The “Thriller” conundrum (and other life-and-death situations)

It’s close to midnight…

Halloween is a pretty big deal for me, considering that it’s also my birthday. The party in honour of the holiday synergy, the second annual “McNuttoween,” is taking place this Saturday night, and brings with it an exciting yet time-consuming challenge: making a soundtrack.

For many people, I suppose that making a party mix is a pretty innocuous task: put the iTunes on shuffle for the night, or make a CD or two of some random songs that will go over decently with the invited guests. I am not one of those people. For me, the soundtrack is not merely a means to an end, but an end in itself. Like a DJ planning out their set, I become consumed with mood, build and transition, plotting out the night’s sonic landscape with mountains, valleys and every geographic creation in between.

A Halloween party mix is a rather unique beast to tame. It’s probably second only to Christmas in terms of the number of theme songs available, but unlike Christmas there really aren’t enough of them to fill an entire 4-5 hour event. One has to place the Halloween-themed tracks throughout the night while somehow making them blend with dance, rock and Top 40.

But that pales in comparison to the biggest challenge of a Halloween party mix: what to do with “Thriller.”

You see, “Thriller” is the shit. It doesn’t matter what you actually think of the track. To not play “Thriller” at a Halloween party would be akin to…well…come to think of it, I can’t even fathom a comparable situation. In its past 25 years of existence – hey, it’s as old as I am! – “Thriller” has become the de-facto Halloween hit, thanks in no small part to one of the most iconic music videos ever made. It’s the one song that everyone’s waiting to hear all night long; it HAS to be there.

The problem that “Thriller” is so huge that it towers over anything else you might want to play. So what do you do with it? If you bring it out too early, there’s nowhere to go but down for the rest of the night. If you bring it out too late, then some of your guests may have filtered out the door and you’ve denied them their moment of zombie dancing glory. Not only that, but what about the other songs that surround “Thriller” – do you send fluff tracks out to slaughter, or is it actually possible to find tracks that BUILD on Michael Jackson’s classic?

And that’s just one of countless sequencing problems I have to confront. Most people don’t have to worry about such things. I am not like most people. This is going to be a tough couple of days.

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