100 Best Albums There are few pop albums, or even works of art, that denote a wholesale shift in time and space the way Michael Jackson’s Thriller did in 1982. Noting its impact on the career trajectory of a child star turned R&B hitmaker feels reductive; talking about its record-smashing commercial success diminishes its creative leaps. It did nothing less than define the modern pop blockbuster and redefine the scope and reach of music. Stripping the weight of history from Thriller is a big job, but hearing the record as a statement in itself remains hugely rewarding. Seven of its nine original cuts were Top 10 singles, and it became one of the best-selling albums ever made, but more important is the way Jackson and producer Quincy Jones turned the singer’s obsessions into intricate, stunningly sung pop-funk. The album’s opening throwdown, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” is Jackson at his fiercest and funkiest, picking up right where 1979’s Off the Wall left off—and shoring up his R&B bona fides. But from the Paul McCartney-blessed pop of the first hit single “The Girl Is Mine” to the Eddie Van Halen-revved pyrotechnics of “Beat It,” Jackson’s crossover moves opened up the eyes and ears of the industry—and audiences around the world—to what music could sound, look, and feel like if we blurred those old color lines. “Billie Jean” is a gripping psycho-study of the paranoia and persecution that he was already feeling—yet it still maintains the mysterious allure of an artist who became the avatar for the omnipresent global pop superstar.

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