This is an article from Yahoo’s ‘On This Day’ series.
Michael Jackson’s song ‘Thriller’ became one of the most memorable music videos in history, propelling the album to the top of the charts.
However, the song was almost titled ‘Starlight’ or ‘Starlight Love’ when it was released on this day in 1983 in the United Kingdom, and the renowned video (with Jackson dancing with a swarm of zombies) almost didn’t happen at all owing to Jackson’s Jehovah’s Witness views.
Thriller was composed by British composer Rod Temperton, as opposed to previous songs on the album Thriller (such as Billie Jean and Beat It), which were written by Jackson himself.
Temperton was born in Cleethorpes and was working in a frozen fish factory in Grimsby when he replied to an advertisement and became the keyboardist for dance group Heatwave.
Quincy Jones saw his smash song ‘Boogie Nights’ with Heatwave and requested him to collaborate on tunes for Michael Jackson.
The song that became Thriller was originally titled ‘Starlight,’ but Jones, who had previously produced Jackson’s 20-million-selling Off The Wall, was not pleased with the title.
Temperton (dubbed ‘the Invisible Man’ for his work in the background on key singles) said that he returned to his hotel room to come up with a new title.
“I went back to the hotel, wrote two or three hundred titles, and came up with ‘Midnight Man,'” he revealed in a 2009 interview.
“I woke up the next morning and just said the word [Thriller].” ‘This is the title,’ murmured something in my thoughts.
“Imagine it at the top of the Billboard charts.” You could see the marketing for this one word, how ‘Thriller’ leaped off the page.”
Temperton said that he had always anticipated a spoken-word element in the song, and that Quincy Jones’ wife was friends with horror actor Vincent Price.
Temperton hadn’t completed penning the words he’d started in the cab on the way, so he urged his driver to go around the block again when Price arrived at the studio.
Due to a last-minute fear from Jackson about the film’s occult elements, the now-iconic video with Price’s doom-laden narration nearly didn’t happen.
John Landis, the filmmaker of American Werewolf in London, filmed the music video using 35mm film (often used for feature projects) for a rumored $900,000 budget.
“Basically, I thought about it, and my intention was to exploit Michael’s unbelievable celebrity at the time to make a theatrical short, a 14-minute short,” John Landis said. I also insisted on at least 10 days of practice time for the dancers, which is seldom done since it is so costly.”
Jackson develops whiskers and transforms into a werewolf in the video.
When top Jehovah’s Witnesses saw the press for Thriller, they told Jackson that he may be ejected from the faith, which would mean his mother would be barred from speaking to him.
Jackson called his manager, John Branca, in a panic and sobbed, saying, ‘No one must ever see it.’
However, Branca urged that the picture be released with a disclaimer (an idea that Landis strongly opposed).
Finally, the film came with a disclaimer that said, ‘Due to my strong personal beliefs, ‘I desire to emphasise that this in no way encourages occult belief.’
Three years later, Jackson severed ties with the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Jackson died in 2009 from benzodiazepine and propofol toxicity.
‘Thriller’ is still the best-selling record of all time, some four decades later.