The release of the album that would become, by some measures, the most successful record in music history went unnoticed by TIME. When it was first released 35 years ago, on Nov. 30, 1982, there was no mention of Michael Jackson’s Thriller in the magazine’s pages.
But it didn’t take too long for that to change, as the album sat atop the charts for weeks, selling enough copies to drive discussion of a boom across the entire record industry and the growth of music-video culture. According to one TIME report about a year after its release, Thriller was still selling 200,000 copies a week going into the 1983 holiday season. By the time Jackson appeared on the cover of TIME magazine in 1984, the headline was straightforward — “Why He’s a Thriller” — and the album had become the best-selling album ever. (It still claims that title, though the Eagles’ Greatest Hits has surpassed or tied with Thriller at times.)
But, while it could be said that a success of that magnitude is always a surprise in some way, that story, by Jay Cocks, also suggested a deeper reason why mainstream news outlets like TIME may have overlooked the album when it was first released:
When Jackson died in 2009, Thriller was still remembered by many as a high point in his career — and one that proved that he would never again be overlooked by music critics. “For Generation X the magic is partly nostalgic; everyone between the ages of 35 and 45 remembers exactly where they were when they heard ‘Beat It’ for the first time,” wrote TIME’s Richard Corliss in his remembrance of the pop idol. “But as a piece of music, it remains the greatest pop album of all time.”
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