Vincentennial: Vincent Price and the Origin of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”
As someone considered the grandmaster of horror movies, Vincent Price and his visage/voice immediately bring to mind creepy things like haunted houses, ghosts and ghouls. When I personally think of Price, I think of many things… that creepy ass voice, The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo and his films (The Fly, House on Haunted Hill and Fantasia) being at the top of that list.
However, the first thing that really brought Mr. Price to my attention was the Michael Jackson song Thriller off the 1983 album of the same name. Like most of the country at the time, I became obsessed with Michael Jackson thanks to this album- it was just incredible and so was the title track. I’ll never forget listening to the end of said title track for the first time when I heard those two, spine-chilling verses delivered in a distinctly creepy voice. It was through Thriller that I would come to know the history of the speaker, Vincent Price.
The song, however, was not originally written as the creepy anthem it became. Originally, Thriller was called Starlight and Jackson recorded it as such. The original demo version of the song was released on the 25th Anniversary Thriller CD, but it just doesn’t just grab you like Thriller does which is what producer Quincy Jones must have thought too. Quincy remarked that songwriter Rod Templeton had come up with a great song for Jackson’s last album and now he
wanted him to go write a great song for this new album. So, Templeton kept the music and re-wrote all the lyrics based on a concept that just came to him in his hotel room.
While writing the song, Templeton always imagined a spoken voice section at the end. He was thinking of “someone like” Vincent Price to do the narration. When he mentioned this to Quincy, he thought it was a great idea. Quincy’s wife, Peggy Lipton, happened to be friends with Mr. Price and when she asked him to do it, he said yes.
Originally, Templeton envisioned the end narration to be generic horror movie dialogue in the vein of the old classic horror movies in which Mr Price used to star. However, on the day Vincent Price was supposed to arrive to do the voice over, Templeton had a brainstorm and, in the cab on the way to the studio, wrote three creepy poetic verses in the style of Edgar Allen Poe. Templeton arrived at the studio just before Price, photocopied the verses and handed them to Price just as he was entering the recording booth. Mr Price did the voice over in just a few takes and was out of there in a few hours. Here is some audio from that session in 1982 which included Vincent Price and Michael Jackson. You can even hear the unreleased middle verse of the rap as well as Mr Price yelling “Can you dig it?!”
How could Mr Price know that those short, iconic verses would introduce him to an entirely new generation of fans and would lead to another iconic appearance, that of Vincent Van Ghoul on The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo.