Friday, July 7, 2023

The Music Business: The Staggering Success of Thriller

From Delancey Place, June 26:

Today's selection -- from Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business by Fredric Dannen.

In the early 1980s, Michael Jackson’s Thriller surpassed Saturday Night Fever as the best-selling album of all time:

“1982 would prove an even worse year for CBS Records than 1981. The company was cold. Boston's Tom Scholz still hadn't delivered his third album, and never would--not to CBS, anyway. Columbia had a hit with Paul McCartney's Tug of War, but little else to brag about. 

“When the full year's results were tallied, the numbers were depressing. …

“Toward the end of 1982, two hit albums were released by CBS. The first of them entailed a bit of irony. It was a record that Dick Asher championed over the objections of Epic, whose staff often criticized his musical savvy. Earlier in the year, CBS Records International signed the Australian band Men at Work to an overseas, non-U.S. deal. The group promptly delivered its first album, Business as Usual, which sold 200,000 copies in Australia, an unheard-of feat. Asher was convinced that the record would do well in the United States, but he could not get Epic to distribute it. Finally, he demanded that either Epic head Don Dempsey or Columbia's Al Teller option the album. Teller at last agreed. ‘We put it out just to shut Dick up’ a Columbia man later confessed, sheepishly. The album yielded two number one singles -- ‘Who Can It Be Now?’ and 'Down Under' -- and sold 6 million copies. 

“The second album, released in November 1982 by Epic, was a monster of unprecedented proportions. It would ultimately sell 38. 5 million copies worldwide, spend thirty-seven weeks at number one on the Billboard album chart, and spawn seven hit singles....