First Hit #1: April 30, 1983
One of the threads that separates Thriller from Off the Wall is that Michael Jackson is much angrier on thriller. On Billie Jean, that anger was specific, but the anger on Beat It is directed at a much more vague target. It’s a rallying cry to fight against some kind of oppression, just nebulous enough that it could apply to all manner of situations. That’s probably deliberate, but just because we’re not naming the people who we have to show how funky strong our fight is, that doesn’t mean Jackson isn’t as committed as he can be. The combination of the electric guitars and Jackson’s aggressive vocal makes it a song that actually sounds quite tough, and it’s so instantly catchy that it’s one of those things you can just sing along to whenever you’re frustrated. It’s a uniquely ’80s method of anger dissolution, but if I was going to have an angry interpretive dance in a warehouse*, I can’t think of a better backing soundtrack.
*Speaking of, that has to be one of the strangest decade markers I’ve ever seen. For whatever reason, it was a decade of people dancing in warehouses, whether it’s here, Footloose, car ads, all over the place. As fashion trends go, it has to be the most inexplicable.