Hello and welcome to our first installment of Criss Cross Counter Punch. Today, Archphoenix and Chag debate which was the better album: Thriller or Purple Rain.
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Archphoenix: Don't get me wrong, I love me some Prince, especially Purple Rain. His purple funkness is quite a talented musician. But Thriller remains, for me anyway, the best pop album, pretty much ever.
Thriller is the best selling album of all time. Seven of the album's nine songs were released as singles and all seven songs hit Billboard's top ten list. The album won a record-breaking eight Grammy awards. I know, I know, just because it sells doesn't mean it's necessarily good (i.e. Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, Nickleback, etc.). But in this case, the fact that it still sells ridiculously well 25 years later is a testament to the longevity of the album.
Thriller has a song with a Beatle on it. When Thriller came out, as far as I was concerned, Paul McCartney was my mom's college crush. He was, therefore, like, totally old and grody. Doing a duet with Michael Jackson? Suddenly I cared about The Beatles and was OK when my mom wanted me to listen to some old boring college record of hers. And you know what? Turns out The Beatles don't suck. I'm not sure my youthful self would have paid much attention to Sir Paul without the nod from Michael Jackson.
Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" video is generally credited with being a groundbreaking video, not only because it's a flat out amazing concept that truly elevated the fairly new concept of "music video" to something of an art form, but it was the first really successful video by an African American. MTV had been catching a lot of flack for not airing African American artists. Michael Jackson really paved the way for artists of color - including the acceptance of Prince on the airwaves.
Chag: Not only is Purple Rain the greatest soundtrack album ever recorded, it is one of the best albums released in the 1980s, despite being overshadowed by the immensely overrated Thriller. Building off the success of 1982's 1999, Purple Rain introduced the world to a more accessible, more spiritual, and more robust-sounding Prince.
The album's three standout tracks – "Let's Go Crazy," "When Doves Cry," and "Purple Rain," tower over anything found on Thriller. Couple that with the one-two punch of "I Would Die For You" and "Baby I'm A Star," the grinding "Darling Nikki," and the light "Take Me With U," the album was superb from start to finish. But the album's greatest song was its title track.
Like "I Would Die 4 U" and "Baby I'm A Star," the epic power ballad "Purple Rain," clocking in at nearly nine minutes, was recorded live for the album at Minneapolis's First Avenue. There were some slight overdubs made in the studio afterward, but for the most part, what the audience heard that evening is what we hear on the album. It wasn't mixed 91 times in the studio like Jackson's "Billie Jean." Prince played guitar on the song – no need to call in Eddie Van Halen to lay down a guitar track, like in Jackson's "Beat It." Whereas Thriller was a calculated album created by hired guns, Purple Rain was created by a rock band.
And regarding your mom's college crush: I'm delighted to discover that Thriller led you to The Beatles. At least something worthwhile came from the experience. However, I'd like to point out at the time of Thriller's release, McCartney was more of a Wing than a Beatle, so his inclusion on the album is not as great a contribution as it would have been 15 years earlier. And need I remind you at this point in time, Sir Paul was only years away from "Spies Like Us?"
Archphoenix: Thriller spawned three of the all time greatest, most iconic, music videos ever made: "Billie Jean," "Beat It," and "Thriller." In fact, the "Thriller" video was directed by John Landis. John Freaking Landis. Incidentally, the "Thriller" video is now being turned into a full out Broadway musical, following in the footsteps of The Who's Tommy. Ever actually seen the movie Purple Rain? *shudder* It's flat out awful. Being high wouldn't help make sense of the mess. Actually, the film was nominated for two Razzies - worst new star (Apollonia) and worst original song ("Sex Shooter").
No argument, Prince is the better musician. Michael was a singer and dancer and he excelled at both. I remember the night that the Motown: 25 retrospective aired and Michael busted out the moonwalk, live. It was like the world stopped and everyone was watching and wondering "How is he doing that?" The next day at school that's all anyone was talking about. And everyone tried to do it. I don't recall any shocking Prince moments like that - except for maybe his assless pants.
I'd say that in terms of long lasting cultural influence, Thriller takes it by a landslide.
Chag: I thought we were talking about music, not music videos. Would Michael's songs be as cherished without the "iconic" videos that accompanied them? Hell, the video to "Thriller" set human-zombie relations back at least forty years. And yes, "Thriller" was directed by John Landis, the same man who brought us such cinematic greats as The Stupids and Spies Like Us... Wait a minute! Between McCartney and Landis, it's apparent that Thriller was nothing but a vehicle for Jackson to land a role in Spies Like Us!
And you want shocking? How about the fact that a Prince song led to Frank Zappa and Twisted Sister's Dee Snider appearing before the Senate? Tipper Gore heard her daughter's Purple Rain cassette tape and freaked out when she heard the lyrics to "Darling Nikki." Prince is the reason we have warning labels on CDs.
You want long-lasting cultural influence? Those Explicit Content stickers will be with us forever, serving as a beacon to guide kids to albums with naughty words.
Archphoenix: I'm sorry, I fell asleep listening to a tedious nine minute track of "Purple Rain." What were we talking about again? Oh right, how Thriller pretty much rules. Incidentally, did you know that in the 80s the "Thriller" video was blasted for promoting occultism and violence toward women?
Chag: I hadn't heard about that. But I did hear where the AARP named Thriller its favorite album of all time. Between Paul McCartney, producer Quincy Jones, and Vincent Price, it must have been like an Old Folks' Home in the recording studio.
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So which was the better album, Thriller or Purple Rain? Have your say in the comments!