Thriller was written by Rod Temperton, an English songwriter who wrote songs for many R&B/funk acts like Heatwave, Brothers Johnson, Stephanie Mills, and Donna Summer. Said Temperton:
When I wrote Thriller I’d always envisioned this talking section at the end and didn’t really know what we were going to do with it. But one thing I’d thought about was to have somebody, a famous voice, in the horror genre, to do this vocal. Quincy Jones’s wife knew Vincent Price so Quincy said to me, how about if we got Vincent Price? And I said, ‘Wow, that’d be amazing if we could get him…’
Producer Quincy Jones said that Vincent Price did his soliloquy in two takes. “it was fabulous, man.”
In 1984 it became a hit single, reaching number four on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and number one on the Radio & Records singles charts.
The 14-minute video for Thriller is regarded by as one of the greatest music videos of all-time. Released December 2, 1983, it was directed by John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) who also co-wrote the screenplay with Jackson. It was broadcast on MTV three weeks before Christmas and was the most expensive video of its time, costing $500,000. Guinness World Records listed it in 2006 as the “most successful music video”, selling over 9 million units.
More of a short-film than a video, Thriller spoofed the werewolf and zombie genres, featuring choreography of dancing zombies, one of which was Jackson himself (he also turns into what makeup artist Rick Baker () calls a “cat monster” – looks like a werewolf to us!) Co-starring with Jackson was former Playboy centerfold Ola Ray. The video was choreographed by Michael Peters (who had worked with the singer on his prior hit “Beat It”), with Michael Jackson. The video also contains incidental music by film music composer Elmer Bernstein, who had previously also worked with Landis on An American Werewolf in London. The video (like the song) contains the spoken word performance by Vincent Price. Rick Baker assisted in prosthetics and makeup for the production.
Jackson, at the time one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, added a disclaimer to the start of the video, saying: “Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult.”