The Backstory: How "Starlight" turned into Michael Jackson's "Thriller"

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    We all know of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as one of the most iconic songs of the 1980s. But the song started out very differently. Songwriter supreme Rod Temperton, who wrote four songs on Jackson’s breakout album Off The Wall, was brought back in by producer Quincy Jones to contribute songs to Jackson’s follow-up album.

    One of the songs that Temperton contributed was an upbeat number with a great hook and lyrics that went…err…okay with the hook. “We need some Starlight, starlight sun…”

    Both Jackson and Jones liked the song, but, in a move that proved prescient, they sent Temperton back to rework the lyrics. A flash of genius came to Temperton on his way to the studio the next day, and a new title came to his mind that would change popular music history (and Halloween) forever: “Starlight” became “Thriller.”

    We all know of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as one of the most iconic songs of the 1980s. But the song started out very differently. Songwriter supreme Rod Temperton, who wrote four songs on Jackson’s breakout album Off The Wall, was brought back in by producer Quincy Jones to contribute songs to Jackson’s follow-up album.

    One of the songs that Temperton contributed was an upbeat number with a great hook and lyrics that went…err…okay with the hook. “We need some Starlight, starlight sun…”

    Both Jackson and Jones liked the song, but, in a move that proved prescient, they sent Temperton back to rework the lyrics. A flash of genius came to Temperton on his way to the studio the next day, and a new title came to his mind that would change popular music history (and Halloween) forever: “Starlight” became “Thriller.”

    Check out Michael Jackson’s original demo for “Starlight” below (contrasted with the final version of "Thriller"). It is a bit unnerving to hear such a familiar song with such different lyrics.

    By Chris Rizik