As 2021 comes to a close, Michael Jackson’s album “Thriller” remains the best selling record of all time. An estimated 70 million copies of the album have been sold. In the height of “Thriller’s” popularity, the record sold 1 million copies in 1 week. The record produced seven singles and won eight Grammy awards, and remains huge 40 years after it’s release.
However, it wasn’t always certain that the project would be a hit. Late recording engineer Bruce Swedien shared the process of making the album in a 2009 interview with Future Music. According to Swedien, he didn’t think the album was going to do as well as it did. The engineer admits, “I think anyone who would have the balls to say that is a liar because you don’t really know until it gets out in the public and they say ‘wow this is really good.’”
Michael Jackson Was Never Late To A ‘Thriller’ Recording Session
However, Swedien had plenty to say about the work that went into the record and how it all played out. He continues, “All we did was follow Quincy Jones down the path to the greatest music we could possibly make and with a passion for details. Quincy is such a remarkable man to work with – and Michael too. I mean, we had a ball. Michael was never late for a session – if anything he would be early. Also, I never remember recording Michael with the lyrics in front of him. He would stay up the night before memorizing the song or songs we were about to record. I don’t think there are a lot of artists who do that.”
The album was recorded at LA studio Westlake Audio, a spot Bruce Swedien knew well and had worked at before. He says, “I love that studio – it’s just fantastic. The room you record in is just as important as the mics. When I record somewhere, I have a collection of 105 microphones – every microphone in there I bought new and no one else has ever used it. That protects my sonic integrity. I got used to that incredible sound. One thing with Westlake Audio was that they knew the value of maintaining the gear.”
Eddie Van Halen Scared Off Sound Engineer
Track 5 on the record, “Beat It”, is certainly one of the most iconic songs. The song features a guitar solo performed by rock icon Eddie Van Halen. According to Swedien, the guitarist actually scared him out of the studio. He says of the track, “The highlight for me was the guitar solo. That guitar solo is incredible – when Eddie [Van Halen] came in to play, he was in Studio B at Westlake and I was in Studio A with Michael and Quincy, but I went in there when he was tuning and warming up and I left immediately.” Swedien continues, “ It was so loud, I would never subject my hearing to that kind of volume level! I didn’t record that solo, I hired his engineer – I figured his hearing would probably be a little suspect right now anyway. I then did the mix after it was recorded.”
Bruce Swedien passed away in November of 2020. Swedien worked as a sound engineer for many notable acts throughout his career, including Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Paul McCartney, and Barbara Streisand.