"Darkness falls across the land / the midnight hour is close at hand..." OK, maybe that's pushing it a little, but today Legacy Recordings did announce a forthcoming 2CD expansion of Michael Jackson's landmark Thriller for its 40th anniversary. The world's best-selling album spun off seven of its nine songs as Top 10 singles in America and helped win the King of Pop a record-setting eight Grammy Awards in one night. (Let's not forget that the eighth was for a storybook album based on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, also celebrating its 40th anniversary this year!)
All that's known so far is the date - November 18 - and a few formats. The standard will be two discs - the original album and "an exciting second disc full of surprises for fans including never-released tracks which were worked on by Michael for the Thriller album." Retail exclusives include a vinyl pressing with an alternate cover at Wal-Mart, and an LP with exclusive record player slipmat at Target. And Mobile Fidelity will press a One-Step 180g 33 RPM LP at RTI (limited to 40,000 copies, with future plans for a 45 RPM, 2LP edition) and a hybrid SACD.
So with all the facts out of the way, we thought it would be fun - for us, definitely, and for you, hopefully! - to take a look at what Thriller-era material has come from Jackson's vaults and whether or not it could inform this third(!) expanded reissue of this extremely well-loved album.
Previous reissues: That's right - this is the third go-round for Thriller on the expanded CD front. Michael's solo albums for Epic were reissued in 2001, and most of them had bonus tracks; for Thriller, bonuses included audio of interviews with producer Quincy Jones and songwriter Rod Temperton, "Somewhere in the Dark" (the sole original song on that E.T. storybook, written by Temperton with Marilyn and Alan Bergman), Vincent Price's isolated "rap" from "Thriller" (featuring an unreleased set of verses) and two demos: one of "Billie Jean" and an unreleased tune, "Carousel," co-written by Michael Sembello. (That track was only a partial release; only in 2008, on some territories of the ex-U.S. 50th anniversary compilation King of Pop, was it ever issued in full.)
Things got slightly unhinged in 2008 with the release of Thriller 25, a new expansion done with Michael's input. Bonus tracks included a selection of ill-received contemporary remixes featuring Kanye West, Akon and members of The Black Eyed Peas, along with Price's "Thriller" rap and an unreleased track called "For All Time." (While it was billed as a Thriller outtake, it sounds much more late '80s in nature, and co-writers Steve Porcaro and Michael Sherwood hadn't even met until after Thriller was released.)
Vintage material: A handful of tracks existed only on various 7" and 12" singles from Thriller. Singles "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," "Human Nature" and "Thriller" were edited for their 45 issues. ("Human Nature," with an extra synth overdub, is arguably the best and the rarest, briefly released on a CD single in Japan.) Longer versions of "Billie Jean" and "Startin' Somethin'," each of which were edited down to fit on the LP, made it to 12" singles, as did instrumentals of "Startin' Somethin'" and "Thriller." Only one non-LP B-side of sorts was issued: "Can't Get Outta the Rain," the flip of lead single "The Girl is Mine," was an edited, overdubbed version of a jam from the long disco version of "You Can't Win," Michael's solo song from The Wiz. And another song was edited down to fit the album, too: closing track "The Lady in My Life." The longer version ended up on a publisher's promo for writer Temperton.
Demos and otherwise: Beyond what was on the reissues of Thriller, a handful of other outtakes and demos from the era have been released elsewhere. The 2004 box set The Ultimate Collection featured Michael's original demo of "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" - re-written for the album by Jones and James Ingram - along with Off the Wall/Thriller demo "Sunset Driver" and post-Thriller outtake "Scared of the Moon." Japanese pressings of Thriller 25 included an actual contemporaneous demo called "Got the Hots." (A rare CD single of "The Girl is Mine 2008" featured Michael's original demo, from which will.i.am took the vocals for his remake.)
In 2010, a year after Jackson's passing, the controversial Michael album featured a heavily overdubbed version of Michael's interpretation of Yellow Magic Orchestra's "Behind the Mask" (later covered by Greg Phillinganes and Eric Clapton). A pair of post-Thriller demos co-written with Paul Anka - "This is It" and "Love Never Felt So Good" - were reworked for a 2009 documentary and 2014's Xscape, respectfully. ("Love Never Felt," boasting duet vocals from Justin Timberlake, reached the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100!)
And then, of course, there's been plenty of leaked material. Compositions by Glen Ballard ("Niteline"), Temperton ("Hot Street," "Starlight," the latter of which became "Thriller") and others ("She's Trouble," co-written by Terry Britten, became a minor hit for Musical Youth) have all leaked over the years, and official releases would be appreciated by fans. (Second Disc HQ would love to hear Michael take a swing at "Centipede," the 1983 hit he wrote for his eldest sister Rebbie in 1983!)
And finally: This won't feature on a 2CD set, obviously, but it would be great to see any of Michael's short films in better quality than the dreadful official 480p uploads on YouTube. While there was little need to convert the Thriller short to 3D in 2017, the 4K remastering from the original negative made the general picture look unbelievably good. It would rule to see "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" in similar quality.
What do you think will feature on this new reissue? We'd as always love to hear your thoughts as we await official confirmation.