Michael Jackson’s masterpiece “Thriller” was made all the creepier by Vincent Price’s spooky rap.
Vincent Price appeared in more than 90 movies, from 1938’s Service de Luxe to Edward Scissorhands in 1990. He starred and guested on dozens of television shows, maintained a regular spot on The Hollywood Squares, and hosted the PBS show Mystery! throughout the 1980s. He was a noted art collector with well-respected taste, and his gourmet skills in the kitchen even led him to host the cookery TV show Cooking Pricewise.
But if you’re under the age of 40 or so, you probably remember Price best for one of his shortest works: the eerie rap on Michael Jackson’s hit single “Thriller.” To commemorate the anniversary of Price’s death Oct. 25, 1993, we bring you 10 facts about his “thrilling” work on one of pop music’s most iconic songs.
1. “Thriller” was written for Michael Jackson by songwriter Rod Temperton, who originally titled the song “Starlight” (with the hook “Starlight, starlight sun” instead of “Thriller, thriller night”). After settling on a horror-show theme, Temperton envisioned, in his own words, “a talking section at the end,” but he couldn’t figure out where to go with the idea.
2. Temperton finally narrowed down his “talking section” idea to a vocal provided by “somebody, a famous voice, in the horror genre.” Peggy Lipton, who at the time was married to Jackson’s producer Quincy Jones, knew Vincent Price and suggested him for the role.
3. Price told Johnny Carson that when he agreed to do the voice work, he was given a choice between taking a percentage of the album proceeds or being paid a flat $20,000. He chose the $20K; his career was well-established and money wasn’t a huge issue. When Carson suggested that Price could have done a lot better if he had chosen album proceeds, he laughed amiably and said “How well I know!” Considering that more than 110 million copies of the album have been sold to date, Carson was spot-on.
4. Once Price was booked and the song’s recording session scheduled, the rap still needed to be written. Temperton penned the rhyme in the taxi on the way to the studio.
5. A recording engineer noted that while Price was delighted to contribute his vocals to the song, he was startled by the headphones when he arrived at the studio, never having used them before. When he reluctantly put them on, he jumped out of his chair in surprise upon hearing the funky music track he was to speak over. He ultimately needed a little help with his cues to speak over the music, but he ended up nailing it.
6. Price recorded his portion of the song in only two takes. Quincy Jones noted that recording voiceover work is notoriously difficult, and he praised Price’s work and accuracy as “fabulous.”
7. You won’t necessarily hear Price’s voice when you listen to the song. If you purchased the 7-inch single, you were deprived of his rap and spooky laugh as the song had to be shortened.
8. In case all you’ve got is the 7-inch version, we present the text of Price’s masterful rap:
Darkness falls across the land
The midnight hour is close at hand
Creatures crawl in search of blood
To terrorize y’all’s neighborhood
And whosoever shall be found
Without the soul for getting down
Must stand and face the hounds of hell
And rot inside a corpse’s shell
The foulest stench is in the air
The funk of forty thousand years
And grizzly ghouls from every tomb
Are closing in to seal your doom
And though you fight to stay alive
Your body starts to shiver
For no mere mortal can resist
The evil of the thriller!
(cue maniacal laughter)
9. Temperton wrote a much longer version of the rap which Price recorded, but it was cut to the above verses in the original release of the song. However, the full version can be heard on the 2001 remaster of Thriller, along with some brief conversation between Price and Jackson. A portion of the extended version is also included on the 2008 Thriller 25 reissue.
10. As for the famous, groundbreaking, award-winning video? Price had his moment there too. When Jackson and his girlfriend, played by Ola Ray, leave the movie theater, we see that the marquee reads “Vincent Price THRILLER,” a fictional film. On the wall outside the theater, a poster for Price’s real film, House of Wax, is displayed.
And we can’t exactly call this one of our 10 facts, since there’s some disagreement as to whether it’s true … but rumor has it that the zombie in the very last frames, after all the credits have rolled, is an uncredited Vincent Price in full gory makeup. Maybe you should take a look and decide for yourself if it’s him. We highly recommend the previous 13 minutes and 38 seconds, too!