As we collectively celebrate the 30th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, I have to say something:
Michael Jackson (…really Quincy Jones) made a huge mistake on the best-selling album of all-time.
To answer your immediate questions:
Yes, I am critiquing Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones.
Yes, I am really that arrogant.
No, I am not crazy.
Seriously, I’m not crazy.
Look, I love Thriller (There’s a argument to be made about its position next to Off The Wall, buuuuuut let me not get in any more trouble today). It’s easily one of the greatest pop albums of all-time. This will never change. However, every time I listen to the album, one particular track rubs me the wrong way.
“P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing).”
“P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” didn’t draw from the emotional well of Michael like “Human Nature” nor did it literally change the entire course of music like “Thriller.” It is however, a fun, upbeat R&B record that you can’t not like. Double negative aside, we should appreciate “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing).” And to those critics that say the song was nothing more than “filler,” you’ve clearly forgotten that Michael’s “throwaways” are probably better than your favorite artists’ greatest hits. He’s that type of good.
So, with all of that said, why have I decided to play the contrarian?
Because the song could have been so much better. In fact, it was so much better.
The original composition, “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing),” was written by Michael and the talented Greg Phillinganes. Together, they constructed what should have been the “mellosmoothe” R&B cut necessary for Thriller‘ spectrum-like navigation of popular sound.
“Juslisen” © Musiq Soulchild
When MJ singlehandedly hits those harmonies, it’s just an entirely different vibe. It becomes a groove, something you just cool out to. But Quincy, a man, who I will argue to the death, is the greatest producer of all-time, wanted more bounce. He needed another upbeat cut to fill in his burgeoning masterpiece. But Thriller literally begins with a raucous moment of unaltered buoyancy. That musical element had been explored on “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” nearly to perfection, I might add. This, however? This was piece that filled the sonic void. Sometimes you get it right the first time.
Thankfully, the demo found life on the compilation project, Michael Jackson: The Ultimate Collection, as well as it being sampled on the will.i.am remix to “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing,” found on Thriller 25th Anniversary Edition. You can say what you want about will.i.am’s fairly recent dip into the mainstream, but I have a genuine appreciation for anyone that takes the road less traveled, particularly when unearthing a hidden gem.
Regardless of my most recent diatribe, I will be enjoying Thriller all day. And that most certainly includes “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing),” the studio version as well as its shelved demo. In all seriousness, it’s truly amazing to think that the only criticisms of an album have to come from such defined points. That’s when you know you’ve got something special. Thirty years later and we can still say that there will never be a tandem quite like Quincy and Michael.
Written By: Paul Pennington