By Ryan Britt
In an Alternate Universe You are Doing the “Starlight” Dance: The Michael Jackson Classic That Almost Wasn’t
Apparently the original concept for Michael Jackson’s second solo album, Thriller had a completely different angle than what we’re familiar with. Rod Temperton, one of Quincy Jones’s songwriters, came up with the album title Midnight Man that would have featured a song called “Starlight” as one of its primary singles.
Everything about “Starlight” is identical to what would become “Thriller”—except for the lyrics.
Instead of all the second person pronouns like “you feel a creature creeping up behind,” the original version is heavy on “we” with lines like “deep in the night we’re holding on to someone else’s dream.” This gives the song a quality of “We are the World” or “Heal the World” with a little bit of a sensability from MJ’s love ballads like “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.”
Of course, “Starlight” also didn’t contain the famous Vincent Price monologue about monsters and zombies.
When Quincy Jones decided to change the entire concept of the album and the song, he told his sound engineers, including Bruce Swedien, to think of Edgar Allen Poe. After that, “Starlight” quietly imploded and “Thriller” emerged.
Temperton recalled later in his commentary for the 2001 Thriller: Special Edition that as “Thriller” took shape along with “Billie Jean” and “Wanna be Starting Something,” the production team “were kind of giving the whole thing an edge and a direction that some of the other tracks didn’t have.” It was an edge, Rivers notes, “intended to represent Jackson’s unveiling as an adult recording artist.”
More on TOR
Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Tor.com. You don’t want him in a bar when Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” comes on.