The Cars’ Victory Over Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’

Outshining hundreds of other projects and earning the appreciation of critics and audiences is not an easy feat for musicians and producers. So, they must come up with innovative ideas to polish the songs and music videos they create at any time and age, which is a thought that should take us to the 80s.

Before, after, and during the 80s, Michael Jackson made a worldwide splash with his songs, music videos, dance moves, and stage shows. He won many awards, from Grammy to American Music Awards, proving his worth with each new production, but there was one award he couldn’t get.

Around the same time Jackson’s iconic song ‘Thriller’ was released with its equally iconic video, the Cars presented a single from their fifth studio album, ‘Heartbeat City,’ to the public view. The song, ‘You Might Think,’ received almost as much attention as ‘Thriller’ in 1984 thanks to its music video carrying Jeff Stein‘s signature in addition to Ric Ocasek and the band’s talent.

‘You Might Think’ was written and delivered by Ocasek from the perspective of a man who the woman he loves believes is crazy for hanging around her. It became the band’s first song to reach number one on the US Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, gained the admiration of the fans, and stayed relevant even decades later by taking part in contemporary projects, such as BrainDead and Regular Show; however, the song’s musical quality was not the only element playing a role in its success and popularity.

It had a revolutionary music video, crocheted with technological advancements of the time to serve both a plot-relevant and impressive visual act. Jeff Stein directed the video upon Elektra Records executive Robin Sloane‘s request and was inspired by National Enquirer ads for the unusual and cartoon-like graphics he used in it.

In the clip, Stein reshaped the Cars members, especially Ocasek, in various forms, from a fly to King Kong on top of a building, chasing the love interest played by Susan Gallagher. With the effects he used to achieve these images that contributed to the narrative, the director created one of the first music videos to have computer graphics. But unfortunately, his idea was not immediately accepted.

He had to try hard to convince the band to accept his surreal vision and shoot the clip, as they did not like the sound of turning into different creatures depicted in ‘irrelevant’ settings. Stein explains the story and the Cars’ reaction to his scheme in his book ‘I Want My MTV.’ So, let’s dive into it through his depiction!

The director’s memory goes as follows:

“I met The Cars and told them, ‘The band’s in the medicine chest, and then on a bar of soap, and Ric’s a fly,’ and one of them said, ‘Why don’t we all just play on a turd in the toilet bowl?‘ That was the prevailing attitude.”

It was also reported that Ric Ocasek was apprehensive about Stein’s idea and the music video because he thought it made fun of his appearance. Still, all the worries and negative emotions of the band members paid off. The video won the first MTV Video Music Award for Video of the Year in 1984, beating Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller.’ It also received many nominations and wins from Billboard’s 1984 Video Music Awards and Videotape Production Association’s 1985 Monitor Awards, in addition to its commercial success.

So, the Cars members were not very fond of the music video of ‘You Might Think’ for various reasons, but in the end, director Jeff Stein’s idea to vivify the piece with computer effects proved to be helpful. The song and the clip beat Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ in the MTV race and remained iconic through the years, showing that innovation in the music industry helps with immortality.