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‘Thriller’ at 35: Nashvillians recall their fondest memories

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

By Rachel Blackwell, Studio M staff // 

Nov. 30 marks 35 years since the release of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” To date, the album has sold over 33 million copies in the United States and still holds the title of the highest certified album in U.S. history by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Jonathan Perry shows off a ‘Thriller’-inspired move. (Photo by Rachel Blackwell)

“Thriller” offered some of the most memorable hits in pop music history; its iconic music video for the title song revolutionized dance parties forever.

Below, some Nashvillians  share their fondest memories of “Thriller” and the King of Pop:

Brian Mayes, entertainment publicist for Nashville Publicity Group:

“I was 10 years old on Dec. 2, 1983, when MTV premiered ‘Michael Jackson’s Thriller.; I was at a friend’s house, and I remember being completely mesmerized. Long-form videos were unusual then, and I don’t think there had ever been anything to match the production level of that video. It was something that nobody had ever seen before,” Mayes says.

Unlike most fans, Mayes actually owns something that once belonged to the superstar: a chair that sat beside the bed where Jackson died. He recently sold it to a museum in Las Vegas.

He adds, “Michael Jackson was an icon. He was brilliant, a genius, who managed to have a significant impact on the world through music. Very few have been able to accomplish that.”

Doyle Davis, co-owner of Grimey’s New & Preloved Music:

Davis, who grew up as a big Jackson Five fan, said he remembers watching the MTV video premiere of “Thriller.”

“I used to watch the Jackson Five animated series and the variety show that the Jacksons had back in the mid-’70s,” he says. “I was always transfixed when Michael did the Robot on that TV  show.”

Davis adds he was always captivated when Jackson performed his famous “Moonwalk,” a move he made famous in 1983 at a Motown 25th Anniversary event.

Jonathan Perry, 12-year employee at The Pancake Pantry:

Perry, who identifies as “the biggest Michael Jackson fan ever,” remembers hearing “Thriller” for the first time when he was 14. Perry became so enthralled with the choreography that he learned the routine himself.

Perry said he often even breaks out some signature Michael dance moves as he seats guests at The Pancake Pantry. On Halloween, Pancake Pantry customers and staff are always in for a treat when Perry shows up to work sporting his replica of Michael Jackson’s white, glittery glove.

“I will always remember Michael Jackson as a great entertainer and an amazing dancer,” said Perry.

Jessica Ridley, country musician:

Up-and-coming country star Jessica Ridley, 32, is part of three wedding bands who perform the “Thriller” routine as part of their showcase.

“It’s a complete blast, and it’s always one of the highlights of our show. People literally go nuts when they see it,” says Ridley.

Upon watching “This Is It,” the documentary that showcased behind-the-scenes footage of Michael Jackson’s rehearsals leading up to his This Is It Tour, Ridley said she gained an even greater appreciation for Jackson.

“Watching the documentary was life-changing for me, because it related so much to what I do on stage every night,” said Ridley.

Ridley says she was first exposed to the “Thriller” dance through the 2004 film “13 Going On 30.”

“It cracked me up so much watching Jennifer Garner do the ‘Thriller’ dance with everyone during that scene in the movie,” she says.

Maegan Phan, co-owner of Mewsic Kitty Cafe in Nashville

This Halloween, Phan and her husband, Thein, added a “Thriller”-themed twist to their traditional routine of handing out candy to trick-or-treaters.

“We were both dressed in silly onesie costumes, and I thought it would be funny if, each time a trick-or-treater knocked on the door, we cued up ‘Thriller,’ opened the door, performed the entire dance, then closed the door,” said Phan.

Chris Lucky, morning show host for Nashville’s Hippie Radio:

Lucky says he was DJ’ing dance music at a Chicago club when the famous “Thriller” video was released and billed as the first “music movie.”

“There was a lot of hype, so we knew it was going to be big,” Lucky said, “At Biggs Lounge, we had a ‘Thriller’ MTV premiere party, and afterwards we played the making of ‘Thriller.’ Much to our surprise, the entire place was packed to witness the event, and it didn’t disappoint. After we saw the premiere, we knew the ‘music movie’ would impact pop culture,” said Lucky.

Rachel Blackwell is a senior in journalism at Middle Tennessee State University.

Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

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