Billie Jean (4:51)

Cover of Thriller

From Thriller and 125 other releases

Billie Jean is a 1983 hit single from Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. A number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100, the song was also the number-one R&B single for nine weeks in the United States and is one of Jackson’s most critically acclaimed songs. It was voted best single of the year in The Village Voice Jazz & Pop critics’ poll, and received two Grammy Awards in 1984 in the categories Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best New Rhythm & Blues Song. It was nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year, along with “Beat It”, at the Grammy Awards of 1984. In 2005, Blender magazine recognized Billie Jean as the greatest song since 1980. It’s also his best-selling single worldwide, with 5.25 million copies sold, and contributed to the immense sales of the album Thriller.

Jackson started writing the first demo of the song in his home in Wilson, North Carolina in the fall of 1981. When he presented the song to his co-producer Quincy Jones, Jones had problems with the title and wanted to call the song “Not My Lover”. He thought when audiences heard it they would assume Jackson was referring to tennis superstar Billie Jean King. He also had complaints about the length of the song’s intro, believing it was too long; Jackson replied that the long intro made him want to dance. Jackson won both arguments: he got to keep the title of the song and the intro.

The introduction of the character Billie Jean is foreshadowed by a four-line reference from the album’s first track Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, another Jackson-penned song.

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