E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is an audiobook and soundtrack album for the 1982 blockbuster film of the same name directed by Steven Spielberg. Narrated by American recording artist Michael Jackson, the album was produced by composer Quincy Jones and distributed by MCA Records. The production of the audiobook brought Jackson together with several former collaborators, such as Rod Temperton, Freddy DeMann, and Bruce Swedien.
The E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial audiobook was released by MCA on November 7, 1982—the same month as Jackson's acclaimed sixth studio album Thriller despite conditions given by Epic Records, Jackson's record label, that it should not be released until after Thriller. As a result, Epic took legal action against MCA which forced the album's withdrawal. During its curtailed release, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial reached number 82 on the UK Albums Chart. It was well-received critically and won Jackson a Grammy Award for Best Recording for Children.
The E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial album package contains a storybook, which allows listeners to read along with Jackson as he narrates the tale of E.T. and the alien's visit to planet Earth. The book contains a photograph of E.T. placing hands on Jackson's shoulders, while one of the extraterrestrial's fingers glows. This picture is included in the album package as a 22 inches (56 cm) × 22 inches (56 cm) full-color poster. The 20-page storybook include stills from the movie and the lyrics to the song "Someone in the Dark" (written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman), which Jackson sings on the audiobook. The recording, on a 12-inch vinyl LP, features original music by John Williams, integrated sound effects from the movie, as well as the voice of E.T. in the background.
Prior to the recording of the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial album, Jackson released four solo studio albums with Motown Records (Got to Be There, Ben, Music & Me and Forever, Michael), and several with his brothers as part of The Jackson 5. In 1975, he moved to Epic Records and in 1979 released Off the Wall, to critical and commercial success.
In June 1982, the Steven Spielberg–directed science fiction film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was released. Created by Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and distributed by Universal Pictures (then a subsidiary of MCA Inc.), it starred Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore and Peter Coyote. The film tells the story of Elliott, a boy who befriends a good-natured extraterrestrial called E.T., who is stranded on Earth. Upon its release, the film became a blockbuster and surpassed Star Wars to become the highest-grossing film released to that point. Critics lauded it as a timeless story of friendship, and the American Film Institute ranks it as the third greatest science fiction film ever produced in the United States.
Jackson began work on the audiobook of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in June 1982—around the same time he began recording his sixth studio album Thriller. Quincy Jones served as the producer for both projects, in addition to working as the narrative writer for the audiobook. During the recording of the narration, Jackson became so upset when E.T. died that he wept. Jones and Spielberg both felt that trying to record the part again would not change the pop star's emotional reaction, and decided to leave Jackson's crying in the finished recording. Jackson biographer Lisa D. Campbell wrote that Jones had learned this during the recording of "She's Out of My Life" (from the Off the Wall album), where the singer also broke down in tears.
Several of the contributors to the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial storybook album had worked with Jackson on his solo projects in the past. Rod Temperton, who had written several songs featured on Off the Wall and Thriller, wrote the music for "Someone in the Dark". Freddy DeMann and Ron Weisner, former managers of The Jacksons, served as the production coordinators for the album. Bruce Swedien engineered E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, a task he had performed on Off the Wall and Thriller and would go on to perform for the albums Bad (1987) and Dangerous (1991). Dick Zimmerman photographed Jackson for the Thriller album cover, before again capturing the singer for the accompanying poster to the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial album.
Once the recording and engineering aspects of production had been completed, MCA Records (the distributor of the album) pressed more than 1 million copies of the audiobook. In 1982, a journalist for Billboard wrote that it was one of the "most ambitious" projects that MCA Records had taken on to date.
According to the biography Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness, written by journalist J. Randy Taraborrelli, the pop singer had shown an early attachment to the story of E.T. After a publicity photo shoot for the soundtrack album in which an animatronic robot of the extraterrestrial character hugged Jackson, the singer stated with wonderment, "He was so real that I was talking to him. I kissed him before I left. The next day, I missed him." Jackson later revealed in the December 1982 issue of Ebony magazine—in which both he and E.T. appear on the cover—that he felt he actually was the creature during the album recording and shared his thoughts on why he had such a strong connection to the character:
"He's in a strange place and wants to be accepted—which is a situation that I have found myself in many times when travelling from city to city all over the world. He's most comfortable with children, and I have a great love for kids. He gives love and wants love in return, which is me. And he has that super power which lets him lift off and fly whenever he wants to get away from things on Earth, and I In can identify with that. He and I are alike in many ways"
Epic Records allowed Jackson to record the album on two conditions:
- MCA Records was not to release E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial until after Christmas 1982. (This was to avoid the audiobook competing with Jackson's new album, Thriller.)
- The song "Someone in the Dark" was not to be released as a single.
MCA Records breached both conditions, releasing the storybook in November 1982 and giving 7-inch promo copies of "Someone in the Dark" to radio stations. After Epic lodged a $2 million lawsuit, MCA Records was forced to withdraw the album and prohibited from releasing "Someone in the Dark" as a single. Epic executives had felt that MCA was misleading members of the public into believing that the then-recently released single "The Girl Is Mine" was featured on the storybook album. The plaintiffs further requested that MCA Records be banned from working with Jackson in the future and that any other media owned by MCA featuring the singer be prohibited from release.
As a result of the legal restrictions that prohibited the public release of "Someone in the Dark" as a single, the promo copies which were made have since become one of the singer's rarest and most sought-after records; some have been sold for over £1000 ($1587). The song was later included as a bonus track on the 2001 special edition of Thriller, as well as the box set Michael Jackson: The Ultimate Collection.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was a commercial success; it reached number 82 on the UK Albums Chart, which was considered high for a storybook album. The audiobook won Jackson a Grammy Award in 1984 for Best Recording for Children. Upon collecting the award and taking home a record eight Grammys from an unprecedented twelve nominations, the singer stated that of all the awards had received that night, he was "most proud of this one".
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was also well-received critically. Charles L Sanders of Ebony magazine described it as an "extraordinary album". Mark Bego of the Toledo Blade asserted that the song "Someone in the Dark" was "one of the most beautiful ballads" that Jackson had ever recorded. He further commented that the amalgamation of Jones' production, dialogue from the film, Jackson's "effective and emotional" reading of the narrative and the audiobook's "grand soaring orchestration" made the E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial album "[elicit] as many tears as the movie does". A writer for Billboard described the audiobook as being "lavishly packaged, lovingly produced" and worth its high asking price. A journalist for the Lexington Herald-Leader concluded that it was a "delightful" storybook album.