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Michael Jackson’s 20 Greatest Videos: The Stories Behind the Vision

The most important visual artist in music history, remembered by the directors he collaborated with

No single artist has shaped, innovated or defined the medium of “music video” more than Michael Jackson. The popularity of MTV itself was rocketed into the stratosphere by a clip so good that it defied antiquated, racially biased ideas of rock music programming. The iconic directors behind decades of cinematic masterworks – The Godfather, Raging Bull, Do the Right Thing, Boyz N The Hood, The Social Network – can all claim his as a collaborator. And 13,597 people in Mexico City didn’t break the world record for dancing to Prince now did they? Here are his 20 best, with stories of how they came to be. By Christopher R. Weingarten

Additional reporting by David Browne

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1. “Thriller” (1983)

"Thriller" was the most important moment in music television since the Beatles rocked Ed Sullivan. "After Michael Jackson, when American artists got a sense of the potency of a well-thought-out video," said Duran Duran bassist John Taylor, "everything became more expensive." Director John Landis remembered CBS Records president Walter Yetnikoff screaming and swearing when he heard the proposed budget. But its lofty aspirations came with vision: "Thriller" had the gloss of Hollywood; special-effects genius Rick Baker transformed a shy superstar into a beast; and co-choreographer Michael Peters helped create a historically iconic dance sequence. "He's not a trained dancer," said Peters. "He would say to me . . . 'I want something that's hot and angry.' He would describe it in emotional terms." "Thriller" turned a suburban street into a horror flick and helped make video a new kind of art. As Michael says in the clip: "I'm not like other guys."

 

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