Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'

Album: Thriller (1982)
Charted: 8 5


  • Jackson wrote this song, which can be interpreted as an angry attack on the tabloid press and others who hounded him. A struggle with fame and being misunderstood were common themes for Jackson, and in this song he lashes out at those who take advantage of him: "They eat off of you, you're a vegetable."
  • At the end of this song, the chorus is "Ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sas." The line is borrowed from Cameroon native Manu Dibango's 1972 song "Funky Soul Makossa." Jackson did not have permission to appropriate the song, and reached an out-of-court settlement with Dibango over the use.
  • Bruce Swedien, who was an engineer on the Thriller sessions, claimed this song is about "Michael's brothers' wives and how they were always creating trouble."
  • This was the fourth of seven US Top 10 hits from the Thriller album. It is by far the top selling album of all time worldwide.
  • "Billie Jean" is mentioned in the lyrics, "Billie Jean is always talkin' when nobody else is talkin'. Tellin' lies and rubbin' shoulders, so they called her mouth a motor." This briefly tells the story of the groupie that claimed Jackson was the father of her child and was the subject of the song, which was also on the Thriller album.
  • Various drum machines were used on this track. It's likely that the main rhythm comes from a LM-1 drum machine, which was the first programable machine that used real drum samples. Engineer Bruce Swedien recalls using a Univox. Greg Phillinganes, Michael Boddicker and Bill Wolfer are all credited on synthesizer on this track, and Jackson is one of three people credited for "bathroom stomping board," which gives you an idea of how many sounds were combined to create the backing track. Live musicians include:

    David Williams - guitar
    Louis Johnson - bass
    Paulinho da Costa - percussion
    Jerry Hey - trumpet and flugelhorn
    Larry Williams - saxophone and flute
    Bill Reichenbach - trombone
  • Rihanna sampled the "mama-ko, mama-sa, mama-ma-ko-sa" chant from this on her 2007 international hit single "Don't Stop the Music."
  • At Jackson's 2001 tribute special, Whitney Houston, Usher, and Mya performed this to start the show, which was made into a two-hour TV special.
  • Julia, Maxine and Oren Waters sang backing vocals on this track. Along with their other sibling Luther, they performed as The Waters and backed hundreds of artists, including Herble Hancock, Bon Jovi and Rod Stewart.
  • The UPC code on the album cover contained seven digits that were rumored to be Jackson's telephone number. People with that number in many different area codes got swamped with annoying calls.
  • In 2008 Jackson re-recorded this song with Akon as "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' 08." It was his first entry on the Hot 100 since "One More Chance" peaked at #83 in 2003. This version was included on a special 25th anniversary edition of Thriller.

Comments: 17

  • Peggy from Dover , OhCan anyone tell me why he changed the lyrics from "Too high to get over to" to " Too hard to Too get over"? in concert.
  • Cathy from Boston, MaMichael wrote this song - at least in part - for his sister La Toya. His thought process when writing some of the lyrics incorporated the ongoing tension between La Toya and the Jackson sisters-in-law, who frequently called family meetings in which they falsely accused La Toya of spreading rumors about them in the press. Michael found La Toya crying in her room one night in the aftermath of one such meeting in which she was targeted by the brothers' wives. He comforted her, and lamented that she was "stuck in the middle" of such lies and nonsense. The next day, Michael approached his sister telling her, "I wrote a song for you."
  • Rhi from Kathmandu, Nepali really like the lyrics.. i always makes me crack..dont have a baby if you cant feed your baby dont think maybe if you cant feed your baby... Michael had a great sense of humor i suppose..
  • Jennifer Harris from Grand Blanc, MiI love this song,You can hear the chant and see MJ running on VH-1 or somthing,this was when the King Of Pop passed away, I mean just died,like in June.I Never heard the Eagles version.
  • Shauna from Atlatna, GaIf you have some old MJ concert footage or footage on DVD, her performs this song really good.
  • Anna from London, United KingdomMichael wrote this song for Latoya his sister as she states in her book Latoya: Living with the Jacksons. Aparently her brothers wifes didnt like her and made up lies and made her cry so mihcale wrote the song for her.
  • John from Nashville, TnThis song convey's Michael's feelings towards the press.
  • Sarah Floyd from Bloomingdale, Ili like this song because he is singing wanna be starting something tells me to start doing something. and i so love this song. and i hope he is cute to me!
  • Sam from Bright, InThriller is the greatest album EVER and never will be surpassed.
  • Joey from Boston, MaActually The Eagles Greatest Hits album only surpassed Thriller in US record sales, but internationally Thriller is way ahead in record sales.
  • Jolene from Melbourne, AustraliaLike the lyrics - if you can't feed your baby, then don't have a baby. Good advice!
  • Roger from Los Angeles, CaThis song almost made it onto the Off the Wall album, couldn't fit it on and fortunately made it onto Thriller.
  • Dawson from Draper, UtI loved watching Usher, Mya, and Whitney do it. It had such a good dancing in it.
  • Jam Kemal from Lindua, South AfricaI heard that it's his first that he wrote the lyrics first. He usually starts with bass and beats. Then chords, vocal melody and THEN the lyrics.
  • Jam Kemal from Lindua, South AfricaMy second favourite song on the album(second to Billie Jean)

    Live version at 1996/7 HIStory World Tour is amazing with extra funky acoustic guitars.
  • Tom from Trowbridge, EnglandThriller is the best selling album worldwide having sold 54 million. Runner-up, by a long way, is Back in Black by AC/DC, with 42 million sold.
  • Paul from Malibu, CaIt was the top selling album of all time until The Eagles passed it with their Greatest Hits album.
    I doubt the Eagle shave surpassed 50-60 Million worldwide
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Christopher CrossSongwriter Interviews

The man who created Yacht Rock with "Sailing" wrote one of his biggest hits while on acid.

James Bond Theme SongsMusic Quiz

How well do you know the 007 theme songs?

Song CitiesMusic Quiz

Nirvana, Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen are among those who wrote songs with cities that show up in this quiz.

Weird Al YankovicFact or Fiction

Did Al play on a Beach Boys record? Did he have beef with George Lucas and Coolio? See if you can spot weird but true stories.

Concert DisastersFact or Fiction

Ozzy biting a dove? Alice Cooper causing mayhem with a chicken? Creed so bad they were sued? See if you can spot the real concert mishaps.

John WaiteSongwriter Interviews

"Missing You" was a spontaneous outpouring of emotion triggered by a phone call. John tells that story and explains what MTV meant to his career.