.

In March 1983, Billboard Magazine noticed a sizeable delay between the video’s delivery to the fledgling cable network and its first airing. MTV claimed they only played rock artists, but were accused by some—including publicly by Rick James—of being racist. CBS Records president Walter Yetnikoff threatened to pull all videos made by the label's artists off the network if they didn’t play “Billie Jean.” At first, the video ran two to three times a day for one month, before being put into heavy rotation for the next three months.

18. BLOODS AND CRIPS MADE CAMEOS IN THE "BEAT IT" VIDEO.

The video cost $150,000 to produce, and was directed by Bob Giraldi, even though “Billie Jean” director Steve Barron was initially set to direct it. Jackson and Barron intended to set the video on a slave ship, with Jackson as the slave master.

19. THE "THRILLER" MUSIC VIDEO COST $500,000.

The Showtime cable network footed $300,000 of the budget for the rights to first air the music video and the “making of” feature, with MTV paying the rest to broadcast it after Showtime. Jackson asked John Landis to direct the video after seeing his work on the movie An American Werewolf in London. "I want to turn into a monster," Jackson told Landis. "Can I do that?" Landis wrote the disclaimer that appears in the beginning of the video because Jehovah’s Witnesses (a group which Jackson belonged to at the time) told the artist that “Thriller” endorsed Satanism.

20. THE "THRILLER" VIDEO PLAYED IN A MOVIE THEATER SO THAT IT COULD QUALIFY FOR AN OSCAR.

For one week in a movie theater in Westwood, California, Thriller served as the opening feature before showings of Fantasia (which didn't sit well with a lot of parents).

21. MANY FANS THOUGHT THE UPC BARCODE ON "THRILLER" WAS MICHAEL JACKSON’S HOME PHONE NUMBER.

The rumor spread so much that a hair studio in Bellevue, Washington received up to 50 phone calls per day. A woman in Youngstown, Ohio who also had the phone number said that while the kids that called were nice, some of the adults were “pretty rude and ignorant.”

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Shout! Factory
10 Surprising Facts About Mr. Mom
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

John Hughes penned the script for 1983's Mr. Mom, a comedy about a family man named Jack Butler (Micheal Keaton) who loses his job. To ensure their three kids are taken care of, his wife, Caroline (Teri Garr), goes back to work—leaving Jack to fight off a vacuum cleaner and learn why it's never a good idea to feed chili to a baby.

In 1982, Keaton turned in a star-making role in Ron Howard’s Night Shift, but Mr. Mom marked the first time he headlined a movie, and it launched his career. Hughes had written National Lampoon's Vacation, which—oddly enough—was released in theaters the weekend after Mr. Mom. But Hughes himself was still a relative unknown, as it would be another year before he entered the teen flick phase of his career, which would make him iconic.

In the meantime, Mr. Mom hit home for a lot of viewers, as the economy was on the downturn and more and more women were entering (or reentering) the workforce. But some people think that the movie's ending—which sees the couple revert to traditional gender roles—sidelined the movie's message. Still, on the 35th anniversary of its release, Mr. Mom remains an ahead-of-its-time comedy classic.

1. IT'S BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

Mr. Mom producer Lauren Shuler Donner came across a funny article John Hughes had written for National Lampoon. Based on that, she contacted him and the two became friends. “One day, he was telling me that his wife had gone down to Arizona and he was in charge of the two boys and he didn’t know what he was doing,” Donner told IGN. “It was hilarious! I was on the floor laughing. He said, ‘Do you think this would make a good movie?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, this is really funny.’ So he said, ‘Well, I have about 80 pages in a drawer. Would you look at it?’ So I looked at it and I said, ‘This is great! Let’s do it!’ We kind of developed it ourselves.” In the book Movie Moguls Speak, Donner mentioned how Hughes “had never been to a grocery store, he had never operated a vacuum cleaner. John was so ignorant, that in his ignorance, he was hilarious.”

The players involved with the movie told Donner and Hughes they thought it should be a TV movie. Hughes had a TV deal with Aaron Spelling, who came aboard to executive produce. “Then the players involved were upset because John was writing out of Chicago instead of L.A.,” Donner said in Movie Moguls Speak. “They fired John and brought in a group of TV writers. In the end, John and I were muscled out. It was a good movie, but if you ever read John’s original script for Mr. Mom, it’s far better.”

