Vinyl Purgatory

(Part 3 of a 2 part series in which, the great, 1537 visits some of the most obscure, hard-to-find indie releases in his collection his vinyl gulag for your audio delectation)

Here’s the deal, now I think we’re good enough friends that I can let you know my secret shame*.  On the bottom shelf of my music room**, on the bit of the shelf hidden by the chair are my neatly organised boxes 7″ singles, look a bit closer down there … see? yup in what can only be described as a vinyl internment camp are about 25 LPs shivering away in the dark, unloved/unalphabeticised (the same thing in my book), unclaimed – welcome to Vinyl Purgatory.  The inmates here a rum bunch, LPs I was given, just waiting to be processed to see if they can stay or not a Moody Blues LP, two Elton John ones I couldn’t quite throw away, some Graham Parker & The Rumour, a few later Roxy Music albums, something by 10cc and … the best-selling album of all time, Michael Jackson Thriller.

Michael Jackson Thriller 03

I was 10 when Thriller was released and was pretty much totally untouched by it^, well as much as you can be by an all-conquering global cultural phenomenon; although the videos made me much more of a fan of his dancing than his music.  I have never, ever listened to this LP before now.  I thought since I’d had a go at Back In Black and the Eagles Their Greatest Hits – a total of 58.1 million US sales, I may as well have a go at this one and boost the total to 106.2 million; not bad for 3 posts.

I go into this with a totally open mind too.  The fact that Jackson ended up being destroyed by his own success and transmogrified over time into an ossified Peter Pan/Freddie Kruger figure that looked like his heart sporadically pumped formaldehyde around his decaying system, is not relevant here.  Neither is the fact that his unironic messianic self-image always repulsed me on what must have been a sub-atomic level.  Also totes irrelevant is the fact that I’ve had three glasses of white wine, on a Monday night – oh yeah, it’s just like Guns ‘n Roses on the road in 1987 around here^^.

Michael Jackson Thriller 07

First impression is just how artificial everything sounds, every beat, every instrument, every squeak has been treated somehow, somewhere, somewhy.  I find that stultifying, like reaching for the fruit bowl to find that tempting apple has been sculpted out of wax.  I’m not someone who needs ‘real’ instrument sounds but when the nearest you have on a whole LP is Paul McCartney’s voice, not the heartiest of instruments by this point, then I have an issue; and yes I do really like the Eddie Van Halen solo on ‘Beat It’, but even that sounds a bit synthetic.  Quincy Jones created a real commercial monster here but to my mind it feels like the whole thing is covered in cling wrap, sterile.  Incidentally I had no idea that the guys from Toto were so involved in the making of Thriller.

Michael Jackson Thriller 04

Second impression is how good opener ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin” (was there a ‘G’ famine in ’82?) was.  It got better as it went on, sounding almost African in the rhythms and backing vocals, this is the first time to my knowledge that I’ve ever heard it and then I remembered and checked, via Bing, this was the song that Manu Dibango sued Jackson over because it used portions of his ‘Soul Makossa’ uncredited.  Regardless, it starts Thriller off really well.

Michael Jackson Thriller 06 (2)

Ignoring the largely disturbing illustration for ‘The Girl Is Mine’ – women are obscenely thin, clawed, large-knockered possessions whose faces you can never really look at, apparently; the song is shit awful.  To buy into it you have to accept Jackson as some kind of earthy lady-killer type, hell you have to accept that the man had a penis – I’m not sure I do.  For my money I’d be willing to bet that if you unwrapped the man he’d have had a totally smooth, rounded, featureless groin like an Action Man figure.  Please if you are in possession of photographic evidence that disproves my theory, please don’t try to prove it to me, just go hand yourself into the authorities.  Did I say this tune was a piece of doggone doggerel yet?

Michael Jackson Thriller 01

The title track, shorn of its’ brilliant video (I can still do the main dance routine, step by step) was a disappointment.  It just wafted past me a bit on a light cloud of treble, not really registering, despite the fact I already liked it.  Vincent Price still rules though, I am fond of a good bit of narration in a song.  Besides, this is virtually death metal-ish,

Creatures crawl in search of blood
To terrorize y’awl’s neighbourhood
And whosoever shall be found
Without the soul for getting down
Must stand and face the hounds of hell
And rot inside a corpse’s shell.

Michael Jackson Thriller 05

On the flip side ‘Beat It’ and ‘Billie Jean’ do form an entertaining 1-2 combo, although when I listen to the former all I can hear is Weird Al Yankovic – which is no hardship.  I think ‘Billie Jean’ is the best thing here by far, punchy poppy and fun, until I read the lyrics tonight I had no idea it was actually such a negative song, quite subversively so.

I find the rest of Thriller quite horrid and bland, I’m sure if I’d had the LP at the right time I might have some nostalgic attachment to it but I don’t, all I have is 2016 ears^*.  But what do I know? I’m just a wannabe hepcat who’s never quite managed to sell 48.1 million records.  I’m not being all holier-than-thou about things either, I’ve always been a total sucker for a good pop record, although experience teaches me that pop is a medium best explored by single, rather than album.  My real problem with this record is that it sounds utterly bereft of any kind of ‘real’, whether that be in feeling, or in sound, it lacks any discernible soul for me. Totally plastic.  Maybe there’s an irony there in that Jackson arguably came to embody Thriller over the years, a retreat from the real.

