After making his move for solo superstardom with 1979’s Off the Wall album — a tricky-enough transition from his childhood as the Little Brother in Charge in the Jackson 5 — Michael Jackson set out to beat himself when Thriller was released 40 years ago on Nov. 30, 1982.
With his trusted producer Quincy Jones back behind the boards, the then-burgeoning King of Pop delivered his crowning achievement — one that even he would fail to top before his untimely death at just 50 in 2009. The nine-track set topped the Billboard 200 for 37 nonconsecutive weeks and spawned seven singles — all of which hit the top 10 on the Hot 100, with “Billie Jean” and Beat It” going all the way to No. 1.
Sweeping the Grammys in 1984 (it nabbed eight trophies, including album of the year), Thriller went on to become one of the best-selling albums of all time. It defined the modern pop blockbuster, leaving a blueprint for everyone from Usher and Justin Timberlake to Beyoncé to (of course) baby sis Janet Jackson.
Although Jackson’s crossover moves would never quite get him his soul card back, it opened up the eyes and the ears of the industry — and audiences around the world — to what music could sound, look and feel like if we blurred those tired old color lines.
And the thrill isn’t gone: The LP returned to the top 10 on the Billboard 200 chart (dated Dec. 3, 2022) thanks to its 40th-anniversary reissue.
Here, we rank all nine tracks on a moonwalking masterpiece that provided the soundtrack for a generation.