You might know which synths were used on Michael Jackson’s album Thriller – we told you, actually – but have you ever seen Greg Phillinganes, the man who played keyboards on the whole record, recreate the synth parts from the title track?
We suspect not, but now you can do just that thanks to the Stories in the room podcast, which sees synth programmers Anthony Marinelli and Brian Banks – who also worked on Thriller – taking Phillinganes back more than 40 years and giving him everything he needs to play the song’s chords and bassline .
Written by Rod Temperton, Phillinganes confirms that in terms of instrumentation, Thriller arrived pretty much fully formed, although it was originally called Starlight and had different lyrics.
“All the parts came from Rod,” he says. “What we did was we added occasional nuances and elements of our personalities. Tasteful additions. But the essence of the pieces – the crux of the pieces – all came from Rod”
Plus, it turns out Temperton went to great lengths to make sure his arrangements were perfect.
“Thriller’s details are staggering,” says Phillinganes. “Several guitar parts; electric piano; several synth parts. And they’re all intricately woven together – it’s fascinating.
Produced by Quincy Jones, the track was mixed by Bruce Swedian, who Marinelli and Phillinganes say worked almost like an orchestra conductor, sitting at the console with the score in front of him and taking notes from it.
Much of what you hear on Thriller is played on the Roland Jupiter-8that Phillinganes plays throughout, with some real-time tweaks from Marinelli helping to recreate the original vibe.
As the game progresses, Marinelli also triggers the familiar Century LM-1 drum machine pattern and turns its attention to the ARP 2600, the synth used for the bassline. Phillinganes is then able to play both keyboards together to create a fairly good approximation of the original song.
There was so much more to Thriller than that, however; as well as the guitar flourishes, played by David Williams, there’s a Rhodes electric piano in the mix, though you might not notice it sometimes.
“You definitely hear it in the verses — you hear it less in the choruses because the pads pile up,” Phillinganes explains, “but you hear it in the bridge.”
Does Phillinganes still remember how to play all those games, though? Of course he does. What a pro.