Michael Jackson Thriller 02

So Thriller, a couple of goodies and the whiff of ersatz music and sentiment.  Sorry, but back to Vinyl Purgatory for you.

642 Down (still)

*no, not the thing about the ladies’ undergarments that I accidentally ‘borrowed’ from the washing line, that was all a big mistake/miscarriage of justice.  No, nor the thing about me having three nipples either – I’m not remotely ashamed about that, or the cloven hooves.

**or, ‘the front room’ if you happen to be Mrs 1537 – I think it’s way cooler the way I say it.

^you can see the headlines, almost ‘Child Untouched By Michael Jackson’.  Umm, allegedly and stuff.


^*Umm, I mean ears from 2016, not that I’m some kind of creepy alien life form from the planet Earion IV, who has 2016 ears.  Actually not that my ears date from this year either, they’re getting to be borderline retro ears now – vintage almost.  Damn, writing stuff for pedants is a difficult game.

34 thoughts on “Vinyl Purgatory

  1. I’m with you, man. And so is my kid self. I didn’t like this stuff then, and I still don’t now. Never been a fan. Ah well, the millions are just wrong. Wrong, dammit!

  2. I have at least 4 vinyl copies in my life… including a picture disk and an unopened original from my wife’s youth. Add a few digital examples and I’m nearing double digits. It’s a floor filler at my occasional garage discotheque dance-off’s!

  3. I love the pic of Michael “holding” the Lego guy.

    “First impression is just how artificial everything sounds, every beat, every instrument, every squeak has been treated somehow, somewhere, somewhy.”

    I get this — I really do. But it’s slinky and so good, especially compared to what passes as dance music in today’s crap.

    1. Thanks Mike, I aim to please!

      I get what you’re saying and there are three or four great tracks here, but overall it made me feel like I’d eaten a bag of sugar. Still, gave me an excuse to crack out the Weird Al again.

      1. Yeah see I haven’t listened to all of Thriller in…well, probably since back then! I only own greatest hits stuff today. So I only remember the gold and not the lead.

  4. Don’t reckon I’ve ever heard this one all the way through, y’know. Aside from a brief spell of being interested in his stuff when I was a nipper (Bad and Dangerous – the latter thanks to Slash’s appearance) I never really had an interest in his stuff.

    I think you hit the nail on the head by saying there’s nothing real. It’s all meticulously crafted, but there’s no soul. Guess that’s what to expect from someone who, regardless of all the stuff that’s been thrown around about him, appears to have had his spirit drained by folks eager to exploit him over the years?

  5. That doggone post was fun Joe. A few thoughts:
    1) laughed out loud at the subtle question mark
    2) I actually like how ridiculously produced it is. I often complain when things are over-produced but then it hits a point of beyond over-production where I start to like it again! Sort of like track layering, I moan when there’s too many layers (it can’t be properly replicated live) but then when it gets to be in the roughly quadruple digits of layers (like outkast’s hey ya), I’m a fan again.
    3) WIth the talent between McCartney/MJ, I think the Girl is Mine is the ultimate example of the whole is infinitely less than the sum of its parts.
    4) When I reviewed the MJ albums, the album tracks are often entirely forgettable. I couldn’t tell you any of the non-singles from this or Bad!

  6. Awww… Sorry mate, it’s just one of those albums that is totally hardwired into my music brain and I still love it. I know what you mean about the ‘trebliness’ though – I doubt it’s going to make much difference but I would recommend giving the 25th anniversary remastered CD a go, very loud. A lot more beef in the low end.

    1. Of course, given the sheer number of copies sold I know folk must like it – I don’t have any nostalgic connections to it too. I listened to some of the interview bits on Spotify last night.

  7. Montel, the man is a great singer and has entertained us for so many years. It’s Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson!

    I do have a soft spot for some of this… but The Girl is Mine is the stuff of purest guff. Can’t bear it.

    1. Thanks Bruce, yup no-one’s looking, thanks to Google. If your theory was right I’d need to hit Dark Side next, no idea what I’d write about that.

      1. How dare you! My review of Sgt Pepper was both far ranging and astute! Consider yourself banned from 1537 for 20 minutes.

  8. I recently picked this up at an op shop, thinking to put it in my Record Fair boxes for someone of the right age to grab with delight and earn me 106.2 million in profits. But Ms Connection saw it and (almost) squealed, ‘I used to love that album when I was a teenager!’. So I guess it stays. Me? I’m with you bro.

  9. Talk about a writing spree! Holy Heck! Thriller was the album that kept Vh from hitting number 1 in 1984! To further the point there’s Ed shredding the solo in Beat it and blocking his band from Number 1! Funny and I’m sure it bugged Roth more than Ed!
    Nice write up….

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