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Michael Jackson's masterpiece still a 'Thriller'

"Beat It": A secret not closely guarded: The uncredited guitarist who whipped out the fluttering, squealing solo on this ode to macho cowardice was Eddie Van Halen, whose extracurriculars ranked among the provocations for singer David Lee Roth's 1985 departure from the megalithic rock band Van Halen. Along with the contributions of jazz and soundtrack legend Quincy Jones as producer, Van Halen's aerodynamic metal flight pumped crossover fuel that would boost the success of "Thriller" -- a gimmick Jackson would later flog with spots from Slash and Carlos Santana. Without the Van Halen precedent, there might have been no collaboration of Run-DMC and Aerosmith on the 1986 rap/rock version of "Walk This Way." (Greg Burk) "Billie Jean": Twenty-five years later, "Thriller's" central chamber has lost none of its fevered mystery. This is where the album's material plane gives way to a haunted interior, excavated by that remorseless bass line and shaped by a taut interplay of instruments -- the arrangement is ingenious, so lean and spare that it's hard to accept that there are three synthesizers at work. Jackson finds a new voice here, a victim's voice that shudders in the shadows of this remarkable sonic space, lashing at his own naiveté and at the false accusers who were just starting to gather at his door. (Richard Cromelin)
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