Michael Jackson‘s storied career is well known, but any credible look at the history of rock must include a stop with Jackson’s 1982 album, Thriller. The artist’s second solo album during his adult years, the album was produced by Quincy Jones. As with Jackson’s previous album, Off the Wall, the music is mostly R&B influenced pop, with some mainstream dance elements. The album produced seven chart singles, including “The Girl is Mine” (duet with Paul McCartney), “Billie Jean”, “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” and the title track.

Thriller was the number one album of both 1983 and 1984, according to Billboard magazine. It spent 37 non-consecutive weeks at number one between February 1983 and April 1984, and has sold over 29 million copies in the United States. Worldwide, it has sold between 65 and 100 million, depending on estimates, making it the best selling album of all time.

One of the key ingredients with Thriller‘s success was the crossover appeal of the album’s third single, “Beat It“. Jones had suggested to Jackson that he record a rock-oriented song, so the song was written with a tougher edge than some of the other songs on the album. The song features a simple beat and includes a strong guitar riff to anchor the song. For the song’s guitar solo, Eddie Van Halen was recruited and delivered one of the best solos ever. Though Van Halen was not allowed to appear in the music video, he did appear on stage with the Jacksons to perform the song in 1984. “Beat It” followed “Billie Jean” to number one in mid-1983.

“Beat It” is one of Jackson’s most popular songs. The music video was hailed as a masterpiece (even after Jackson’s epic “Thriller” video), and it has become a pop culture icon. Weird Al Yankovic famously parodied the song and the video for “Eat It”. The song was also used in Zoolander during the walk-off scene.

Jackson followed up Thriller with Bad in 1987 and Dangerous in 1991. Both featured numerous hit singles, making Jackson one of the most popular artists of all time. However, Jackson’s personal problems overshadowed his career for most of the last two-decades of his life. Jackson died of a drug overdose in 2009.