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All Filler, No Thriller: The Michael Jackson 30 year anniversary covers album

November 30, 2012

note 4Alternative Album: Thriller

Thirty years ago today, Michael Jackson was finally ready to unleash his magnum opus ‘Thriller’; a genre-mashing, culture-defining work of pop perfection that would sell over 110 million copies across, become the best-selling record in music history, and revolutionise both MTV and the music industry along the way.

So it’s a surprise to hear the King of Pop’s own thoughts on the album were anything but positive. In an interview discovered posthumously, Jackson said:

“Thriller sounded so crap. The mixes sucked. When we listened to the whole album, there were tears… I just cried like a baby. I stormed out of the room and said: ‘We’re not releasing this’.”

Surely any music critic caught writing such musical blasphemy now would be derided. But Jackson is not talking about the version released to the masses – that is very much Thriller Mark II. Instead, his disappointment was aimed at the first supposedly final mix.

So, Jackson returned to the studio with producer Quincy Jones – trusted from his work on Off the Wall three years prior – and revamped the whole album.

But what if Quincy hadn’t been given a second chance? What if other musicians were brought in to spruce up the album?

Well, after many hours mining through turgid heavy-metal covers of Beat It, we have compiled an alternative Thriller album, i.e. what it might have sounded like had Jacko been able to consult any artist over the past 30 years.

And so here it is: the dubiously titled ‘All Filler, No Thriller’:

Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin

There are Youtube covers aplenty of WBSS – one of the biggest selling songs on the album – but only John Mayer diverged from the original disco template. His scuzzy rework adds a little grit to Jacko’s slick, staccatoed introduction.

Baby Be mine

Quadron swaps the disco-stomper’s jumpiness for a slowed-down sultry version.

The girl is mine

The success of Ebony and Ivory six months prior suggested that this duet with Paul McCartney should have been a bona fide hit. But releasing the saccharine duet as Thriller’s first single is like Beethoven introducing his first ever performance of Moonlight Sonata with a wet fart. After the anticipation Off The Wall had created, it was an anti-climax to say the least. To get past the cheese, we give you a glitchy modern rework by Eurothug.

Thriller

Why would you even attempt to cover this? The eponymous single that didn’t so much capture the zeitgeist, it created it. And it revolutionised MTV too. It’s heavy playlist rotation – the full 14 minute version was played twice every hour at the height of its popularity – helped the station to alleviate their reputation of favouring white artists. Ian Brown’s suitably baggy attempt might have given the alternative Thriller album a much-needed indie flavour, but even The Twang would be ashamed off  the Stone Roses frontman’s dreary effort is something. Instead, let’s go for Imogen Heap, whose acoustic cover is crying out to soundtrack a John Lewis advert.

5 Beat It

Beat It – Jackson’s attempt to write a black ‘My Sharona’ – also helped overcome racial barriers in the States. Despite listener protestations, New York’s WPLJ FM radio station – known as a “white station’ – played Beat It because of Eddie Van Halen’s appearance.  It feels a little disingenuous then to choose Fall Out Boy featuring John Mayer for the alternative Thriller album – a version that is not so much a poor man’s Beat It, as a poverty stricken deaf man’s Beat It. Instead, for someone with actual talent, try Russian guitarist Igor Presnyakov’s acoustic offering.

Billie Jean

Jackson apparently insisted on keeping Billie Jean’s 29-second intro, despite its unsuitability for radio, because it “made him want to dance.” Indeed, it was the song that gave birth to the Moonwalk. But as he gyrates across the stage in his inimitable jerky style, you can’t help think he could do with a rest. So, we have Chris Cornell’s earnest acoustic cover to keep the King of Pop sitting still for a minute.

 

Human Nature

There is fine warbly cover of this melodic gem – written by eighties soft-rockers Toto – by Boys II Men. But if Miles Davis has covered it, anything else will always be second best. Here the legendary jazz-man keeps the slick eighties sheen and adds a sultry layer of trumpet.

8  PYT

In an age when any gimmick can make you a YouTube star, the alternative Thriller album lacks a novelty song. So, with that in mind, we give you an a capella cover by Mike Tompkins. N.B If you’re struggling to cope with Tompkins smug ‘I’m so wacky’ face, try The Wood’s Brother more earnest take on the song.

9 The Lady in My life

And we finish with a tender ode to the lady in Jackson’s life.  It’s an easy choice for this one: Lou Rawls. The US crooner, once described by Sinatra as having the “silkiest chops in the singing game”, opts for a classic sounding reworking.

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