The quest to match Thriller would be a hard one. But despite (or perhaps because of) that burden, Jackson was more involved than ever in Bad‘s artistic process. “When you would work with him you could just see the way his mind worked,” says Matt Forger, who engineered the record. “He knew exactly what he was looking for.” Under the shadow of Thriller, and despite the backlash against his personal eccentricities that came to light around that time, Bad set records of its own. It was the first album to ever send five singles to the top of the Billboard charts, and it held that record until 2011.
Bad’s quarter-century milestone will be marked with due pomp. Jackson’s estate and Epic/Legacy Recordings are collaborating on a three-CD release (BAD25, out Sept. 18), which includes the remastered original album, plus an album of additional tracks, including demos and remixes, and a live album. The package also includes a DVD of never-before-seen concert footage—Jackson’s own review copy of a July 16, 1988 concert at Wembley Stadium. In addition, a Spike-Lee-helmed documentary about the album, the similarly-titled Bad 25, will debut Aug. 31 at the Venice Film Festival. And starting this spring, Jackson has even found his way onto 1 billion Bad-themed Pepsi cans.
In honor of the seminal album’s anniversary, TIME spoke (in separate interviews, with the exception of Phillinganes and Forger) to people who were there and people living out the album’s legacy:
Greg Phillinganes, a musician who worked on the record and music-directed the Bad tour
Matt Forger, Michael Jackson’s engineer on Bad
Spike Lee, who directed Bad 25 as well as Jackson’s short film for the song “They Don’t Care About Us”
John Branca, Jackson’s lawyer and head of his estate
Nick van der Wall, a.k.a Afrojack , the DJ who remixed a new version of “Bad” for the anniversary release.