Last night on the way home from dinner my girl decided, on impulse, to buy me the 25th anniversary edition of the greatest pop album of all time: Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Although you can never have too many copies of the world’s best-selling album (after all, songs like ‘Thriller,’ ‘Billie Jean,’ ‘Beat It’ and ‘Wanna be Startin’ Somethin” will never get old), I was mostly interested in the cd for its bonus cuts featuring reinterpretations of Thriller’s classic singles by will.i.am, Fergie, Kanye West and Akon.
The best remix on the album is of ‘The Girl is Mine,’ my least favourite track on the original. will.i.am does a nice job on the beat, layering soaring strings and synths over club-friendly drums. Even better, he excludes Paul McCartney’s verse altogether. That alone improves the song immeasurably. will.i.am also resists the temptation to drop any rhymes, instead restricting his vocal contribution to some chanting on the hook. ‘The Girl is Mine 2008’ is a great example of a remix achieving its intended effect: improving a song without twisting it beyond recognition.
Unfortunately, will.i.am also provides the worst remix of the album thanks to his absolute destruction of ‘P.Y.T.’ The original is a jubilant piece of up-tempo, disco-funk that is impossible not to dance to. will.i.am keeps the tempo similar but somehow manages to lose track of the song’s original effervescence, resulting in a dull, lifeless cut that sounds like any other mediocre pop song.
I think if anything these remixes emphasize how important Quincy Jones’ production was to both “Thriller,” “Off The Wall” and “Bad.” Although there is no doubt MJ is a fantastic singer and did some excellent work arranging and writing, it was Quincy Jones who brought the entire product together and gave it its final, polished sound. In fact, after Jones stopped working with Jackson, the King of Pop’s artistic output seemed to decline in quality. These remixes prove that with less than stellar production, even the greatest performers can sound average.