What: The zombified Michael Jackson and his undead line-dancers doing a herky-jerky shuffle in John Landis’s 1983 music video “Thriller.” Below is the sequence itself. In the full video, this occurs between 4:30 and 7:00.

Why: Since the dawn of rock ‘n roll, musicians defined their songs by signature dance moves. Chuck Berry’s duck walk, Elvis’s hip-shaking, Mick Jagger’s swagger, James Brown’s sex-machine showmanship—all made the movement of the singer nearly as important as the singer himself. But it took Michael Jackson’s breaking out of his brotherly format to redefine the music video. His laser-limned hustling from Off the Wall‘s “Rock With You” and his moonwalk bust-out in Thriller‘s “Billie Jean” made him MTV’s first black artist. With Thriller‘s title track, he defined MTV itself. The 13-minute video narrated by Vincent Price had at its heart a 2 1/2-minute routine of zombie Michael in a boffo distressed red leather jacket joined by some extras from a George Romero film. Far from being a stiff number, though, Jackson’s zombie army thunders across the street. Hand motions, shoulder shrugs, stomping slides, miked-in shuffling sounds—everything is riveting and revolutionary. You can’t take your yellow cat’s-eyes off of it.

Impact: It’s hard to argue with the notion that “Thriller” is the most important video of all time. It legitimized the art form, and solidified Michael Jackson as the King of Pop. He continued to mesmerize in future videos, whether gangster fronting in “Smooth Criminal”, challenging the only male performer who might be more graceful in “Jam”, or even just sitting in a chair in “Blood on the Dance Floor”. Meanwhile, the “Thriller” zombie sequence remains the most well-known music video dance, and is painstakingly reenacted at zombie walks and Filipino prisons all across the world.

Personal Connection: I’m at Origins, where news of Jackson’s death spread through the convention like wildfire. Unlike with Farrah Fawcett, whose heart-wrenching death also happened yesterday, people (including me) were quick to make the obvious jokes, especially the one involving Michael just returning as a zombie. Our ease with this comes from Jackson’s fall from the height of royalty to something that acted and appeared other than human. Many of my younger readers can’t remember the time when Michael Jackson wasn’t a freakshow. But there was a run from 1979 to 1985 when Michael was just The Show. That’s where I’ll try my best to focus from now on.

Other Contenders: Michael’s sister Janet strikes a martial pose in “Rhythm Nation”; Jay Kay of Jamiroquai slithers between animate objects in “Virtual Insanity”; TLC slinks about in satin pajamas in “Creep”; OK Go hits the treadmills in “Here It Goes Again”; Christopher Walken lets his Brooks Brothers breathe in Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice”; Feist dances in a rainbow in “1234”; four Sony QRIO robots pick up some new fans in Beck’s “Hell Yes”.