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Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' turns 30: How zombies changed pop music's tune

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CBS Records/Epic

"Thriller," Michael Jackson's sixth studio album, was released Nov. 30, 1982. 

The fame-changing chart-killing record celebrates 30 years on Friday, and to underscore the album's achievement, Billboard revisited the exceedingly grim context of its release.

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Jackson's previous record, "Off The Wall," had been a success by all widely accepted measures, but that was 1979. 

In 1982, the near-radioactive fallout of disco, combined with the mass-migration of mass-appeal listeners from AM Top 40 to FM stations, led to segregated audiences splintering along musical sub-genre lines.

More to the point, "Thriller" was released at a time when "black artists [were] being ghettoized on urban contemporary radio, while disappearing from pop radio," says Billboard.

Precision targeting of audiences meant that radio stations needed to avoid playing anything that fell outside their target listeners' most narrowly-defined tastes...In all of 1982, only two No. 1 records on the Billboard Hot 100 were by black artists.

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