As one of the greatest entertainers to have graced this earth, Michael Jackson always remained in a league of his own.
Gaining notoriety as a child alongside his brothers in the Jackson 5, the “Off The Wall” crooner was destined for success and wouldn’t let up until he reached the top.
According to a recent documentary, “Thriller 40,” Jackson’s sixth studio album was created in response to his disappointment in walking away with only one Grammy for his debut project, “Off The Wall.”
Little did he know that “Thriller,” released on Nov. 29, 1982, by Epic Records, would go on to make history.
“If ‘Thriller’ came out today, it would still be the greatest album ever made,” Will.i.am said in the documentary. “It’s the ultimate blueprint to modern pop music.”
The film follows Jackson’s journey to creating the timeless tracks featured on the record, including never-before-seen footage such as affirmations the pop star recited to himself daily while making music that has gone on to stand the test of time… even 40 years later.
What’s more, at one point in the movie, it was revealed that what could have been perceived as a huge loss led to Jackson gaining ownership of his masters.
After the “Billie Jean” singer and renowned producer Quincy Jones had officially wrapped the final recordings for “Thriller,” Jones introduced the Indiana native to his longtime friend and director Steven Spielberg, noting Jackson’s love for the character of E.T., according to MJVibe. Spielberg’s movie, “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” had been released in June 1982.
Ultimately, the trio worked together on an audiobook album based on the film — one where Jackson told the story of the extra-terrestrial fairy tale.
During the time, Jackson was so excited that it also motivated him to write a song, “Someone in The Dark,” to be featured on the project, per the outlet.
Beyond just the music, MCA, the music label behind Universal Studio, also put together a package to be sold with the audiobook album. This included Jackson’s track made solely for the project, a full-color book, and a poster of the King of Pop pictured with E.T.
With “Thriller” set to be released in November, the only conditions that his label, Epic Records, had was for MCA to delay the audiobook’s release until Christmas and not to release “Someone in The Dark” as a single to avoid any competition with “Thriller.”
Unfortunately, MCA did not listen. The label not only released “E.T. The Storybook” on Nov. 7, but it also released Jackson’s track to radio stations nationwide to promote the album.
“I get on the phone and Walter [Yetnikoff] (of Epic Records) says, ‘Tell Michael to stop kissing the monster,’” John Gregory Branca, co-executor of the Michael Jackson Estate, said during the recent documentary. “’Walter, what are you talking about? Stop kissing the monster.’ So if you look at the storybook album, Michael’s got his arm around E.T. like they’re pals, and that’s what Walter was talking about.”
Branca continued: “It wasn’t just an album. It was a whole box, with posters and a picture of Michael with E.T. so Walter filed an injunction against MCA and Universal and made them take the album out of the stores. It was already shipped, and was already a huge hit. They had to pull the album back.”
Epic sued MCA for $2 million, but both companies ultimately settled for $500,000 and the agreement that MCA would halt sales of both the audiobook and the release of the single immediately.
The only problem — a million copies of the “E.T. Storybook” album had already been shipped before the shutdown of sales. And because of consumer and critical accolades, Jackson would eventually win a Grammy for Best Recording for Children. This was in addition to the seven Grammys for “Thriller” he took home on the same night.
The documentary film disclosed that Yetnikoff was determined to get back into Jackson’s good graces after filing legal action against the superstar, Jones, and Spielberg for the project.
“He said, ‘John, is he mad at me?'” Branca recalled. “I said, ‘What do you think, Walter? You just sued him and Steven Spielberg and Quincy Jones, and you’re wondering if he’s mad at you?’ And he goes, ‘What can I do to make it up?’ And I said, ‘You give him ownership of his master recordings for “Off The Wall,” “Thriller,” and everything to come’ and he said, ‘Done.’ To get your masters back in the middle of a contract… I don’t think that had ever happened.”
40 years later, “Thriller” is still considered to be the best-selling album of all time, per CNBC, with between 66 million and 100 million copies having been sold across the globe.