Quincy Jones Said Socrates Inspired Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’

Michael Jackson in the 'Thriller' jacket

Music

Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ draws influence from disco, funk, rock, African music, and other genres. Few would be able to tell that the album wouldn’t exist without a discussion of Socrates.

Michael Jackson‘s Thriller draws influence from disco, funk, rock, pop, African music, and other genres. Few would be able to tell that the album wouldn’t exist without a discussion of Socrates. That discussion of Socrates would not exist without a film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz.

‘The Wiz’ led Quincy Jones to produce Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’

In a 2009 article he wrote for the Los Angeles Times, Quincy Jones discussed the origin of Thriller. The album wouldn’t exist without The Wiz, an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz that featured Jackson as the Scarecrow. “In 1978, [director] Sidney Lumet pulled me kicking and screaming into doing the music for The Wiz, and in hindsight I’m so glad he did,” Jones said. 

“As the scarecrow, Michael dove into the filming of The Wiz with everything that he had, not only learning his lines but those of everyone in the cast,” he added. “Prior to filming, Michael and I were working at my home and he asked if I could help find him a producer to work with him on his first solo album from Epic.” In the film, the Scarecrow quotes several philosophers.

Jackson had an issue pronouncing a certain philosopher’s name. “At rehearsals, during the part where the scarecrow is pulling proverbs from his stuffing, Michael kept saying ‘So-Crates’ instead of ‘Socrates,’” Jones recalled. “After about the third time, I pulled him aside and told him the correct pronunciation.”

Quincy Jones knew some magic was about to happen with Michael Jackson

This correction led to an important moment in music history. “[Jackson] looked at me with these big wide eyes and said, ‘Really?’ and it was at that moment that I said, ‘Michael, I’d like to produce your album,’” Jones recalled. 

The producer was struck by the look of wonder in Jackson’s eyes. During that moment, he knew that the two of them could go into uncharted musical territory together. Jones went on to produce Thriller and Bad, the two most important albums of the King of Pop’s career. Jones and Jackson will forever be remembered as one of the most important musical duos of all time, even if Jones stayed behind the scenes.

‘Thriller’ gave us 7 hit singles

Thriller was indescribably huge in the United States. We don’t have a word to express the level of success that it reached. Thriller topped the Billboard 200 for 37 weeks, staying on the chart for 629 weeks altogether. T was the King of Pop’s biggest album in the U.S. by a wide margin.

The record produced two No. 1 singles: “Billie Jean” and “Beat It.” Five other songs from the album became top 10 singles: the title track, “The Girl Is Mine,” “Human Nature,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” and “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing).” It’s a big deal for any album to prince a whooping seven top 10 singles. Thriller is especially impressive in this regard because there are only nine tracks on the record! The only two songs from Thriller that weren’t singles were “Baby Be Mine” and the album closer and “The Lady in My Life.”

Socrates had an indelible impact on the world and Thriller, however, distantly, was part of that impact.

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