2. JOHN HUGHES REJECTED THE IDEA OF DIRECTING MR. MOM.

Stan Dragoti ended up directing the film, but only after Hughes turned it down, because he preferred to make his movies in Chicago, not Hollywood. “I don’t like being around the people in the movie business,” Hughes told Roger Ebert. “In Hollywood, you spend all of your time having lunch and making deals. Everybody is trying to shoot you down. I like to get my actors out here where we can make our movies in privacy.” Hughes remained in Chicago and filmed his directorial debut, Sixteen Candles, there.

3. MICHAEL KEATON GOT THE ROLE BECAUSE OF NIGHT SHIFT.

In 1982’s Night Shift, Keaton’s character works at a morgue and starts a prostitution ring with co-worker Henry Winkler. Donner had an agent friend, Laurie Perlman, who represented the not-yet-famous actor. She contacted Donner and pitched Keaton to her. “’Look, I represent this guy who is really funny. Would you meet with him?’" Donner recalled of the conversation. "So I met with him. Usually I don’t like to do this unless we’re casting, but I met with him because she was my friend. And then she said, ‘You have to see this movie Night Shift that he’s in.’ So I went to see Night Shift, and midway through I couldn’t wait to get out of that theater to give Mr. Mom to Michael Keaton. Fortunately, he liked it."

Keaton told Grantland that he turned down one of the main roles in Splash to play Jack Butler. “I just remember at the time thinking I wanted to get away from what I’d just done on Night Shift,” he said. “I thought if I do it again, I might get myself stuck. So then Mr. Mom came along. So I said no [to Splash] so I could set up this framework right away where I could do different things.”

4. THE FILM BROKE NEW GROUND.

Teri Garr, Michael Keaton, Taliesin Jaffe, Frederick Koehler, and Martin Mull in Mr. Mom (1983)
Shout! Factory

In 1983, more women stayed at home than worked, so it was a novelty for a man to be a stay-at-home dad. Today, an estimated 1.4 million men are stay-at-home dads, and 7 million men are their children's primary caregiver. “Mr. Mom became part of the vernacular,” Donner told Newsweek. “Mr. Mom represented a segment of men who were at home dealing with the kids who, up until then, really hadn’t been heard from. That’s what really told me about the power of film, because it spoke for a lot of men. It also helped women, because I think that women sometimes, if you’re a housewife, you’re not really appreciated for what you do. This sort of made women feel better about what they did because they knew that men were understanding it.”

5. TODAY, “MR. MOM” IS CONSIDERED A PEJORATIVE TERM.

More than 30 years after the film’s release, stay-at-home dads feel the term “Mr. Mom” should die. The National At-Home Dad Network launched a campaign to terminate the phrase and instead have people refer to men as “Dad.” In 2014 Lake Superior State University voted to banish “Mr. Mom” from the lexicon.

“At least, the pop-culture image of the inept dad who wouldn’t know a diaper genie from a garbage disposal has begun to fade,” wrote The Wall Street Journal, after declaring “Mr. Mom is dead.”

6. TERI GARR DIDN’T KNOW IT WAS A MESSAGE MOVIE.

The movie redefined gender roles, but when the producers pitched the premise to Garr, they hid the plot reversal. “They just told me it was about a guy who does the work that a woman does, because it’s so easy,” she told The A.V. Club. “And I went, ‘Oh, yeah. Ha ha.’ It’s so easy. All the women I know who stay home and take care of their kids, they go, ‘Oh yeah, this is easy.’ Hmm.”

7. MARTIN MULL IMPROVISED THE “220, 221” LINE.

The quote everyone remembers from the movie comes from Jack, holding a chainsaw, standing next to Ron Richardson (Martin Mull) and discussing what kind of wiring Jack will use in renovating the house: “220, 221, whatever it takes,” Jack says.

“We’re doing the scene and it was okay,” Keaton told Esquire. “And I remember saying to the prop guy, ‘Go find me a chainsaw.’ When he comes back with it, he says, ‘You wanna wear these?’ And he holds up some goggles. I go, ‘Yeah.’ You know, they make me look crazy. And when Martin shows up, I know I should look under control, I’m not sweating it. I’m a dude. So we’re standing there, Martin pulls me aside and says, ‘You know what you ought to say? When I ask about the wiring, you oughta just deadpan: ‘220, 221.’ I died. It was perfect. I may have added ‘whatever it takes.’ But it was his.”

“That was a little ad-lib that we just threw in, but every carpenter or construction person I’ve ever worked with, they’re always quoting that line from Mr. Mom,” Mull told The A.V. Club.

