(October 31, 2020). It’s Halloween in the year from hell. And even with all the fear and uncertainty that 2020 brought and continues to bring (as a deadly pandemic rages on and a contentious presidential election now looms), there is one constant we can all count on: Michael Jackson’s classic title track from the world’s best-selling album Thriller will populate radio station and consumer playlists and get its latest wind as the occasion’s perennial favorite.
The love for “Thriller” and its status as the go-to MJ Halloween track is understandable given all the nostalgia surrounding its groundbreaking video release (1983) and its place as the album’s seventh and final top-ten single in 1984. It’s a nice reminder of a more innocent time – both for those of us who were around then and for the late King of Pop himself.
But is “Thriller” really MJ’s scariest, most disturbing tune?
Jackson had a penchant for visiting the occult and other dark themes in his music, particularly as he began to feel more persecuted by the media and those who grew to hate him after child molestation accusations were made against him in 1993 and again in 2005. What started out musically as a recurring theme about bad behaving women (“Heartbreak Hotel,” “Billie Jean,” “Torture,” “Dirty Diana”) quickly morphed into tales of demons and monsters – both real and metaphorical – in songs like “Ghost,” “Is It Scary,” “Blood on the Dance Floor” and, of course, “Thriller.”
This Halloween, DJROBBLOG thought it would be great to rank five MJ tracks that are arguably scarier than his signature holiday tune.
Keep reading to see which other MJ songs are the most spine-tingling (and what made them so) in his repertoire of hits (and non-hits)…
Five. “Threatened” (2001). Michael didn’t need the assistance of his typical occult characters to paint the scary picture in this tune from the album Invincible – specifically designed to instill fear in those who actually felt threatened by him in life (and maybe some of those who didn’t, but should). The moral of this story: you painted Michael as a monster all these years, so now you must reckon with him being omnipresent in your thoughts.
Consider these lyrics: “You’re fearing me, ’cause you know I’m a beast. Watching you when you sleep, when you’re in bed, I’m underneath. You’re trapped in halls, and my face is the walls. I’m the floor when you fall, and when you scream it’s ’cause of me. I’m the living dead, the dark thoughts in your head. I heard just what you said. That’s why you’ve got to be threatened by me.” Simple enough.
Four. “Little Susie” (1995). The title may be innocent enough, but that’s where it ends. The song begins with a Roman Catholic-sounding choir singing a variation on the hymn “Pie Jesu,” before we hear a little girl winding up a music box and humming along to its haunting melody before she finishes, exhaling one last exasperated breath. Then three faint clicks signal the impending doom as the ominous waltz music picks up from there.
Michael begins the story by getting right to the point: “Somebody killed little Susie, the girl with the tune who sings in the daytime at noon. She was there screaming…”. From there he paints the horrid picture of child abuse and neglect and the circumstances surrounding the little girl’s doom. Michael often included themes of the wounded victim – particularly children – in his songs and videos. But few had painted such a vivid picture of a little girl’s innocence and how everyone around her was complicit in her demise. The song was based on a true story about a girl named Susie Condry who’d been murdered in 1972. It was also inspired by the works of artist Gottfried Helnwein who often depicted wounded children in his art.
Three. “Morphine” (1997). Perhaps nothing is scarier than hearing someone spell out his own demise years before it actually happened. But that’s what it seemed MJ was doing in the song “Morphine” from his 1997 EP Blood On The Dance Floor. No ghouls or ghosts here, the only demon is Demerol, an opioid drug that Jackson was said to have been addicted to for decades.
In “Morphine,” he cleverly and metaphorically paints the picture of how the drug pulls in its victims with lines like:
“A hot buzz baby, he’s one of us baby, another drug baby, you so desire. Trust in me, put all your trust in me – you’re doing Morphine!” The verses are delivered over an industrial metal arrangement with every shouted utterance of the title seemingly followed by an exclamation point. But the scariest part might actually be during the break nearly three minutes in when Jackson abruptly calms things down and softly explains how the drug might do its inevitable damage: “Relax, this won’t hurt you. Before I put it in, close your eyes and count to ten. Don’t cry, I won’t convert you. There’s no need to dismay. Close your eyes and drift away. Demerol, Demerol…oh God he’s taking Demerol!” Jackson died of a propofol and benzodiazepine overdose in 2009 in what was ruled a homicide by authorities.
Two. “Heartbreak Hotel” (a/k/a: “This Place Hotel”) (1980). Imagine you and your lover unwittingly taking up residence in a romantic resort hotel specifically designed to break up couples. That’s exactly what this song was about, and Michael painted the picture vividly. From the faces that were “staring, glaring, tearing” through him as he and his lover checked in, to the hotel’s inhabitants whose main mission was to create the impression with his “baby” that Michael had been there before (and was there again) to meet other women.
True to form, Jackson included trademark ghoulish sounds and made references to bad behaving women’s names. This time it was Sefra and Sue and “every girl that I knew” who were out to get the King of Pop. The song was actually by the Jacksons and was from their stellar 1980 Triumph album. The single’s odd alternate title “This Place Hotel” was a concession to the late Elvis Presley, who had recorded his own “Heartbreak Hotel” nearly a quarter-century earlier.
One. “Is It Scary” (1997). Short answer: yes. In this haunting, three-chord tune from Blood On The Dance Floor, Michael paints a grotesque picture of ghosts and ghouls and demons that would make the characters in “Thriller” cower in fear. Except these aren’t the kind of monsters you’d find in a haunted house. Instead, they’re metaphors for people – mainly those who followed tabloids and believed everything they read about Michael.
This awesomely penned pre-chorus best sums it up: “I’m gonna be exactly what you came to see. It’s you who’s taunting me, because you’re wanting me to be the stranger in the night. Am I amusing you or just confusing you? Am I the beast you visualized? And if you wanna see eccentric oddities, I’ll be grotesque before your eyes. Let them all materialize! Is that scary for you baby!?” The song “Ghost” from the same EP adapted the lyrics from “Is It Scary,” but that song doesn’t instill fear like this track does.
Honorable mention: “Off the Wall” (specifically the ghoulish Intro and bridge) and “Torture” (check out the video). And who could forget “Smooth Criminal” and its tale of woe about Annie, who was struck down because, well, she was a little girl – and it was her doom!
RIP Michael Jackson (1958 – 2009)
DJRob is a freelance blogger from Chicago who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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