8. MR. MOM OUTGROSSED HUGHES’S OTHER 1983 SUMMER MOVIE—VACATION.

Mr. Mom only opened on 126 screens on July 22, 1983, but managed to gross $947,197 during its opening weekend. Once the film went wide a month later to 1235 screens, it hit number one at the box office and spent five weeks at the top. By the end of its run, the film had grossed just shy of $65 million, making it the ninth highest-grossing film of 1983 (just between Staying Alive and Risky Business). National Lampoon’s Vacation, Hughes’s other film that summer, came out July 29 and ended its theatrical run with $61,399,552 (at its height, it showed on 1248 screens). Vacation finished the year in 11th place.

9. THE MOVIE LED TO HUGHES BEING CALLED “A PURVEYOR OF HORNY SEX COMEDIES.”

During a 1986 interview with Seventeen magazine, Molly Ringwald asked the writer-director why he never showed teen sex in Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club. “In Sixteen Candles, I figured it would only be gratuitous to show Samantha and Jake in anything more than a kiss,” he said. “The kiss is the most beautiful moment. I was really amused when someone once called me a ‘purveyor of horny sex comedies.’ He listed The Breakfast Club and Mr. Mom in parentheses. I thought, ‘What kind of sex?’ Yes, in Mr. Mom there’s a baby in a bathtub and you see its bare butt.”

10. MR. MOM WAS MADE INTO A TV MOVIE AFTER ALL.

In the beginning, producers wanted Mr. Mom to be a TV movie, not a feature film. But a year after the film came out in theaters, ABC produced a TV movie called Mr. Mom, with the same characters and premise. Barry Van Dyke played Jack and Rebecca York played Caroline. A People magazine review of the movie stated: “They and their three kids are immediately likable … But it goes downhill from there as the script lobotomizes all its characters. Here’s a textbook case in how TV takes a cute idea—and a script that does have some good lines—and leeches the wit out of it.”

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The Star Trek Theme Song Has Lyrics
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Star Trek theme song is familiar to pretty much anyone who lived in the free world (and probably elsewhere, too) in the late 20th century. The tune is played during the show's opening credits; a slightly longer version is played, accompanied by stills from various episodes, during the closing credits. The opening song is preceded by William Shatner (as Captain Kirk) doing his now-legendary monologue recitation, which begins: "Space, the final frontier ..."

The show's familiar melody was written by respected film and TV composer Alexander Courage, who said the Star Trek theme's main inspiration was the Richard Whiting song "Beyond the Blue Horizon." In Courage's contract it was stipulated that, as the composer, he would receive royalties every time the show was aired and the theme song played. If, somehow, Star Trek made it into syndication—which, of course, it ultimately did—Courage stood to make a lot of money. And so did the person who wrote the lyrics.

WAIT... THERE WERE LYRICS?

Gene Roddenberry, the show's creator, wrote lyrics to the theme song.

"Beyond the rim of the star-light,
my love is wand'ring in star-flight!"

Why would Roddenberry even bother?

The lyrics were never even meant to be heard on the show, but not because the network (NBC) nixed them. Roddenberry nixed them himself. Roddenberry wanted a piece of the composing profits, so he wrote the hokey lyrics solely to receive a "co-writer" credit.

"I know he'll find in star-clustered reaches
Love, strange love a star woman teaches."

As one of the composers, Roddenberry received 50 percent of the royalties ... cutting Alexander Courage's share in half. Not surprisingly, Courage was furious about the deal. Though it was legal, he admitted, it was unethical because Roddenberry had contributed nothing to why the music was successful.

Roddenberry was unapologetic. According to Snopes, he once declared, "I have to get some money somewhere. I'm sure not gonna get it out of the profits of Star Trek."

In 1969, after Star Trek officially got the ax, no one (Courage and Roddenberry included) could possibly have imagined the show's great popularity and staying power.

Courage, who only worked on two shows in Star Trek's opening season because he was busy working on the 1967 Dr. Doolittle movie, vowed he would never return to Star Trek.

He never did.

THE WORDS

If you're looking for an offbeat karaoke number, here are Roddenberry's lyrics, as provided by Snopes:

Beyond
The rim of the star-light
My love
Is wand'ring in star-flight
I know
He'll find in star-clustered reaches
Love,
Strange love a star woman teaches.
I know
His journey ends never
His star trek
Will go on forever.
But tell him
While he wanders his starry sea
Remember, remember me.

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